Thursday, 12 September 2013

Permission to Love Your Dad More Than Other Dads/The Good Despised One

It's in Aquinas. That is, I looked up Aquinas on Charity.  I have gone on a great deal on the topic of "Is it okay to love best those closest to me?" in yesterday's combox.

Spoiler: Aquinas says YES. And--this will blow your mind--he says you should love yourself MORE than your neighbour. That is, you should love your own soul more than your neighbour. (You're supposed to love your neighbour's soul more than your body, by which I am guessing Aquinas means your bodily comforts, as Aquinas was born before the artificial mind/body/soul split.) Anyway, have a look at my comment. Now I shall go on at length about the Good Samaritan.

One of the problems with reading the story of the Good Samaritan in the modern day West is that the modern day West is the result of about nineteen hundred years of Christianity and one hundred years of fashionable Doubt. The fashionable Doubt cherry-picks Christian ideas even  as it scoffs, "Well, of course, we care about strangers. Of course we do. You don't have to be a Christian to know that. Look at the Ancient Greek code of hospitality, blah blah blah."

Meanwhile, Christians are so used to the idea that we are supposed to love strangers and enemies that we are uncertain if we are supposed to love our family, friends and neighbours more. If we are honest, we admit that we do. But isn't this wrong? Isn't it, when you get down to it, perhaps racist?

 In first century Palestine, occupied, taxed and impoverished, the problem was not that people loved "their own" first. It was that they loved "their own" first AND LAST. Family ties were all that really mattered, although people had natural neighbourly feelings, too. When a widow's son died, for example, the neighbours would gather round and bewail her misfortune--without a son, she was that much more likely to starve to death. (Neighbours might feel it virtuous to prevent this from happening, if they could, but they might not think it their responsibility.) You'll notice our Lord was careful to make sure His mother was taken care of by an adopted son; it was one of His last thoughts when He was dying.

Our Lord knew perfectly well how awful it was in first century Palestine not to have any family to take care of you, and you'll notice in the Gospel that He heals many mothers, children and the adult brother of Mary and Martha, upon whom they were presumably dependent.  What is interesting, from a historical point of view, is that Our Lord goes beyond His family ties and His community and even the different kinds of Semites to help utter foreigners, including an officer of the brutal, occupying force.

Of course, the Roman in that story was rather astonishing, too, since (A) he cared about his poor paralyzed servant that much and (B) he recognized that he wasn't worthy to have Our Lord in his house. Since we all forget what a bunch of thugs the Romans were, perhaps it would be salutary to imagine for a second that Our Lord was a Pole in Occupied Poland and the Good Roman was a Good German in the Occupying Army, maybe a sincere Christian who thought the Generalgouverneur was a disgusting pig (as Hans Frank certainly was). Eeek!

We forget, too, how much the Jews of Jesus's day despised the Samaritans. Hearing a story in which a Samaritan was the good guy must have shocked them. To understand the impact the story of the Good Samaritan was meant to have on Our Lord's original hearers, think of someone from the group you despise most. I mean, really despise. Secretly. A Klan member or someone like that. A 60 year old richer-than-most Afghan opium farmer with an 11 year old wife. A rich tourist who was probably alive when his/her country invaded yours. Or a Canada-hating, Marxist, cocaine-sniffing member of the Parti Quebecois. Whoever. Pick. Someone you would never in a million years have a coffee with.

Then imagine you have been knocked down on your way home from a club, the night you decided to wear that daring outfit, and kicked in the liver by some guys who stole your purse, and nobody does anything because, frankly, you don't look injured as much as passed-out drunk. Which is what everyone going by thinks, so they either ignore or make fun of you.  

(This is possibly more believable a scenario in the UK than in Canada and the USA. Perhaps I should add that it is summer-time.)

And along comes a priest who averts his eyes because your panties are showing, and he hurries on feeling disgusted by Young Women Today. And then along comes a Catholic Mother of Five who thinks that, never mind that Miraculous Medal around your neck, you must have had a really bad upbringing. She hurries on, too.  But then André Boisclair this person you really despise walks by, takes a good look at you, shrieks, pulls out his/her mobile, calls an ambulance, holds your hand, tries to get you to tell him/her your name, and goes with you in the ambulance to the hospital, cancelling whatever enjoyable plans he/she had for the evening. After ascertaining you have no insurance (e.g. for the drugs), he/she pays your bill.

Who was a neighbour to you? André Bois--Your despised one, darn it all. And Judgment Day will be a bit rocky if you had the strength and gall to crawl away, saying, "No, I'd rather die than be helped by you."

Your neighbour, it occurs to me, is not any foreigner thousands of miles away but anyone who actually treats you like a human being worthy of care ("mercy", says the NIV). Not, you know, bomb-planting jihadis. Jihadis are our enemy. We love them by praying for their repentance and conversion, ascertaining that they are treated decently if they are captured and hoping they won't suffer eternal hellfire if we kill them in battle. When the war is over, we help their loved ones rebuild their own lives. We don't form blinking fan clubs for them--even if they are cute, capisce?

And the thing about the priest and the Levite in Our Lord's parable (and the priest and the Catholic Mother of Five in my version) is that they were supposed to help and they didn't.

Anyway, I think I have got away from my original point, which is that although it may have been revolutionary to tell people that they were responsible for unfortunates even outside their own families, and that they should see the decency in such rivals and enemies who had proved themselves to be decent, it was not a call to completely set aside loyalty and responsibility to your nearest and dearest.

And that is something we need to remember today, when various lobbyists (of whatever colour, but usually our own) enjoy telling us that we are disgusting and our histories are colonialist and therefore bad and our parents' values, if unlike theirs, are despicable, and we should be ashamed of who we are and can never truly atone for the sins of our ancestors so we should just shut up and let the smart people do the talking.

But Jesus didn't feel a need to denigrate His people--just people who led them wrongly. He was a Jew. He came to the Jews first. His disciples were all Jews. The rest of us were, amazingly, invited to join in the plan of salvation without first becoming Jews, but that doesn't mean salvation doesn't "come from the Jews" (John 4:22). During his mission, Jesus looked beyond His immediate own but He didn't do it in a way that displaced those closest to Him. For example, we know that, of all human beings, Our Lord will always love His mother best.

Update: Lest anyone think I am making the best the enemy of the good, I direct your attention to this LifeSiteNews appeal for the Christians in Syria. Please support it if you can, and if you can't, please pray for the Christians of the Middle East. The oldest surviving Christian communities are the most endangered ones.


MichelleMarie said...

Fascinating post!

Anonymous said...

Love it when you get into commentary Seraphic, I miss your Scotland blog for that reason.


Seraphic said...

Well, you know. I ought to be selling this kind of stuff.

Magdalena said...

You really should be selling this stuff! Why doesn't anyone pay you for it? (Wait, wasn't there this "donate" button on your page... Maybe we should be the ones who pay you, if nobody else does.)

Meanwhile, we enjoy reading for free what you write. It is a privilege, really!