October 10th 1999

All Saints Wimbledon


All you Need is Love


Any day now the publicity machine of the Church of England is going to spend several thousand pounds of your money and mine on a new poster advertising campaign.

It's their third effort of this kind: the first one you may remember was the Bad Hair Day and came out around Christmas.

The second one featured Jesus as a Ché Guevara-lookalike and appeared last Holy Week.

The next one, of which you may have seen a preview in the newspapers, carries the caption of "All you Need is Love" and it is a conscious take-off of the Leonardo da Vinci's famous Last Supper but with the faces of various highly-powered business men substituted for those of the twelve apostles, Bill Gates, I seem to remember, doing duty for Judas.

Now, with the details of the poster we are not here concerned. As was the case with its two predecessors there are those, myself included, who are not at all sure that we have grasped its full meaning.

But it's with the caption "All you Need is Love" that we shall be concerned this morning.

This proposition "All you Need is Love" is what is popularly called a soundbyte nowadays. An earlier generation would have called it a cliché - which by the way is a French word which comes from the noises made by those machines which endlessly stamp out medallions and coins of little intrinsic worth from sheets of metal. So a cliché or a soundbyte is a statement which sounds quite impressive but, when you come to look at what it's really worth, it cash-value, so to say, turns out to be something of a disappointment. Basically it is an over-simplification.

So what's wrong with "All you Need is Love"?

Well let me remind you what C. S. Lewis said in his book Mere Christianity chapter two:

He says:

"the most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There is not one of them which will not make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide. You might think love of humanity in general was safe, but it is not. If you leave out justice you will find yourself breaking agreements and faking evidence in trials this "for the sake of humanity", and become in the end a cruel and treacherous man."

This is particularly true of the word "love" as it is popularly understood (and intended by the soundbyte-merchants and spin-doctors that it should be thus understood). For they want us to understand "love" as meaning primarily a feeling of benevolence and goodwill towards our fellow men.

Now the problem with love as a feeling is threefold: and this applies to any other feeling besides love as well.

Firstly: feelings are notoriously unreliable. They can depend on such variable factors as our digestion, the weather, our health, even the way the trains or the buses are running at today.

Secondly: our very natures will tend to make us feel more benevolent towards people whom we naturally like and get on with and correspondingly less so towards those whom we do not.

Thirdly: feelings are the lazy person's substitute for serious thought about anything. Do you realise that each time you watch television or read a newspaper uncritically, you are allowing someone else to do your thinking for you? Now of course it's generally speaking a good thing to be well-informed, and an even better thing to consider viewpoints other than our own, even if, having considered them carefully we draw the conclusion that they are wrong and we are right

However, that's not how most people view and read. On the contrary they allow their feelings to be manipulated in precisely the way that the media opinion-formers believe to be best: where "best", as often as not, means "best for our own [the media-manipulators'] purposes": and those "purposes" may, or may not, have "the welfare of others (or humanity as a whole)" as their ultimate goal.

So "love" as a feeling certainly isn't enough. It simply can't be trusted to come up with the right answers.

But what about the thing that Christians mean when they talk about "love", especially in the context of "loving God" and "loving our neighbour"? Isn't that enough?

Well it is, and it isn't. Saint Paul, you may remember, though he puts love at the head of his list of virtues in I Corinthians and elsewhere, also emphasises the two other theological virtues, faith and hope.

According to St Paul these two theological virtues (so as they are called) which will, in the end, when we are made perfect and God-like, be subsumed into the one great virtue of love because love lies at the very heart of the mystery of the Godhead, the Trinity of three persons and one God in whom we believe.

But for most of us "in the end" is still some way off - further for some of us than for others. To try and sustain a perfect love for God and our neighbour without faith and without hope is, for most, probably all of us, a practical impossibility.

Why? Well, loving anyone or anything involves getting to know them. And that's what faith is all about. If we were as diligent about reading our Bibles and listening to sermons as we are about watching the telly or reading the newspaper we should find that the God who reveals himself through Bible and doctrine is very different from the gods in whom the spin-doctors want us to believe.

Secondly, without hope in the promises of God, there's just not enough motivation to keep us going in the business of loving him, either directly or as he manifests himself in our fellow men.

There are so many things which put our love severely to the test. Earlier on I mentioned, half jokingly such things as the weather, our digestion and the way public transport is running. If you add to these the much more seriously exasperating things such as our children, our parents our husband or wife, our boss, our employees, our fellow students then you soon see why: love on its own, especially in the sense of a feeling of benevolence, is just not enough.

Faith and hope without love quickly degenerate into something else - a type of enlightened self-interest if you will. but love, unsustained by faith and hope stops functioning altogether.

Give me any day the man of faith and hope in whom the fire of love has burnt somewhat low. By the careful application of faith and hope the glowing embers of love can be fanned back into a flame again.

But in the case of the man, however benevolent, who lacks faith and hope, there's nothing to work with. One can only pray that his love may be sustained (though goodness knows by what!) so that one day he will tumble awake to the fact that the correct response to the poster which says "All you Need is Love" is simply "but it isn't!"

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