Matthew Parris

The question Christianity fails to answer: ‘Who is my neighbour?’

A passage by George Eliot emphasises the huge ache at the heart of our moral reasoning

12 December 2015

9:00 AM

12 December 2015

9:00 AM

‘Fine old Christmas,’ wrote George Eliot, ‘with the snowy hair and ruddy face, had done his duty that year in the noblest fashion, and had set off his rich gifts of warmth and colour with all the heightening contrast of frost and snow.’

Thus opens the second chapter of Book II of The Mill on the Floss. I had found the passage when searching for a secular reading for my newspaper column’s readers at a carol service at St Bride’s church in Fleet Street a couple of nights ago. I knew at once I’d found what I wanted.

Eliot had been my first port of call. You can be confident she will avoid religiosity yet never take refuge in mere jollity. She is never pat. Not for her the ‘Deck the hall with boughs of holly, fa-la-la-la-la la-la-la-la’ piped merriment, content-light and designed to infuse supermarket shoppers of all faiths and none with a desire for more chocolate. Not for her the secular festivity calculated to put the X into Xmas. I knew she’d shy from that. I read on…

Snow lay on the croft and riverbank in undulations softer than the limbs of infancy … there was no gleam, no shadow, for the heavens, too, were one still, pale cloud; no sound or motion in anything but the dark river that flowed and moaned like an unresting sorrow.

As ever, Eliot’s descriptive flight of the imagination has an intelligent purpose which soon becomes clear. ‘But old Christmas smiled as he laid this cruel-seeming spell on the outdoor world,’ she writes, ‘for he meant to light up home with new brightness, to deepen all the richness of indoor colour… he meant to prepare a sweet imprisonment that would strengthen the primitive fellowship of kindred, and make the sunshine of familiar human faces as welcome as the hidden day-star.’ Her literary conceit is the idea that by leaching warmth and colour outdoors, old Christmas has enriched indoors. We snuggle closer together when it’s cold outside. A nice thought. But this is not enough for the greatest of our English authors, and perhaps a mite too cute. Can we really rest easy? Hasn’t old Christmas overlooked something?

His kindness fell but hardly on the homeless,—fell but hardly on the homes where the hearth was not very warm, and where the food had little fragrance; where the human faces had had no sunshine in them, but rather the leaden, blank-eyed gaze of unexpectant want.

Eliot does not answer this. Nor can I and nor can you. And it strikes me that that sense of a vast unanswered question marks Eliot out as the modern mind she is. Post–Reformation western society is unusual, isn’t it, in placing a great big ache at the heart of our moral reasoning?

I am no social historian of ethics and unsure who has ever answered that job description. There are of course textbooks. Philosophers have surveyed antique moral reasoning, and in our own age a Bertrand Russell, an A.C. Grayling or a Bernard Williams have essayed masterly surveys of the sweep of the history of moral science. Obsolete moralities and ethical systems have all been catalogued.

But where does this fit with a human history of what troubled people, what bygone cultures believed to be the big unanswered philosophical questions of their age? How complete, how fit for purpose, did the Romans or the Greeks suppose their systems of morals to be? When did Christianity begin to lose confidence (as I think it now has) that its teachings can offer a sure framework for day-to-day moral reasoning?

So sure was Aristotle that ethical questions were soluble by the application of logic and common sense that he could advise anyone seeking to determine the ‘right’ course of action to ask themselves what a respected gentleman would recommend; and if still in doubt ask what would be going too far, and would not be going far enough, and thereby locate the mean between them as the appropriate action. The Nichomachean Ethics do not speak to me of an age of aching uncertainty about the rules for human coexistence. From those times, only Pilate’s ‘what is truth?’ calls to us down the ages with a modern ring.

