I want to say a few more words about Jonathan and David based on the comment stream in the preceding post. First of all, let me clarify that my distinction between love and friendship is based on the one that C.S. Lewis made some years ago. While he went too far in his efforts to draw hard boundaries between “the four loves” — failing to recognize how in actual usage there is significant immigration and emigration between the lands of Eros, Philia and Agapé in particular — his distinction between love and friendship is very usefully applied to the relationship of David and Jonathan. Ironically so, as it occurs in a passage in which Lewis was attempting to downplay any suggestion of Eros in that relationship. His mistake lay in trying to separate the categories of Eros and Friendship completely, even while he recognized that they can and do overlap. Beginning with that logical paradox, Lewis wrote,
[We] know that though we can have erotic love and friendship for the same person yet in some ways nothing is less like a Friendship than a love-affair. Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest. Above all, Eros (while it lasts) is necessarily between two only. But two, far from being the necessary number for Friendship, is not even the best... In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God...
The homosexual theory therefore seems to me not even plausible. This is not to say that Friendship and abnormal Eros have never been combined. Certain cultures at certain periods seem to have tended to the contamination. In war-like societies it was, I think, especially likely to creep into the relation between the mature Brave and his young armour-bearer or squire. The absence of the women while you were on the war-path had no doubt something to do with it. In deciding, if we think we need or can decide, where it crept in and where it did not, we must surely be guided by the evidence. (The Four Loves, 91ff)
The passage degenerates into some rather dated language which demonstrates Lewis’ inability to distinguish homosexuality from effeminacy — really, Jack, “Pansies”? — an all too common cultural failing. The traditional patriarchal mind is horrified by the idea of a man acting like a woman, of a man treating another man like a woman, or of women acting independently of men. Ultimately, for the culture-bound heterosexist, homosexuality is “all about Eve,” and he finds it difficult to grasp that sexuality, biological sex, and gender identity are three different axes or spectra which may describe any individual person. For instance, not all gay men are effeminate, and not all effeminate men are gay — even though belief in the converse is the basis for much cultural homophobia or heterosexism, even today. It is this same cultural understanding that explicitly underlies the one biblical legal prohibition against male same-sexuality: it is understood and expressed as one man treating another like a woman. No mention is made of a man treating another as a man! Such sexual egalitarianism is inconceivable to a culture in which sex is about “use” of one by another.
In the present instance, Lewis is unable to conceive of David and Jonathan as homosexual because for him homosexuals are, as he says, “pansies.” Moreover, while intentionally setting out to “defend” David and Jonathan, Lewis outlines precisely the points of evidence which are key to reading their story. In addition to the “warrior setting” into which Lewis grudgingly and censoriously acknowledges that Eros “creeps” or can “contaminate,” the rest of the tale matches Eros far better than Friendship, by Lewis’ own description.
Jonathan and David are not simply two men brought together because of an intense common interest. They are in fact always talking to one another about their love — and it is the two of them against the world; or at least against Saul and the Court. The story begins with Jonathan’s intense attraction to David as David; he loved him as he loved his own soul, apparently on their first encounter. There is no such thing as “friendship at first sight” and this cannot be conceived simply as great admiration for a brave and daring military action. It appears that David eventually reciprocated this love — perhaps the only relationship in his life without ulterior motives. This is Love writ plain for all who care to see it. Call it “Platonic” if you will; but recall that Platonic love is based on Eros. Eros need not necessarily entail sex, since sex is one culmination of Eros but not its necessary companion, and sometimes is a stranger to it.
Finally, I want to take note of the discomfort factor that arises for so many when this possibility or reading is raised. It may stem from a need to protect the Scripture even from a hint of approbation of such a relationship. As Hooker taught, not everything in Scripture is of God, and this is an historical, not a doctrinal or legal passage. Why cite it then? Because it provides to gay men a positive image of a deep and caring love story, which happens to find itself enshrined in the tradition; and it represents and reflects the actual issues before us far better than the cultic legal prohibitions whose applicability to our present concerns is tendentious at best.
Meanwhile, it is the abreaction to the suggestion of a possibility that is so telling. Whether those who suggest that it somehow tarnishes or reduces or contaminates this love even to suggest the possibility of an erotic element are driven by heterosexism, homophobia, or mere prudery, I cannot tell.
But in closing, let me just point out that the biblical literature definitely and explicitly “eroticizes” the love of God for Israel and Israel for God — both in its successes and its failures — and no one seems to be bothered by that, or feel that it “diminishes” that love. If the church can model its relationship or that of the individual Christian with Christ upon those images, there is no reason for gay couples not to recognize in Jonathan and David something admirable for their own loving and self-giving relationships.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG