Christianity, Parenting, regligious education, Uncategorized

Loving Your Neighbor – Love Works No Ill to His Neighbor, Therefore Love is the Fulfillment of the Law

The great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself should be understood in the light of the above discussion of virtue and the concept of connectedness. The words of Jesus at Mark 12:31 were carefully chosen.  He did not say to love your neighbor as your child, or spouse, or brother, but as yourself. Most of us, at least, do not feel particular affection for ourselves, but we tend to be highly concerned for our well being, and seek to avoid harm to ourselves. We should view our neighbors in the same light, not necessarily with any feeling of warm affection, but at least with concern and caring. We must realize that we are all connected in the community of God’s creatures, and that we should seek to guide, comfort, and protect one another.  Following this principle will go a long way towards leading us to virtue.  Since God loves all of his creatures, treating his creatures with love will bring us into alignment with him.

It is important to make this distinction between affection and concern, for it is not possible for at least most of us to feel affection for our neighbors.  Out of the over 7,400,000,000 people on Earth, a great many are unpleasant or irritating individuals, and some are evil beyond imagining.[1] Faced with a command to love these beings, one is inclined to just ignore it as an unreasonable proposition. Yet, we do not have to like them to treat them with love in the sense of the commandment. If they do harm we may try to stop them. If they are irritating we may try to guide them towards better behavior, for their own sake as well as ours. If they are selfish and imposing we need not allow them to take advantage of us, but rather we should try to help them to see the error of their ways. We must not ignore the commandment out of misunderstanding.

As I write this, there is a man who can be found sitting in a wheelchair every morning on the Wabash Avenue bridge over the Chicago River. He holds a cup which he shakes a bit as people pass buy, hoping they will drop in some small change. He never asks for money, but simply says “good morning” as each stranger passes.[2] I don’t know why this neighbor finds it necessary to make or supplement his living this way. He is up bright and early and is a man of regular habits, so one would suppose that either private enterprise or society’s social service mechanisms would provide for him. Be that as it may, I am somewhat glad to see him out there, for by his presence he provides a social service to those of his neighbors willing to avail themselves of the opportunity. He does not stand reeking of alcohol and ask passersby for money for a “cup of coffee”. He does not defraud people by asking for the fare for a bus trip he never intends to take. He does not try to intimidate anyone into giving, or curse them if they pass him by. Sitting quietly, saying his “good mornings”, he lets those so inclined give him a small contribution just because they want to. No contributor will be featured on the society page in an article celebrating their benevolence. No one will be pressured by her employer to boost the office contribution rate to 100 percent by giving him a check. Any contribution is a strictly private matter, just between this neighbor, the donor, and God. This is the way that charity should be.

It is unfortunate that in our society the charitable impulse has suffered greatly both at the hands of fraudulent practitioners and institutionalized extractions. The noxious beggars who claim to have been caught without bus fare perform a great disservice, replacing the good feeling of giving with the self-accusatory regret of having been defrauded, and eventually teach people who would be happy to help out someone who really had been caught short to ignore every plea. The United Way campaigns, while admittedly providing a great deal of money for good works, likewise tend to replace the joy of giving with the same emotions that surround a tax. As discussed previously, pressure at work makes the donation less than voluntary, and people come to resent it.  State welfare, while providing a more comprehensive safety net than traditional charities, forces the “donor” to provide the funds on penalty of imprisonment, and encourages recipients to view state-sponsored benevolence as a “right” to be enforced rather than as a nice act producing warm feelings of gratitude and faith in one’s fellow humans. Even the somewhat abstract good feeling that taxpayers may get from knowing that they support a society that tries to let no one go hungry fades if the welfare system comes to support work-capable people who prefer to claim the entitlement. Thus, we become increasingly unpracticed at caring for our neighbors. We grow in solitude, aloof from everyone outside of our little circle of family and friends, as the remainder of humanity fades under a cold frost of indifference.

It might be a step in the right direction to recall that for most of us, loving ourselves depends upon feeling that we have done our best to demonstrate responsibility, to do what we can to solve our own problems and help ourselves. Indeed, we are reminded that the Lord helps those who help themselves. America has been tending to drift towards the responsibility-free society. In the early 60s, serious student activists spoke of “student rights and responsibilities”, viewing the two things as inextricably intertwined. One could not claim any right, save perhaps the right to be left alone, unless one exercised certain related responsibilities. The responsibilities part of that phrase soon fell away. Now people claim that all kinds of things are rights, and that the possessors of those supposed rights have no responsibility to do anything to earn them. For example, we are told that everyone should have a right to infinite medical care of the very best sort, but that nobody should be required to do anything to look out for his own health in exchange.

Do you feel good about yourself if you ask a friend for financial help when you have not made any real effort to avoid or address the problem yourself? We should assume that our neighbors are the same. Asking them to exercise responsibility is not an insult. It is not arrogant or dictatorial. It is recognition that people who properly recognize the principle of connectedness do not want to impose on the goodwill of others. I do not advocate having an advanced society rely exclusively on private charity to avoid poverty or disease. However, a return to the notion of intertwined rights and responsibilities can help the recipients of government help to feel better about themselves at the same time that it helps the taxpayers to feel better about supporting a generous society. Do your neighbors the honor of assuming that they want to do their part. Do not contribute to their corruption by undermining the sense of connection we have to each other. Support a system that you, as a generous, hardworking person, would want to have in place for your protection, that asks the same of others (to the best of their abilities) that you would ask of yourself. A society of infinite “rights” is not the same thing as a loving society. If we clear up that confusion and focus on what connectedness means, we can help love to prosper.

[1] See my book for considerations regarding prisoners and the death penalty.

[2] I note that he is quite different from most of the younger beggers in Boston, for example, who aggressively demand money as their right and are fond of insulting the passers by. They make it difficult to feel good about giving them anything, and they make it hard to believe that any contribution would be used for good purposes. I know for a fact that on of them lives with his parents in a well-to-do household. He either does not think of the effect of his fraud upon persons with real needs or he simply does not care.

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