1 Corinthians 13.

Dream on Paul of Tarsus. Who are you kidding?

As I sat in a church in Barnes this afternoon, I listened in my usual distracted fashion to the sermon given at a wedding.  I pondered sadly, or perhaps soberly, on the chances of survival of a marriage, any marriage. It ain’t easy; that at least the preacher man admitted.

I had been invited to sing at the service as part of a small choir and had accepted the chance with much enthusiasm. After mugging up on the divine music for a few days, while down on the rugged cliffs of north Devon, today was the big day. Works by Finzi and the glorious 15th Century composer Juan de Anchieta were sung, side by side with Handel and Welsh hymns.

As is not uncustomary, the young couple were exhorted to take to heart the wise words of St Paul and to live by those words in their marriage.

Love.

Love is all. The couple should be kind to each other, they should not envy.  They should not be rude, selfish; they should think no evil.  Hold no grudges, no fear.

Behave, in other words, in a way no human has ever done either before or after these words were written.

And to give him his due, the pastor reckoned such behavior was most unlikely. And then of course the crunch line. J.C. did behave like this; he was a great and good guy and came down to earth to save us all. He behaved perfectly and then pushed off for a couple of thousand years, hoping we would all be lead by his exemplary behavior.

Right. I’ll do the jokes.

Oddly enough, the sermon drew me back to my musings on Buddhism, which in general I find more to my taste than the sickly, sweet sugar of Acts.

My strong suspicion is that reincarnation and enlightenment are about as likely as  leprechauns and the parousia, but at least re-incarnation would give us a chance to get it right next time round. And a bit better the time after that. Provided of course we had not been so naughty we were turned into a worm or a dog.

You see despite the fact our Jewish chum Paul appears to have wasted his time, he was nonetheless cruising along the right lines.

Even though none of us manage to behave well the whole time, that should not stop us trying. And it should not stop the Juju men from trying to keep us on the right track.

So yes, on occasion I am inclined to sigh with exasperation at the naivety of the religious, and yet without them there would be few to advance the ideal as something we should strive for.

1 Corinthians 13 is a magnificent piece of writing and a noble goal. I applaud that ancient Jew.  My belief however is that until we re-engineer the human genome, such piety will remain pie in the sky. Until we can release ourselves from the shackles of our evolutionary inheritance, St Paul can whistle in the wind.

1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love I am only a resounding gong or clanging cymbal resounding in the wind.

2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and can understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have faith, that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

3 And though I give all I possess to the poor, and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;

5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;

6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;

7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love has no fear; it does not worry; love keeps no records of wrongs; never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.

9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part.

10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

12 For now we see in a mirror, darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

3 Comments

  1. Anthony,

    It’s reassuring to know that you do value the principles expressed in the passages of the spiritual writers throughout human history, as well as the views of how we should be responding to our current circumstances in the 21st century, regardless of a person’s station in life. There is much to admire in many of the writings of our ancestors in matters both spiritual and temporal. Your own participation in the world, especially in retrospect from your years as a financial advisor and manager, seems to have given you a more balanced view of how to better conduct responsible financial management in every area of that arena. I’m confident that with the right encouragement and with a sustained effort to correct our shortcomings in the world and within ourselves, there is at least some cause for optimism. The last sentence in your response reveals a vitally important component of the solution. We must all begin to advocate that our powers be “harnessed to make a better world.”

    One of my primary motivations for writing and participating here at WordPress.com is my belief that we CAN make a difference by participating in the larger conversation about improving the lives of our fellow human beings, and indeed of all living creatures, and by taking what we learn from each other and from the experiences we bring with us to that conversation, and use them to do our best to contribute to the betterment of those we encounter in our own circles, however large or small. We must believe that making a better world is possible, before it ever will be.

    I’ve been enjoying reading along here lately and hope you can appreciate my interest in encouraging the “better angels of your nature,” whose existence are quite clear to your readers, if not to you at every turn.

  2. Anthony,

    There can be little doubt about the character of the passage you quote from Corinthians as “a magnificent piece of writing and a noble goal,” and while your skeptical side seems to hold sway here in the main, I sense more broadly your admiration for the sentiments expressed by the preacher, who emphasized how we intend to conduct ourselves, as expressed in the traditional commentary of the modern marriage ceremony. No one with any degree of common sense or at least some awareness of the way the world works these days supposes that the lofty rhetoric of Corinthians is anything but an aspirational view of what the ideals should be in marriage. As someone who has been married to the same person for thirty years, I can affirm your estimation that we frequently fall short of the ideal version of love as described in Corinthians, but the ideal was never supposed to hold true at every moment in anyone’s adventures into life and love.

    In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul admits that his message and his preaching “…had none of the persuasive force of ‘wise’ argumentation, but the convincing power of the Spirit. As a consequence, your faith rests not on the wisdom of men but on the power of God.” One might suppose then, that the Corinthians believed in the gospel message on God’s authority rather than on its intrinsic appeal to human reason. Even today, in spite of our 21st century skepticism, it’s practically a given that humans will sometimes fail to live up to the ideals of our chosen religious traditions, while still at least striving to do so.

    While I do not pretend to have definitively attained any of the particularly lofty goals from the passage you quoted, I have witnessed the genuine desire to implement them throughout my life in my grandparents, parents, siblings, and extended family members, and agree with Paul that our love should not be self-seeking, and that it should not rejoice in what is wrong, and that when it is genuine, patient, and kind, it gives us the power to show “love’s forbearance, its hope and its power to endure.”

    I very much enjoyed the music video and suspect that you also privately hold to the spirit of the goals described in Corinthians, and wish I could hear the music you make in person, so I might attempt to convince you that within that performance you gave, in spite of your skepticism, is embodied the idea that among all the aspects of modern life, what truly matters are the “things that last,” and that “the greatest of these is love.”

    1. You suspect quite correctly. I hold dear to the sentiments and spirit described in Corinthians. Indeed, there are innumerable passages in the scriptures which move me greatly and which are manifestly and obviously “correct” – at least to any right thinking person. My sadness and cynicism result from the fact that while such sentiments have been expressed, often beautifully, for many thousands of years and by many different (and in their way excellent) religions, little has been the end result. But no doubt we would have been even worse off had such things not been thought and written.

      I began life as an ardent capitalist, well before the days of Thatcher. My grandfather was a wealthy factory owner and that, in my days of innocence, I held to be something admirable. And indeed he was an admirable and kind man. But I have come to regret the days of Margaret Thatcher and the ruthless market economy she fostered so well. I have come to see most business people as “Wolves of Wall Street” and to long for a viable alternative to the inadequacies of our economic model.

      Where men are driven by something other than profit.

      We live in a universe we know to be infinite (for all intents and purposes). We know how one element can be transformed into another, even if we can not yet do it in all cases. In the beginning was helium….and then came the periodic table…..

      And so, love. Yes, it is paramount. We must feed the starving masses. We must make a world where no one suffers. We should take love and turn helium into bread. Make a world where inequality is something of the past and where all men walk as equals.

      But reform is not going to come from an external god, attractive as that notion may be to many. I admire St Paul’s sentiments greatly but now is as good a time as any to turn those sentiments into practical reality. And I think that will only come to pass through the realization that our entire nature must be changed. Voluntarily and through science. The preacher would talk of the “fall” and the imperfection of man. But that imperfection arose through blind evolution – a souped up version of Conway’s Game of Life. Not through “sin”.

      The words of the religious writers have great beauty and much value. No one else has spoken up for the downtrodden over the ages. But I would like to see some of those fine sentiments put into practice.

      Even if we are still but children, our powers grow. I would like to see those powers harnessed to make a better world.

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