Many have thrown off the God delusion, but another has us in a firmer embraceby Will Self / October 12, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
At my own first wedding—as at the first weddings of so many others—the principal Bible reading was from St Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. You know the one, all about faith, hope and love: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Actually, the version read out at our own rather traditional service was from the King James translation, which renders the original as “charity” rather than “love”—a semantic shift of some significance, because what we contemporarily understand as the love between committed sexual partners is quite different to any form of beneficence. When the priest intones—“So now faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love”—we tend not to think of selfless acts of giving. Instead, looking to the couple standing hand-in-hand before the altar, we meditate on the comparative ephemerality of the phenomenon we call romantic love—ephemeral, even by the increasingly short standards of duration of most marriages. We wonder: Will theirs last? Do they love each other enough? Will the memory of that love (if not the love itself) sustain them when things get rough?
A Church of England marriage is an odd thing—true, the modern service has jettisoned the stern injunctions that prefaced my own first (and lamentably brief) union. No longer are the congregation told marriage was ordained firstly for “procreation,” and secondly as “a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.” Instead, we have a touchy-feely, tambourine-tapping, guitar-strumming substitute: “The gift of marriage brings husband and wife together in the delight and tenderness of sexual union and joyful commitment to the end of their lives.” A charmingly naive estimation, I’d say, of the ability of us contemporary, spoilt, sexually sophisticated instant-gratifiers to stay the mortal, marital course.