Since I was a child I have noticed that every time we are confronted with some tragedy – natural disasters, mass poverty, police violence, war, etc. – there are always a handful of people that respond with repeating what the Beatles said in the 60’s, ‘all you need is love.’ This past week’s murder of two black men – Philando Castile and Alton Sterling – triggered another round of this sound byte from people both in person and on social media. I had spouted this line off numerous times before, but this time around I took umbrance with it. It gave me cause to pause, and as I thought about why it bothered me so much I came to a single conclusion; Love is NOT all we need. Love has failed to abolish poverty, racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, war, etc. It is my hypothesis that love, soely, never will.
Human love, unlike God’s love, is woefully inadequate and imperfect. We love people for what they can do for us, how they make us feel and sometimes simply due to obligation. Rarely, if ever, do we love someone as God loves us – unconditionally. I don’t mean that we are loved in spite of our flaws. I mean that we are loved BECAUSE OF them. We are loved because we are fragile, flawed and fucked up. Americans, westerners, live in an individualist – as opposed to a collectivist – culture. Not only do we love others for what they can do for us, but we only care about people and thinks that directly impact our lives. This is why we can show great compassion for a loved one whose house burns down, but we can scroll past countless stories of human misery; Colombian child coal miners, Palestinian homes being shelled and destroyed, the bodies of Syrian refugees washing up on distant shores, food shortages, water crises – all out war on people all over the planet. So, you see, with a love as flawed and as incomplete as our own love can never been ‘all we need.’
Does this make us bad people? I submit that we are not. I point towards the Catholic church’s teaching on human nature; while we are fundamentally flawed and thus prone to error, we are good by nature. I don’t think for a moment that anyone in good mental health wants to see another being suffer – in that sentiment, we are like God. It is my opinion that rather than being bad people we are unenlightened people. Rather than being cruel people, we simply don’t listen compassionately to each other. Rather than being dismayed at this, I find myself rejoicing. Yes, we are flawed people but we are not inherently evil people. This means that, with discipline, we can transform our callousness into compassion. We can change our ignorance into awareness. While love is not all we need it is a step in the long and fruitful journey of becoming full human.
The next step is action.
In the Gospel of James we are told that faith without deeds is dead; the same can be said for love. How often have we heard our significant other tell us that they don’t want us to tell them we love them, they want us to show it? It is the same for the world at large. We need to cultivate and practice the actions of love, not simply mouth words that amount to nothing. I submit my favorite Beatitude for instruction:
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice.”
The action of love is to work for an egalitarian society in which everyone is – in both theory and in practice – equal. This means raising our voices against injustices like poverty, racism, sexism, and war. This means picking a cause you are interested in and getting involved in grassroots movements. Yes, this means protests. Yes, this means letter writing campaigns. Yes, this means becoming more educated everyday about your cause and the causes of others.
Yes – Jesus loved people, but he still went out to the public and performed healings and exorcisms. He still went to the people and preached peace and justice at the Sermon on the Mount. He still went out to feed and clothe the poor. Love without public action amounts to nothing more than masturbation.Self love will not transform the world.
Do not listen to the platitude, ‘all you need is love.’ Do not be lulled into further complacency. Open your hearts, open your minds and let EVERYONE in – then ACT. They only way things will change is through direct, public action.