Early Christianity strikes me as inheriting much from Aristotle’s ‘think about it: it’s obvious’ approach. The Roman Catholic church added layer upon layer of specific rules, all underwritten by a claim to divine authority — the big ‘Because’ — as handed down by a clear and certain hierarchy of human office-holders. The Reformation at first aimed to replace Roman Catholic certainties with certainties of its own. But in time the Reformation produced so many competing answers to the big ethical questions that in the schisms, sects and splinters — the rival certainties — modern Europe’s sense of one great, shared moral certainty was lost.

Christianity has lost its bearings, as I’ve argued here before; but I don’t believe secular thinking has found them. The ache I describe — the lost chord — is (as, again, I’ve argued here) our failure to answer the question Christ himself never really faced up to, though He was asked it. ‘Who is my neighbour?’

Jesus appears to reply ‘Everyone’, but this is impossible as we cannot help everyone equally, and need an order of priorities. Who, and in what order? My elderly former secretary with severe dementia? The drug addict on the street? The migrant? The orphaned Syrian? Show us the mark and we’ll try to meet it, but we genuinely don’t know what to aim for, and no voice from our own age advises with authority. Who is our neighbour? This year’s agonising pictures of desperate migrants have sharpened the aching question in many western hearts.

George Eliot ends by wondering if old Christmas knows. He doesn’t.

But the fine old season meant well; and if he has not learned the secret how to bless men impartially, it is because his father Time, with ever-unrelenting purpose, still hides that secret in his own mighty, slow-beating heart.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Matthew Parris writes for the Times.

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Show comments
  • You are right to say that Christians and Christianity lack faith. It was ever so, but we are working on it.
    The parable of the Good Samaritan offers a vision rather than an action plan, and is addressed not only to you individually but to all of us. If we all accepted our responsibilities towards each other, which of the world’s problems could we not solve?
    Meanwhile we have to soldier on. Faith provides a map and a compass for the journey, but we still need to learn to use them.

    • tompiper

      Thank god the militant atheists haven’t found this thread yet to disrupt his encouragingly calm and insightful discussion.

      • Woman In White

        I’s only a matter of time 🙁

        • Pacificweather

          Don’t bother, they’re here.

  • Jacobi

    Post-Reformation Western Society is not a single entity. Sadly the Reformation split us, and by us I mean initially Europe and the Americas, into Catholicism and the new Protestant religion.

    You are correct in saying that confidence has been lost . That was inherent in Protestantism. This is now troubling the Catholic Church as protestant concepts sink in. It is not surprising that the
    increasing vacuum is filled with secularism.

    Early Christianity, that is Catholicism, troubled though it was, deepened and established its Tradition. But that required discipline and was challenged, resulting in the split.

    But to get to your question “who is my neighbour” that has been clear from the beginning. You know the parable. Your neighbour is the obese teenager, stuffing herself as she walks past, the old woman wit two sticks slowly crossing the road in front of you when you are in a hurry to get somewhere, the druggy, the man fallen by the wayside and ignored (something that happened to a friend of mine just three weeks ago and in daylight and in the UK, and of course the genuine refugee, whether Christian or Muslim. There are others.

    And remember you don’t have to help everyone. Just those you happen to come in contact with
    and they will be plenty enough. Remember the Sermon on the Mount. I tend to visit the sick. Wish I had chosen the imprisoned. I mean I don’t know anyone in prison but as for the sick??

    • justejudexultionis

      The decline of Protestantism has left us unable to defend ourselves against Islamic bigotry. The secularists simply do not see the danger that this spiritual vacuum in Europe represents.

      • Jacobi

        I agree. I am often a but hard on Protestantism. That is because I come from a mixed family. But when the cards are really down, we are Christians and have to preserve the Love of Christ.
        It will not be easy. The Secularists will get a real shock when Islam gets going. Islam has the determination, intent and manpower. I won’t see the outcome but my family, both sides, will.
        It will be a close run thing!

  • Woman In White

    The question Christianity fails to answer: ‘Who is my neighbour?’

