there was a guy on the radio this morning — in the god slot feature which somehow persists on the BBC R4 news flagship today known as ’thought for the day’ talking about how the OED now features the term ‘post-truth’ having gained currency as the most important new word of the year. this guy somehow seemed to identify or by means of some rapid semantic gymnastics translate the term into st paul’s triumvirate of virtue: ‘faith, hope, and love’. these represent, this speaker had it, three facets, not of virtue, but of truth. for him, truth and virtue seem to be interchangeable. i would ask, as pontius pilate we are told, asked of jesus; ‘what is truth?’ implying, as he did, that truth is contingent upon one’s point of view, a relative concept, post-einstein or post-modern. i’m tempted to, no i will, quote bob dylan here; ’you are right from your side, i am right from mine’ (he is now a nobel prize winner after all).
but to come back to the triumvirate of virtue ‘faith, hope, and love’; when we speak of faith we talk of the past. it’s that which has been, of hope, that which we wish for the future, which leaves ‘love’ for the present. there was a short video i saw a few years back (this was a time when the creative review gave away small CD roms with each month’s issue. how long ago all that seems now. print media was still king and people still used to say ‘i can’t imagine why i would ever want or need a mobile phone). ‘experimental video’ it used to be called then. this was short; actually about ten seconds. it was a guy in his car driving down a straight road. just like in a hollywood road movie. it could have been the arizona desert, or new mexico. speaking to the camera: ‘this is a time machine’. gesturing to the rear view mirror, he declared ‘the past’, looking at his steering wheel, ‘this is the present’, then looking at the road ahead, the camera following his gaze, ‘that, that is the future’. end of video.
so, ‘love’ is the present. when i was a kid it wasn’t ‘faith, hope and love, at some time in my post school days love was introduced, by proselytising evangelists. my suspicion is that it’s a happy-clappy born again thing. when i hear the word ‘love’ i immediately reach for my kaftan.
no. when i was a kid it was ‘charity’. my teachers wouldn’t have had any truck with anything so nebulous, as woolly as ‘love’. charity, now there’s a slippery word. ‘as cold as charity’. something rooted in ‘good works’, public service, victorian values. but isn’t ‘charity’ a much better word when framed with ‘faith’ and ‘hope’? for me it implies something more concrete, more substantial than ‘love’. something altruistic.
in this new world of trumpian bombast and bigotry, where alt.right misogyny, racism and lying are the new normal, charity seems to me something which is in precious short supply.