Love in Babylon

In his 1960 book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis explores the different manifestations of four distinct forms of love: storge (affection), philia (friendship), eros (sexual/romantic love) and agape (charity). He makes the point that any one of the first three forms of love become corrupted and distorted if divorced from the fourth form, agape, which he calls “the love of God”. It seems that without this mysterious love of God, we can’t help making idols of one or several of the other loves, and that never ends well:

“The claim to divinity which our loves so easily make can be refuted […] The loves prove that they are unworthy to take the place of God by the fact that the cannot even remain themselves and do what they promise to do without God’s help.”

This is readily seen if we relate the first three loves to the different worlds of the Wheel of Babylon (see the diagram on the Home Page). Storge is associated with Muggle World, being the love of comfort and domesticity, family and familiarity. Filia is associated with Muppet World, in the sense that it creates a separate clique or elitist bubble which can foster collective delusions in relation to the rest of society. Eros is associated with Diva World, in the way in which it builds exquisite pleasure palaces for its blessed lovers.

To reiterate, C.S. Lewis is not saying that there is anything inherently wrong with storge, philia or eros. In fact, human beings cannot live happy and fulfilled lives without them. His point is, rather, that they can become distorted and inflated to the exclusion of the transcendent Source of Love and of each other. As soon as they “take the place of God”, they begin to sour and go bad.

When storge goes bad, the cosy, comfortable and familiar Muggle World degenerates to the point where it becomes indistinguishable from Addict World. Those loved things that habitually bring comfort, whether substances like coffee or alcohol, behaviours like shopping, socialising or watching television, change from Muggle needs to Addict needs. We find ourselves caught in an ever-tightening spiral of urgency and desperation.

When philia sours, the special bonds of friendship, cameraderie and solidarity turn into bonds of slavery, enmity and paranoia. Muggles in arms become Victims both of the (real or perceived) persecution of outsiders, and of each other. A cult mentality develops, where all sorts of abuses can flourish in an atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion. Think of Stalin’s inner circle, or Osho’s.

Finally, when eros goes rotten, the delirious passions of sexual and romantic feelings quickly flip over into intense rage, jealousy and hatred. Divas in their Diva Heaven become Demons in Hell, ever discovering new and ingenious ways to torture each other.

Without agape, that endlessly self-giving fount of charity and eternal source of Light and Love, storge, philia and eros inevitably flounder on the rocks of selfishness and narcissism, making Addicts out of Muggles, Victims out of Muppets and Demons out of Divas, endlessly turning the Wheel of Babylon, until we finally find the courage to step off into the infinite ocean that is the love of God.