    Is the author really **that** unfamiliar with the stories of the woman at the well, the good Samaritan, the feast at Cana, the Parable of the sheep and the lost sheep, and so many of the other Scriptural, Traditional, and theological answers to this very question ?

    Our neighbours are all around us, just as we are all around them.

    To even start bringing this into question is to create the very division of us versus them that Christianity warns us against, even as it urges us to be in Communion as One in the Christ and His Church.

    • justejudexultionis

      I agree. Parris is being wilfully stupid and ignorant about Christianity.

    • Jacobi

      I wonder. Testing the water I think. We Christians, and I use that term deliberately, have lost out so much by our silence, our fear of speaking out.
      Well let’s take the opportunity that Parris has created. Western society has four pillars of which Christianity is one. If that goes then it and Parris goes, and he won’t like it.
      It is up to us Christians in this coming conflict to speak out, to shout from the rooftops if necessary so that souls like Parris know the Truth.

  • justejudexultionis

    Why would one use George Eliot as a guide to Christmas and Christianity when one could read the Bible? I fail to understand Parris’ attitude towards Christianity. He seems to blame it for everything and says nothing about Islam, a vile and bigoted pseudo-religious political death cult that threatens our fundamental freedoms and civilisation.

    • A Theologian

      Eliot I think is crucial for Christianity. She translated Schleiermacher and introduced crisis consciousness into the Western tradition which was taken up by Barth in his idea of Krisis. See

      Interestingly the word ‘crisis’ is used only once by Joyce in his published canon at the climax, literally, of Finnegans Wake which is, metaphorically, the death of God.

  • Sean L

    What a load of utter twaddle. Your neighbour is whomever you come up against in the course of your everyday existence. The clue’s in the name. As to historians of ethics, try Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals. Nietzsche made a valuable distinction between pity, a weak and needy form of power, and generosity, where your good deed comes from abundance. He’d see your concern here as facile. The very notion of a disinterested altruism, quite fraudulent.

    • Jacobi

      Oh I see . My neighbour is the bloke next door. Never thought of that!

      As for Nietzsche, well he come and goes,as fashion dictates. Is he “in” at present, SL?

      read somewhere recently that he had a good sense of humour, unusual in a German philosopher, or whatever they call themselves.

      • Sean L

        It’s a person you come into contact with somehow or other – what else do you imagine Jesus had in mind? As for N, not exactly a bundle of laughs. I don’t know where you got that one from…

        • Jacobi

          Yes, the man lying by the wayside, as happened to a friend of mine two weeks ago in broad daylight, in UK. He said he lay there for about six minutes. He estimated about sixty cars drove past. One eventually stopped and the driver with the help of two passing young teenage schoolgirls managed to get him on his feet again.
          That driver and the two schoolgirls knew who their neighbour was.
          Neitzsche, as a comedian, I saw somewhere in a blog yesterday. Can’t remember which!

          • Sean L

            Strange one – the very last person one could imagine as a comedian!

  • Al_mac

    I took the easy way out and asked a friend. His answer is here:
    If you want to read a more conventional blog, his scriptural writings are here:
    Matthew, I hope you understand the answer!

  • A Theologian

    Jesus does answer the question with the Parable of the Good Samaritan but it is always misread. His final question is who is the man’s (who has fallen among thieves) neighbour? Answer: the Samaritan. Therefore, who are you commanded to love? Answer: someone who has helped you. Not everyone. Not someone who needs your help. Someone who has helped you regardless of his ethnic relationship to you. Indeed, the Samaritan has forced the whole issue to a terrible conclusion. If the Jew doesn’t love the Samaritan he is breaking the Law and therefore doomed.

    The sting in the tale lies in the concluding words of Jesus: therefore go and do likewise i.e. be a neighbour and under the Law you must be loved although in yourself you are unlovely.

    • Clive

      Suppose someone came along the road just after the Samaritan but if the distressed traveller had been there he would have helped ?

