The Beatles first performed “All You Need Is Love” in 1967 as part of an “Our World” global television link, the first of its kind. The song was perfect for the occasion and became a hit. It’s got a catchy lyric and the chorus makes for an interesting debate even today.
Is it true that all we really need is love?
Many of us don’t feel that way. Many of us have a lot of other things filling our lists of what we need and value the most: self-sufficiency, independence, money, privilege, career advancement, our country, our family, our religion.
Many religions don’t see it that way, either. They dote on theological constructs and codes of conduct for their followers. They devise lists of who’s in God’s favor and who is not. Their do-and-don’t lists rarely say much about love and its ramifications.
They love rules instead.
Rules are intended to regulate behavior. Rules establish minimum requirements and set limits — how often you must do something, what you can’t do no matter what, what consequences will follow for failing to observe a rule.
Love works in a totally different way. By its nature, love has no minimums and no limits. It challenges the assumptions and the motivations behind all of our behaviors. Love leaves no part of our lives untouched. It doesn’t recognize any superficial standards. It challenges the prevailing rules that try to limit it to certain people and certain circumstances.
Loves tries to change us.
The truth is, we can follow our various codes of conduct while still clinging to our prejudices, our selfishness, our indifference, our judgmental approach to others. Love never lets us off so easy.
Maybe that’s why we prefer rules to love.
And that brings us back to the song, which if we think about it is not really all that original. The message has been around for a long time.
There’s a well-known composition attributed to John — the apostle, not the Beatle — that says everyone who loves will experience and know God intimately. On the flip side, anyone who lacks love will know nothing of God, because God is love.
In one of his most famous compositions, Paul — the evangelist, not the Beatle — wrote that even the most religiously observant person gets nowhere if they lack love. They can speak like an angel and make the ultimate sacrifice, but it amounts to nothing if love is missing.
A rabbi who was passionate about love inspired John and Paul. As the story goes, one day he was asked what he considered the most important commandment, the biggest rule of all. What is the one overriding thing that God would have us do?
He responded that there are actually two things we must do: We must love. And we must love.
Love, love, love. He said it many different times, in as many different ways as he could.
The message was that if we have love, then we have what matters. If we’re letting love direct our lives, then we’re on the right path. If love isn’t guiding our lives, then nothing else really matters — not our theologies, not our traditions, not our religious observances. All of those will be empty expressions of empty hearts.
So, is love all we need? I suppose John, Paul and the Beatles would say: “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.”
What would you say?
Joe Kay is a professional writer living in the Midwest.
Photo: Mary Jane Cannon/Shutterstock