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Eros Unveiled Mar 26, 2005
Avis argues for the twin concerns that (1) eros be understood as a morally legitimate love crucial to Christianity and (2) women ought to be afforded their equal place in Christian leadership. Although Avis notes early that by eros he means a philosophical concept that has to do with the profound human drive toward creativity and fulfillment, much of the book has to do with the author's understanding of female sexuality and gender as related to eros.
According to Avis, many contemporary feminists cannot find a spiritual home in Christianity because they experience rejection or indifference. Avis responds to this problem by looking at insights from human and social sciences and carrying out an ideological critique of biblical and traditional Christian assumptions about women and their place in the sacred realm. The dominant image of women in the Bible and the Christian tradition is, unfortunately, the product of a series of male-centered and male-dominant social systems. These social systems have distorted the Christian theological understanding of the nature of God, the person of Christ, and human well-being in relationships, community, and especially sexuality.
Because Christianity and the church should be in the business of therapy, i.e., healing humanity's deepest wounds, it has a responsibility to act in ways that inspire men and women to become whole persons. In other words, says Avis, "The Church must become the locus of transforming therapy - a therapeutic community" (71). The therapeutic community must reflect the good life inspired by love and guided by knowledge.
To argue his points, the author examines a wide variety of literature including psychology, philosophy, and theology. He specifically addresses sexuality as sacred and profane in the Christian testaments. In this literature, Avis notes both the resources for affirming eros and the role of women and also examples in which eros and women are identified as unintellectual and as weaker sexual objects. One thing the church can do today, suggests Avis, is to invite women to take their rightful place in representative ministry. It can open the publicly important realm of the sacred. It can invite women into the sanctuary where holy things are handled on behalf of God and humanity.
Avis's comments on Anders Nygren's classic, Agape and Eros, are engaging. He rejects Nygren's thesis that God and eros cannot be correlated. Avis believes that the consequences of denying eros in God are extremely serious. It means that eros in human beings has no source, analogy or hope of redemption in God; our erotic nature in itself alienates us from God. Avis argues that one cannot integrate eros with the sacred unless one finds a place for eros in the very life of God. He concludes that "a Christianity that stresses inherent dignity of human beings, even those who have suffered fearful indignities at the hands of nature or fellow humans, as the presupposition of human rights and social justice, will speak more readily of the eros of God at work in and through His created world" (136-137). If eros and agape are united in God, there would be no conflict in our understanding between the self-giving sacrificial love of God and that overflowing goodness that longs to impart good to creatures.