2011 Amsterdam

2011 Amsterdam

City of Desires, a Place for God?

Read the 2011 conference abstract book

Iconic for its apparent facilitation of every desire, the city of Amsterdam is a great location to explore the practical theological meanings of desire. Desire is one of those concepts that runs through many theories and perspectives, yet is seldom addressed by its own name. There are numerous studies about religious experience, magic, prayer, and so on, but very few on the desires in and behind them. There are many discussions on sexual tendencies and moral boundaries, but hardly any on the desires at stake. There are some critical descriptions and evaluations of consumerism and the temptations of material fulfillment in prosperity gospel movements, but even less that approach these issues from the perspective of desire. And there seems to be no systematic treatment of the category of desire in and across these domains, at least not in practical theology.

A starting point is the understanding of desire as the conscious impulse toward something that promises enjoyment or satisfaction in its attainment. The concept combines a volitional dimension that points to the object of desire, and an affective dimension that regards the strength of desire. Desire emerges from the connection between a presently experienced lack or deficiency and a possible or postulated fulfillment. This connection gives desire its meaning and force in human life. The desired object is represented, which makes it a performative act: in desiring, the desired object becomes present in our lives.

As our deepest desires are too fundamental to be fulfilled by concrete experiences, we normally encounter only partial or temporary fulfillment. Often we replace the fundamental desires for more accessible ones, but the ensuing satisfaction can only reveal that our deeper yearning is insatiable. Beneath our everyday desires is an ultimate and transcending desire, maybe even a desire for the Divine. This may help us understand how a city of desires can be interpreted as a place for God. That should not blind us to the ethical questions arising from the fact that fulfillment of the desire of one person can be harmful to another.