Article first appeared on SI November 20, 2006
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
-Jesus of Nazareth (Matt. 22:37–39, KJV)
All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.
-The Beatles (“All You Need Is Love”) 1
Were John, Paul, George, and Ringo, 1900 years after Jesus of Nazareth, reiterating His message to a new generation? Is this similarity evidence that the same basic message underlies all world religions and worldviews? That after we strip away all the external, all the ceremonial, all the legal, all the theological and metaphysical considerations, every religion pursues the same basic values, usually including “love”?
That all religions are basically the same is an idea held both by the man on the street and in the halls of academia. Consider what Paul Tillich wrote:
In the depth of every living religion there is a point at which the religion itself loses its importance, a point at which it breaks through its particularity, elevating it to spiritual freedom and with it to a vision of the spiritual presence in other expressions as the ultimate meaning of man’s existence.2
Eavesdrop on an ecumenical gathering or an international peace talk, and you’ll hear the participants competing for the most-flowery-love-peace-mutual-respect-talk award. In the end, it all sounds very much alike. But even if it could be shown that every world religion includes a basic imperative to love, are they somehow more alike to each other for it? Hardly. The idea that the closer one approaches the center of a religion, the more general and universal it becomes, is undiluted hogwash, the antithesis of the truth. The closer one approaches the center of a religion, the more particular and specific it becomes.
So what about the particulars of love in Christianity? What does Christianity say about love that other world religions simply cannot say? Would John, Paul, George, and Ringo, still sing the same song if the Bible defined “love”?