Romantic Pagans, True Religion, and True Love

Whitney Houston album cover

“I have nothing, nothing, nothing
If I don’t have you…”

I was listening to the radio the other evening when Whitney Houston’s 1993 hit “I Have Nothing” came on. I would gladly listen to Whitney Houston sing “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” so I always smile to hear her voice come through the speaker, but I could not help being struck as the singer’s amazing voice soared out the chorus, “I have nothing, nothing, nothing / If I don’t have you…”

It’s a line that could have come from a million different songs, movies, and books in a world where romance is one of our favorite idols. How many movies have you watched where the essential struggle and the key to lasting happiness is whether he ends up with she? How many songs mourn lost love, celebrate new love, or narrate the search for love?

Now, a good romantic story is a wonderful thing, but even a good thing can turn unhealthy. The lines in Whitney Houston’s ballad caught me because they hint at the sad, cold side of Hollywood-style romance: I have nothing if I don’t have you. I don’t want to read too much into a lyric that does capture well the breathless and passionate single-mindedness of being in love, but I wonder if the songwriter didn’t accidentally capture something else too—the grey emptiness of being out of love when romance is your god.

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