      Is he the traveller’s neighbour ?

      Matthew 7:12 Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets

      • A Theologian

        Yes, of course. Being a neighbour is universal, but it is active, not passive. You can’t just BE a neighbour. To be a neighbour you must do the doing. Your quote says that: “that men should do to you i.e by being your neighbour. I would that all men would be my neighbours so that I can reciprocate.

        I have to say that when you point this out to modern Christians they get confused, then excited, then abusive.

        • Clive

          You confused me a bit there – and I’m not really a Christian. I was brought up Catholic – that’ll beat it out of you.

          My confusion is because you said ‘Yes of course’ but then went on to say …To be a neighbour you must do the doing…

          The person in my scenario did nothing – but he would have done something had the opportunity (to which you also refer) arisen.

          • A Theologian

            Sorry but you r assuming the man caught among thieves is the neighbor….the Samaritan is the neighbor. You don’t really think the son of God would be so obvious.

            The parable is systematically mistaught as is the whole NT.

          • Clive

            No I am not assuming the man caught among thieves is the neighbour – I am assuming the Samaritan is the neighbour.

            What I am saying is that the Samaritan had the opportunity to do something but if someone came by after him but still with the necessary mental state to form the good intention, just as the Samaritan had, would he also be the Good Neighbour ?

            This person actually does nothing because he had no opportunity – but had the opportunity arisen he would have done the same thing as the Samaritan – is he also a Good Neighbour ?

    • Woman In White

      Jesus does answer the question with the Parable of the Good Samaritan but it is always misread. His final question is who is the man’s (who has fallen among thieves) neighbour? Answer: the Samaritan. Therefore, who are you commanded to love? Answer: someone who has helped you. Not everyone.

      Utter rubbish.

      All of the men in the parable (including the innkeeper) (including the thieves) are neighbours.

      We are commanded to love all of them, even those who deliberately steered away from helping, and the one who helped for profit, and the thieves who did the harm in the first place. And whether we should find ourselves in the position of victim, priest, Pharisee, Samaritan, innkeeper, or thief.

      The other parts of your analysis seem pertinent though.

      • A Theologian

        I’m just reading the parable literally. As I say elsewhere this literal reading elicits abuse. QED. Thanks.

        • Woman In White


          I cannot seem to find words explicitly dictating “love this one, but not that one”.

          Perhaps you misconstrue the literal meaning of the word “literally”.

          • A Theologian

            Jesus simply says who is the man’s neighbour i.e. who must the man love under the Law? Everyone answers the man who helped him. It seems pretty obvious to me literal or not. Anyway you can’t possibly to my mind construe the parable as saying that everyone is my neighbour because in the terms of the parable they obviously aren’t because two potential neighbours passed by on the other side.

            MP’s article I think gains traction from the almost universal misreading of the parable and to the extent that it forces a right reading must be welcomed.

          • Woman In White

            But Christ is quite clearly asking those who would pass that man by to provide assistance instead (as you’ve pointed out yourself). And the thieves not to rob him in the first place.

            Your problem is that you want to insist on only one interpretation, whilst claiming all others to be wrong.

            I’m not disagreeing that the man who helped was the wounded man’s neighbour, but your postulating that “Therefore, who are you commanded to love? Answer: someone who has helped you. Not everyone.” is, even from a purely textual point of view, quite clearly a misinterpretation.

            Lone Scriptural interpretation is fraught with danger, and correct interpretation requires training, or God-given Grace, or humility towards our teachers in the Tradition. Preferably two or all three of these.

            One who refuses to be a neighbour separates himself from his fellows, but that’s on him and from him, and it’s not our place to judge him, it’s the Lord’s place to do so. What we are commanded to do is love, but your suggestion that “not everyone” is to be loved is the precise attitude of the priest and the Pharisee who leave the man aside and walk away. That’s not Christian.

