Asexuality, Agape and Amatonormativity
I’m kicking off the blog post series about Asexuality and Christianity with a discussion of a central concept – love. Several things led up to this. One – I realised I’m guilty of amatonormativity, like most of us.1 Two – The Gay Rights movement was a big deal because they challenged the church on a core concept – love – and won. Three – I experience the church as a good place because it grants more space for love without sex (or romance) than popular culture. Four – well… the beginning is a good place to start.
Since everyone’s free to have sex, the idea of love without sex has been romanticised and squeezed into a too-tight corset. The more conservative – and vocal – side propagate only two scenarios – you become celibate when you wish to serve the Lord (as pious heterosexual or any gay person) and you remain a virgin until marriage, as a girl and as a couple.
That means the not-having of sex is considered a choice – a choice to abstain the way you’d choose to fast during Lent or Ramadan. Old people aren’t discussed. Married and divorced people are rarely discussed. The (disapproving) focus is generally on women’s behaviour and appearance… and people who do not have sex by nature rather than choice aren’t really part of the discourse.
It’s frustrating… when I’ve heard gorgeous sermons combating all of the above, seen elders from literally all walks of life, seen entire church communities reject boat loads of prejudice… yet it’s the ugliness that somehow remains the mainstream Christian tradition the world over.
That’s where the Gay Rights movement comes in… I find it hard to describe the immensity of the impact they had, since I was still a teenager when the churches had their identity crises in Holland. Consider this, though… If God is love, Jesus preaches love, the main commandments are to love God and love other people… and then a group demanded that first their sexuality and romantic love was recognised, and then the right to have the relationships growing out of that love legalised and blessed… It meant each church and each Christian needed to (re)define what love – and marriage – meant to them.
Some accepted, some rejected anything that didn’t match their heteronormative, monogamous romantic ideal. By fighting for that acceptance, the movement created space for others who were ‘different’ in gender and sexuality.2
Here’s what you might not know: romantic love was never the main ‘love’ in the Bible. Platonic love is. The three words in the original Greek text for love are eros, agape and charitas. Eros is what’s at the heart of romance, a blend of love and lust. Charitas is the kind Superman has in spades, what sends people to Africa to help poor people and keeps us from being egotistical shitheads.
Agape’s the big one. It’s platonic love, yes, but the unselfish type you can feel for any specific person or being. 3 If you’ve heard Gospel (like in Sister Act), you’ve probably thought it’s cheesy love songs. They are. Absolutely simplistic-lyrics goofball-optimism yell-it-from-the-rooftops love songs. People serenading God like Romeo did Juliet. Except it’s not sexual, or romantic.
That type of love is also what you’re mainly meant to feel for others. Not the subservience of a doormat, not the possessiveness of a master or lover. So yes, I’m saying Harry Potter is actually very Christian in its relationships. Twilight is not.
If it’s a type of platonic love that’s emphasised, I think that’s where space is created for asexuality and aromanticism. It removes ‘true love’ as the crowning glory of a person’s life. More importantly, outside of the Western world, it removes (heterosexual) marriage as the be-all and end-all of life, that one act that can make you leave your parents’ house, that one act that means you’re a grown up, that one relationship that defines you. It leaves space for other types of love, other types of relationships.
I believe this is the source of my sense of freedom – that love for family and friends and God is presented as equally fulfilling as a romantic relationship. It means that not having a relationship on one level is balanced out by having relationships on other levels.
Equally, sex is not seen as a necessity. Asexuality is unknown, unfortunately, but the mere fact that sex is not considered always good and always present in adult life… is a step in the right direction. It’s still a very limited picture that’s painted, though. Visibility of asexuality and other sexualities in general still has a long way to go.
I think it also – to some degree – removes the amatonormativity present in our society. If romantic love is simply one of several types to feel, it isn’t so important if you don’t feel it. I believe this is definitely a topic worth exploring by someone who’s both Christian and aromantic.
Do not mistake me – should you wish to be in this space, you’ll have to create it in most churches, but this, I think, is where we might fit.
I’m going to leave it there – hope that gave you guys some food for thought. Several ideas, such as chastity, will be tackled in future posts. Check out the articles in the footnotes too. They’re worth a read. And one article that explores marriage as a lesser relationship in Psychology Today.
I’m also still reading myself, so this blogpost is not written by an expert, but as an exploration of the subject. Points of view may change in the future and comments and questions are very welcome.
- A good intro to amatonormativity as another persistent subconcious prejudice is the Thinking Asexual’s blog post “Take Off Those Romace-colored Glasses”
- The Ace Theist did a survey of churches asking them if they were accepting of people from the LGBTQIA community.
- Wikipedia points out that “filia” also had this meaning, and agape has mainly come to mean both love for/of God and love for fellow human beings in religious contexts.