The poetic beauty of the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians has made it one of the better known and more widely read portions of Christian scriptures. Deemed “the love chapter,” it is a staple reading at weddings— and a favored text for preaching.
The apostle Paul’s rhythmic words describe a love that is active and enduring beyond the limits many seek to impose. He concludes that such love is the greatest of all good attributes.
Therefore, it is easy to gloss over the words within that text that address maturity. However, possessing and expressing the kind of self-giving love that Paul commends require getting over one’s self-focus and self-interest.
Much of the hostile, grievance-driven ideology that has arisen within American religious and political life today looks absolutely nothing like the kind of love to which Paul speaks — the unbridled love that is the nature of God and is commended for those who follow Jesus.
Tom Nichols is an old-school conservative analyst and author who taught at Dartmouth College and then at the U.S. Naval War College where he was professor of national security affairs. Like some others (but not enough) who’ve seen their long-held conservative principles rebranded into what they consider a dangerous ideology, Nichols has issued needed warnings.
In one recent critique, he expressed alarm over how both the Christian faith and American patriotism have been perverted and prostituted for a near-dictatorial agenda. He writes on X (formerly Twitter) that this dangerous movement is “about resentment and ignorance and displaced anger,” among other negative attributes.
Then he adds: “But it’s also a time that seems to me [to be] incredibly juvenile.”
My mind went to Paul’s lovely love chapter and his words: “When I was a child, I talked like a child. I thought like a child. I had the understanding of a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me” (1 Cor. 13:11 NIRV).
Those with expertise in human development can explain in detail how maturity occurs — or should occur — throughout the lifecycle. But we all know that “mine, mine, mine” precedes learning to share with others and the values of serving the common good.
Yet many white Americanized Christians keep echoing, “mine, mine, mine.” Not every childish attribute was put away with their outgrown pajamas.
We see other marks of immaturity, like temper tantrums — or easily believing whatever one is told.
For kids, far-fetched explanations are readily embraced when Christmas morning brings requested goodies. Grown people falling for all matters of outlandish and unprovable conspiracies is quite another thing.
Writing to the Ephesians (4:14) as well, Paul urged them to grow up and no longer fall for “the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.”
As intended, regurgitated falsities today drive selfishness, discrimination and often violence — accompanied by other infantile traits. Projection, impulsiveness, low self-esteem, rejecting constructive criticism, lack of empathy and resistance to accountability are other familiar marks from which not everyone ages out of over time.
Equality and inconveniences are treated as personal affronts worthy of pouting if not rage.
For some, playing dress-up and braggingly brandishing their destructive toys are often part of this immaturity as well. The tough guy appearance — ironically exhibited by those who are most fearful — is put on public display.
It is done in the same way I could strut into my brother’s room unfazed when wearing my plastic-molded six-shooters tucked into an imitation leather holster with fake rhinestones. But that was before I had yet hopped the school bus for the first time.
Rhetoric from pulpits, podiums and media — that is largely ugly and untrue — drives this continuing state of immaturity. It seeks allegiance and action, not by good motives but by tapping into a sense of not getting one’s due.
Messages — like “We will not take it anymore” and “Let’s have trial by combat” — stir passions and responses that contrast with Paul’s words and Jesus’ life and teachings. “Love is patient and kind…” (I Cor. 13:4) and “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled…” (Matt. 23:12) are disregarded as some babble for wimps.
Tragically, even those who would never act out on aggressively misapplied passion are the very ones providing the political clout for those who do. A most dangerous mix occurs when persons even of my vintage behave like spoiled brats and are given access to power.
Such is now occurring or being sought by a horde of white Christian nationalists — perverting the meanings of both Christian and patriot — whose anger-prone immaturity is acted out in school boards, state legislatures and all forms of government beyond.
While professing a higher allegiance, their attitudes and actions are void of what Paul described as a mature expression of love — and what Jesus called his followers to be and do.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.