Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Pope on fidelity

In a recent post I took aim at Giles Fraser, an Anglican minister, who claimed that we are always morally responsible to those most other to us. Giles Fraser wrote:
...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.


  1. Apparently the Book of Maccabees is not in the Protestant Bible.

    1. I believe they are considered "deuterocanonical" parts of the Bible in the Catholic Church.

  2. To my mind, it all comes back to the commandment to love your neighbour. It's interesting how many people jump the conclusion that that commandment means support the UN, mass immigration, multiculturalism etc, and you end up like a typical liberal, loving humanity but hating humans.

    The commandment means actually loving your *neighbour*. You know, the person you live with, the person you work with, the person next door to you, then your community, your nation and so on. You have to get those small, seemingly insignificant, relationships right before you worry about any thing else.

    There is a story that when Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize, some journalist asked her what needed to be done to establish peace in the world. She said "go home, and love your family". Sums it up nicely, doesn't it.

    1. Matthew, it's even worse for the multicultist. The 'neighbour' in the parable (the one we are commanded to love *as ourselves*) is the one who shows pity and care for the one in need. Jesus is saying, 'you must love the person who cares for you regardless of their ethnic background'. The Pharisees were guilty of not loving those who treated them kindly based on them not being Jews; they defined their neighbour as just their fellow Jew. The parable is about reciprocity and generosity.

      It would seem to be perfectly in keeping with cultist philosophy, except that the neighbour encounters the man personally (not at a distance like overseas aid), and Jesus is answering a question about identifying the neighbour (the one who cared for the person in need). According to the parable, those who are overseas are not our neighbours because they do not care for us and they do not 'meet us on the road'. They might be in need but the parable is addressing the direct personal response, not some vague communal obligation. Those who are geographically near to us might not care for us - they are not our neighbours. Those who invade our lands and seek to destroy us are not our neighbours. Our hostile elites are not our neighbours.

      My workmates and church friends struggle to get past the point that Jesus is commanding a Pharisee to love a Samaritan (an Other). They forget that he's addressing the question of whom it is we are meant to love *as ourselves*. We are to love those who are not neighbours as enemies. If you want to see heads explode, get some protestants to consider the idea of loving your enemy in a way that doesn't equal handing the adversary your weapons and painting a target on your chest. Too many protestants have no idea that there is something worth preserving - because their sense of tradition is so hollowed.

      Also, just because the man on the road might need to love the Samaritan as himself doesn't mean he has to agree to let his daughter marry the Samaritan's son.

    2. Matthew wrote:

      "The commandment means actually loving your *neighbour*. You know, the person you live with, the person you work with, the person next door to you, then your community, your nation and so on."

      I think Matthew is on the right track here. When Jesus said "love thy neighbour as thyself" it doesn't make sense to take it to mean that if you live in number 72 that as long as you love the person living in number 70 that you're doing what God wants.

      It makes more sense for the term neighbour to generally mean the people you live amongst. In other words, it is good to love ourselves (in the sense that we focus on what is right and good for ourselves) but that we were not made to be closed in on our own selves but rather are called to be in active relationships with others.

      But these relationships are particular rather than abstract. What we are called to in relationship with our son is different to what we are called to in relationship with our spouse or with the person who lives across the road or with our wider family or nation.

      There is a danger of Christianity falling into an abstract universalism which is ultimately dissolving of relationships - the opposite, in my understanding, of what was intended when we were called to relationships with others.

  3. Re Fraser's malevolent idiocy:
    Jesus praises the Good Samaritan for stopping to help the alien, the Jew in distress.
    He does not praise the Jews who fail to stop and help their fellow Jew!

  4. Mr. Richardson wrote,

    " 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."

    I agree that this is what the Pope is implying. You know, maybe he isn't as bad as traditionalist Catholics fear.

    Jesus says that there is an underlying logic to all the laws and prophets which can be summed up into two commandments and, ultimately, into one: love.

    No liberal in the world would even try to argue with that. To defeat the liberal arguments, we don't need a new worldview, new principles or anything like that. We just have to refine the existing understanding of love, showing that what passes for love--cheap, distant, indulgent appeasement of all--is to true love what saccharine is to a home-cooked meal.

    I think your arguments are strongest when they do this. For example, when you say,

    "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. "

    It's hard to argue with that.

  5. Neighbor means according to Bible "Thou shalt not kill thy neighbor ... the children of thy people, the sons of your own people, your fellow Israelites." (Dr. John Hartung, Love Thy Neighbor: The Evolution of In-Group Morality; Skeptic, Vol 3. No. 4). This is affirmed in Talmud, e.g. in Baba Kamma 113b, which explains that neighbor doesnt apply to non-Jews. Jesus followed these same principles, which can be seen e.g. in Matthew 10:5-8 and Matthew 15:21-28. Thus Giles Fraser is lying; we should not assume that he doesnt know Bible.

    1. Valkea, that's really interesting. In the New Testament we have the following:

      "These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel."

      And this:

      "He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Though in this passage the Canaanite woman is nonetheless praised for her faith)

      And the "Love they neighbour" comes from Leviticus which has the following translations:

      "Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. - First Jewish Publication Society translation (JPS '17) and the King James Version (KJV).

      You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself. - Revised Standard Version (RSV).

      You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself. - TANAKH (JPS '85)."

      In these translations "neighbour" in context does seem to refer to "sons of thy people" rather than primarily to strangers.

      What does "love" here mean? According to John Gill: "doing all the good to him as a man does to himself, or would have done to himself". A different interpretation, I suppose, is that it is getting at a common identity between yourself and your ethnic kinsman - love him as yourself because he is, in some ways, you - you both carry forward a similar identity.