There are plenty of problems with Valentine’s Day. There’s the consumeristic cultural pressure to conform to purchasing some fetish object that signifies a perceived-appropriate kind and level of affective significance. There’s the capitalistic exploitation of (genuine or contrived) affection and desire to sell, well, everything. There’s the matter of poor St. Valentine, himself, brutally martyred and all but forgotten, except that his name is used as a banal excuse to express erotic desire.
Contemporary Christians (who usually don’t know anything about St. Valentine, anyway – especially if they’re Protestant) sometimes take the opportunity to use Valentine’s Day as a way to talk about God’s love. It’s a weird and stupid thing and smacks of how Christians have sought to desexualize the Song of Songs and hoist it up as some ill-fitting metaphor of God’s love for humanity. Well, if that’s the case, God has it bad for your fawn-like boobs, humanity.
So, what to do about this day, if we’re not going to ignore it, entirely? Well, there is the opportunity to get all metaphysically quantum mechanics about love and think too hard about love such that everything wonderful about it gets dissected and catalogued and sterile and left autopsied on the emergency room table:
Love is a psychological emotion. Love is a biochemically physiological response. Love is a dynamic power relationship. Love is a divine substance. Love is a particle. Love is a wave. When we attempt to observe the location of love, we cannot determine love’s momentum and the more we pinpoint one aspect, the less we can pinpoint the other. Ninety percent of the universe is made up of Dark Love™ (that one’s kinda hott).
Back when Jacques Derrida was hot (and alive), I was bored and came up with an idea of love using différance. (Sorry. I was lazy. It’s a Wikipedia link.) Basically, if I remember correctly, it goes that in a loving relationship, the two people in this unique dialogue are always already differing in their understanding of and relating to one another. That is to say that as they continue in a loving dialogue, there is always a difference in who they are relating to each other and how they understand one another, as each other is always already changing in their identity and relation to one another.
But simultaneously, each person defers to the other. That is to say that when in love, each person defers to the other out of desire for the other. We go out of our way for each other, so to speak. We are gracious to one another. (Grace is a kind of difference and deferral as well, though I’ll think about that at a later time). So there is a seemingly-infinite deferral, whose exchange is never resolved or satisfied, even after the active loving relationship has ended by termination (i.e., break-up) or death. Thus love is irreducible, which is simultaneously freeing and frustratingly maddening. This freeing and maddening is often most noticeable at the initial and ending stages of a loving relationship.
This isn’t a very good theory of love and I’ve barely taken any time to really work through it (always dangerous when deconstruction is involved) and I shelved it because I saw something shiny and chased after that, instead. But I think that in terms of theology and love, there is the opportunity to explore this a bit more because in différance, love remains elusive, yet integrally involved. Love, like différance, is the play of differences. And what is more cute than the playfulness of young lovers. Echhh…
And love as différance can operate between two lovers, but because it is the play of differences, it can also operate between God and the individual. Because the individual phenomenologically experiences love and believes that s/he is receiving God’s love and that God is Love, per se. But love is the play of differences and in love’s deconstructive operation, there is no actual, ultimate signifier of an ontological God, only the perception through love’s play. Here again, love is maddening – this time, divine, apophatic love.
So, that’s my way of massacring Valentine’s Day, by complicating it and not being helpful or edifying in any way. So, I’ve not talked about God’s love. Instead, I muddied the waters about what love is anyway. At least for a few moments, you’ll think about love and it will be ruined. Until you see something shiny that you might want to buy for someone you love.