Using one set of words or another, people often tell me they want to do more than “just talk” about saving the world. They want a plan of action. Well, I’m nothing if not a s-l-o-w thinker, so for a long time I rather complacently accepted this sock on the jaw (after all, as a writer, my whole life is “just talk”). Recently it began to dawn on me that, along with my jaw, “just talk” was getting a really bad rap.
Even though they describe a lot of “action,” the Hebrew scriptures are obviously “just talk.” This “just talk,” however, is the foundation of Hebrew culture, the glue that has held Jews together as a people from ancient times to the present. This particular collection of “just talk” was as potent at the time of Christ as it ever was, and it was on this collection that Christ built his teachings-his own brand of “just talk.”
Christianity (even more than Judaism) is built on “just talk,” beginning with the letters of the first Christian leaders and the gospels, which were ultimately collected into a single volume of “just talk” known as the New Testament. But beyond that, it was the vast outpouring of “just talk” in the early centuries of the Christian era that formulated the meaning of Christianity that all later generations would understand. Eventually Christianity began to break up always on the basis of “just talk.” Obviously it’s “just talk” that separates Lutherans from Baptists, Episcopalians from Congregationalists. In fact, all that they can be said to have in common is the bible itself — all “just talk,” of course.
It hardly needs saying that Confucianism, the foundation of Chinese life from ancient times until just a few decades ago, was based unequivocally on “just talk,” in this case a collection of sayings known as the Analects, attributed to Confucius.
Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato were of course all “just talk,” though they shaped Western civilization far more profoundly than any “mover and shaker” in history.
When in 1215 the followers of King John at Runnymede wanted to know exactly where they stood, they demanded something in writing. This particular bit of “just talk” is known as the Magna Carta, a ground-breaking document that is the precursor of every “bill of rights” in the world.
Needless to say, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the UN Charter are all “just talk.”
For the first twenty years of his career, Adolf Hitler was almost universally dismissed as “just talk” — especially when he emphatically stated his intention of getting rid of the Jews. But ultimately Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, and Albert Einstein — all “just talk” as well — have had a more fundamental and lasting effect on the world than the architect of the Third Reich.
Although the Communist revolution (wrought by “men of action”) ultimately proved to be a spectacular flop, the “just talk” that inspired it is still going strong. The works of Karl Marx are read more widely today than they were a century ago.
Edward George Bulwer-Lytton is probably destined to be a forgotten author, but he will surely be remembered for saying one thing, that the pen is mightier than the sword. It’s a nice thought, isn’t it? Sure, but hey, let’s get real here.
We all know it’s just talk.