This country suffers from a deadly sickness, an ailment far deeper than the obvious symptoms. The political wrangling, the looming threats of another faraway war, the intense societal divisions, the never-ending racism, violence, and hatefulness: These are all surface eruptions of the internal disease. We are dying from a lack of love.
This failure to love is why greed succeeds – from corporate gluttony to the malignant prosperity gospel – while working people and the poor struggle to even pay for their kids to see a doctor. It is how otherwise decent people can compartmentalize their ethics and empathy, so long as their 401K continues to escalate.
It is why we take sides instead of taking on the work of the common good. It is the cause for excluding those of different faiths, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. It is why it is so easy to turn our heads away from refugees and caged children at the border.
Without love, our hearts constrict; our compassion tanks run dry; our ability to empathize, to be be kind, to sacrifice and serve, withers away like an atrophied muscle. The words of Thomas Merton have been proven tragically true in our time: “Without the capacity to love, we have nothing to give to others but our own ego-centered ambitions.”
Speaking as a Christian, this is the worst possible criticism for at his elemental core, Jesus Christ brought the corpus of his teaching down to a single mantra: “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” It is not any more complicated than that. Thus, in a society that claims to be Christian (65% of the population asserts as much), but lacks the basic characteristics of that claim, then it is either hypocrisy or utter betrayal of the Founder of our faith. I say it is the latter of these.
We have placed our own Judas kiss on the face of the Christ, selling out to power, greed, and dogma instead of teaching people how to be loving human beings. Simply put: If the practice of Christianity doesn’t lead us to become more loving, compassionate, honest, kind, and open-hearted people, we are doing it wrong – no matter how “right” we think we are.
Yes, I know this has the ring of a babbling flower-child, this Lennonesque declaration that “All You Need Is Love,” but it is true nonetheless. All the Great Traditions, wisest teachers, and most spiritually developed perspectives have always understood this: Only love, put into practice by transformed (and transforming) individuals, can produce a more peaceful and loving world.
Of course, I’m not speaking of sentimentality or velvety compliance. No, love is – quite literally – stronger than hell, the hell we have created. It is made of “patience, kindness, and selflessness, lacking jealousy, boastfulness, rudeness, or irritability. Love keeps no record of being wronged; seeks justice, celebrates the truth, never gives up, and endures through every circumstance.” This is the only cure for the sickness of our souls – and for our world.