...you know, constantly in Jesus' teaching there's stuff about the stranger, there's stuff about the other, there's stuff about the Good Samaritan, and our moral responsibility is always to this person who is more other than us, rather than same as us.
My response was that this can't be true as Christian morality recognises the importance of fidelity in relationships. In marriage, fidelity means that we remain turned toward our spouse, seeking to deepen a union with them, and that we accept the service we are called to in this relationship, a service that fulfils a significant aspect of who we are.
Much of our daily moral responsibility is oriented to our spouse and to our family, i.e. to those we are most close to and familiar with, rather than to persons who are most other to us.
This model of fidelity is to be found, in particular ways, in a series of relationships, e.g. between ourselves as individuals and God; between ourselves and our wider family or community (clan, tribe, ethny, nation); between God and church and so on.
Now, by one of those coincidences I published this argument on November 17th and the very next day Pope Francis was reported to have given a homily touching on the theme of fidelity. Unfortunately the Vatican hasn't published the full text of the homily, but various excerpts have been given in the press.
The theme of the homily was that we do not negotiate everything in a spirit of adolescent progressivism, in particular we do not negotiate fidelity. Pope Francis began with a reading from the Book of Maccabees in which many Jews agreed to abandon their traditions in order to curry favour with King Antiochus:
L’Osservatore Romano reported that the Pope preached:
“Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles round about us; we cannot become isolated” or remain stuck in our old traditions. “Let us go and make a covenant with them, for since we separated from them many evils have come upon us.” The proposal so pleased them that some of the people eagerly went to see the king, to bargain with the king, to negotiate.L’Osservatore Romano continued:
The Bishop of Rome likened their attitude to what he called the modern-day “spirit of adolescent progressivism” which seductively suggests that it is always right, when faced with any decision, to move on rather than remaining faithful to one's own traditions. “The people,” he said, “bargained with the king, they negotiated with the king. But they didn't negotiate habits … they negotiated fidelity to God, who is always faithful. And this is what we call apostasy; the prophets called it adultery. They were an adulterous people” who “negotiated something essential to their very being, i.e., their faithfulness to the Lord.”
Many people, he said, accepted the king's orders “which prescribed that all the people in his kingdom should be one: and every one should leave his own law.” However, he observed, it was not the “beautiful globalization” which is expressed in “the unity of all nations” who each preserve their own identity and traditions. No, he said, the passage describes the “globalization of hegemonic uniformity,” a uniformity of thought born of worldliness.
“Still today, the spirit of worldliness leads us to progressivism, to this uniformity of thought” … Negotiating one's fidelity to God is like negotiating one's identity, Pope Francis said.
In what ways does this support the argument I made against Giles Fraser?
The Pope's homily suggests the importance of fidelity as a moral concept within Christianity. For Pope Francis fidelity is important in upholding what is essential to our being and identity.
Fidelity has to do with our relationship to God, but it applies as well to our relationship with our larger ethnic or national communities. It is not always right, says Pope Francis, in a "spirit of adolescent progressivism" to "move on rather than remaining faithful to one's own traditions". It is important, in the Pope's view, that there be a "beautiful globalisation" in which there is a unity between nations who "each preserve their own identity and traditions" rather than a "globalization of hegemonic uniformity" in which we merge into sameness.
So is our moral responsibility always to the person more other to us, as Giles Fraser claims? Not according to this homily by Pope Francis, in which our moral responsibility is to practise fidelity - a faithfulness to God and to our own traditions and traditional communities, through which we uphold our identity and essential aspects of our being.