          • A Theologian

            If so then the dominical injunction at the end of the parable is meaningless.

            The parable must be read under the Law and Jesus is saying this is where the Law gets you….but I say, go and do likewise. He often used this rhetorical device: Moses said / it has been said…but I say.

            All I’m saying is that the whole unit with its framing questions must be read in its A:B:C:B’:A’ form rather than being superficially glossed as ‘we must love everyone as everyone is our neighbour’ which makes it such an easy target for MP.

            As for scriptural hermeneutics I follow James Joyce’s injunction to “wipe your glosses with what you know”.

          • Woman In White

            Your only concrete proposal is to abandon intertextuality.

          • Woman In White
          • A Theologian

            Well I’m certainly into textuality if that’s what you mean.
            Just to expand my last post a little: A = the Law and A’ is Jesus reformulation. The parable itself, C, is the bridge from the old A to the new A’. A very concrete chiasmatic periscope.

    • Damaris Tighe

      That’s a very important insight into a parable I’ve been struggling with lately (for obvious reasons). Is my understanding in your view correct? – that your neighbour is the one who is neighbourly? And that, therefore, there is self-preservation built into this understanding against those who are not good neighbours?

      • A Theologian

        I think you need to read the parable within the frame of the pericope as a whole in Luke 10:25-37. Jesus’ approach to the Law is both to narrow it and to deepen it so that it is not just performative but intentional and transformative. So he at once narrows the scope of who is a neighbour to, as you say, one who acts in a neighbourly way but then deepens it by saying to the expert in the Law go and do likewise.

        The expert in the Law could have said but a good Jew, assuming the man was a Jew, but, if he wasn’t, the introduction of the priest and Levite doesn’t gain traction, would not have accepted help from a Samaritan, he would rather die. This response is avoided by the actions of the priest and the Levite since the Samaritan is the helper of last resort. He could also have asked what motivated the Samaritan. Jesus says it was pity, presumably a human pity that trumps ethnic hostility. But was the Samaritan’s act random or habitual? I think that you can take this line too far and deconstruct the parable. But my point is that the parable does not stand alone but with its framing questions.

        Now what interesting is that the first commandment is ignored; or is it? By analogy we are only commanded to also love a God who helps us. So the final question we have to ask is has God helped us? Experientially I would have to answer yes and whilst many have attempted to argue me out of my experience it has an existential ‘lock’ analogous to Luke’s textual framing lock.

        I’m not sure that self preservation is relevant in that one tends to be set happily on a course of self destruction at the time of the divine intervention.

  • tolpuddle1

    Christianity has always said – and still does – that everyone is one’s neighbour, especially those who need our help.

    Christians help the poor and needy – atheists / agnostics philosophise (ruminate, agonise) about them.

    If you were homeless, which would you rather encounter ?

    • A Theologian

      Given my post below I obviously would not agree with this……quite the opposite for the reasons given.

    • trobrianders

      If I were homeless I would look for a hapless Christian and take everything from him.

      • tolpuddle1

        Christians, also, have a right of self-defence; they are not doormats.

        • trobrianders

          That was my point.

  • stuartMilan

    it’s whoever Angela Merkel says it is?

  • tolpuddle1

    Philosophising is a substitute – a pitiful and dishonest alternative – for DOING something. An excuse for inaction.

    No, one can’t help everyone – but we can try. Or at least make a start !

    And if we all tried, everyone would be helped.

    • A Theologian

      To do is to be. Karl Marx
      To be is to do. JP Sartre.
      Do be do be do. Frank Sinatra.

      If we all tried there would be no one left to help and the Law would become superfluous. Perhaps that’s the idea!

    • trobrianders

      What is helping? Helping others to replace you in a competitive world?

      • tolpuddle1

        The logic of being competitive, is committing mass-murder, so as to reduce the competition.

        But it’s only a competitive world, because selfish B’s like us have chosen to make it so.

        Co-operation is the alternative that leads to a happier world (as opposed to mutual assured destruction) – and to Heaven (as opposed to eternal misery).

        Seems to make sense.

        • trobrianders

          Like plants don’t compete for sunlight you mean?

          • tolpuddle1

            The necessities of life aren’t being competed for – there’s enough for all. We are, however, competing greedily for the luxuries of life.

          • trobrianders

            You are responsible. Quit blaming others.

          • vieuxceps2

            Walk into a pinewood.Nothing grrows within it. Pines have taken all for themselves.

    • Woman In White

      … except for those with no other means available.

  • tolpuddle1

    The moral ache is in Matthew Parris, not in Jesus or Christianity.

    As for “losing bearings” – that’s humanity, that’s the West – Christianity hasn’t. It sees and knows its way as clearly as on Day 1.

    • Fasdunkle

      “as clearly as on Day 1”

      So about 4.8 billion years into the history of Earth

      • A Theologian

        You are assuming that c has always be constant in the history of the universe. Imagine what that universe would be like if c = 0 and alternatively if c was infinite (reference Obler’s Paradox). Then imagine a universe in which c was increasing from 0 to infinity and you will see Day 1. It is SOOOO beautiful and, dare I say it, good?

        • Woman In White

          Funnily enough, a physicist once made a similar remark to me about c once.

          • A Theologian

            Then imagine that c = the velocity of communication…..If the velocity of light is infinite then the universe is a white furnace of destructive, intolerable heat…if the velocity of communication is infinite then…

        • Fasdunkle

          Olber’s Paradox you mean? It’s just one piece of evidence for the big bang

          • A Theologian

            Not quite…the darkness of the sky at night contradicts the infinity of time and space which resolved entails that the darkness you see at night is the edge of the universe and the beginning of time. In fact it is the inside of the Big Bang. So you can see Day 1 every night.

          • Fasdunkle

            who says time and space are infinite?

          • A Theologian

            The paradox follows if time and space ARE infinite. The solution to the paradox was first given by Edgar Poe.

            The point is that you can see the beginning of time every night……

          • Fasdunkle

            Time and space aren’t infinite.

            You can see very close to the beginning of time whenever you choose – get an analog TV – don’t tune it into a station and some of the “noise” you see on screen will be caused by cosmic background radiation.

            None of the stars you can see in the night sky are anywhere near from the beginning of time.

          • A Theologian
          • Woman In White

            The paradox follows if time and space ARE infinite

            It’s only a paradox if you confuse units of measurement with reality.

            Have you never considered that industrialised mass production of seemingly identical objects which are, in reality, distinct to each other and unique in themselves gives us a rather confused and skewed perception of even our most basic and tangible material environment ?

            Mathematical infinity is simply a theoretical construct, or a tool of mathematics, that has meaning if and only if 1=1. But in material reality, that is never the case. All things are utterly unique.

          • A Theologian

            Olber’s Paradox is very real.

          • Woman In White

            they are therefore unknowable by the intellect which can only know universals

            Cripes, Quarrel of the Universals time ?

            Let’s just assume that your philosophical views, theses, and opinions are not universally agreed with ?

          • A Theologian

            I was simply quoting Aquinas ST Q16……who, more’s the pity, is not universally agreed with.

        • Mary Ann

          Oooh you are clever.

      • tolpuddle1

        Who – for practical purposes – gives a Flying F about the age of the Earth ?

        • Fasdunkle

          it’s very important

        • vieuxceps2

          I do, so that I have a datum line against which I can measure the 2k of Christianity.

    • Germainecousin

      Excellent reply. I have just returned from a trip to the UK. Recently I have been greatly perturbed by the rise of islam and its effect on the West, however my trip to the UK has given me cause to be much more philosophical about it all. I saw a people who take every opportunity to decry, deny their culture. Rare glimpses of Christmas spirit, rare signs of celebration in the festival that launched the Christian west. I know theologically Easter is more important, but if Christ had not been born, there would have been no Easter. I was wrong, that heritage is not being stolen, it is being given away. People do not have to use ‘festivity’ or ‘seasonal’ when what they really mean is Christmastide. The churches could do a thorough search and retrieve their balls and separate the Christian feast away from the secular winter festival, but they just can’t be asked. History will recall the battle for the hearts and minds of the West that took place in the 20th and 21st century and will declare that in the end apathy won.

  • Gilbert White

    So this is what Parris thinks about in his rural retreat in the Pyrenees. Goddam hypocrite?

  • Chingford Man

    People from Clacton?

    • Clive

      Just people from Clacton or anyone in a 75 miles radius of Chingford ?

  • Pacificweather

    “Jesus appears to reply ‘Everyone’, but this is impossible as we cannot help everyone equally, and need an order of priorities. Who, and in what order?”

    Well, Donald Trump is definitely last and we can work back from there. Strangely, people who actually care for others do not suffer from Matthew Parris’s moral dilemma. They just get on with it.

    • ly7^

      My grandmother ( a true Christian soul) pointed out that the request was to love one’s neighbour as

      oneslf , not better than.

      • Pacificweather

        Damn, there goes the Aston Martin DB9.

  • A Theologian

    My own view is that God created the universe so he could listen to MP’s beautiful purring voice on Radio 4’s Great Lives. That’s as good as it gets. God bless you MP ex MP.

    • A Theologian

      But of course like God he won’t descend to join in the posts of the likes of mortal us…unlike Norman Tebbit, a truly great man.

  • Mark

    Oh Matthew you old rogue, selecting a reading that avoids religiosity for a secular reader at a carol service, held to celebrate a Christian religious festival.

    Are you signalling your agnosticism?

    Jesus told us the story of the Good Samaritan to illustrate who our neighbour is, he advised a rich young man to give away everything to the poor and then to follow Him, St John the Baptist advised those who asked “what must we do?” to give away to the poor our spare coats, and to the tax collectors avoid overcharging, and the soldiers to avoid intimidation.
    The practice of the Church was to require a tenth of a believers harvest to be given over to the Church.

    Gods mercy gives us these options but the obvious answer is to pray and to give something to the poor whenever you can do so. It really is that simple.

    We can’t help everyone equally, the imperative is to help who and when we can.

    May God open your heart and mind. A happy and blessed Christmas to you and yours Matthew, God bless.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    Mathew 22:39 states “Love thy neighbor as you love yourself”. That also applies to the neighbor. If the neighbor means you harm then you cannot love that person in the same way as you love yourself unless you are self destructive.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      If only it were that simple.

      • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

        The question was straight forward and simple. then the answer should be the same.
        to expand, Muslim nations do not share the same values of tolerance and openness in their societies towards non Muslims
        Expect tolerance and openness from non Muslim societies. That is blatantly unfair.

  • terence patrick hewett

    The Gospels in English are translations from Greek, Latin and Aramaic and are therefore different works from the originals.

    • Woman In White

      I can see that textual analysis is not your specialist subject.

      • terence patrick hewett

        Merely an observation that even the translation of one word from one language to another is fraught with difficulties: for example a translation of the Dutch “Rust en Vrede” gives “rest or tranquillity in…” but “Vrede” is much more problematic. “Peace – not really: “Vrede” has the same root as “freedom” – but it really isn’t that either.

        Translations can either go for literal accuracy or a portrayal of spirit: of the two I prefer the latter. Nevill Coghill’s translation of the Canterbury Tales of Chaucer is a fine work but it just does not have (nor does it claim) the poetry of the original. As Ezra Pound opined (correctly in my view):

        “Anyone who is too lazy to master the comparatively small glossary to understand Chaucer deserves to be shut out from the reading of good books forever”

        Translations are inevitably “different books” to the original; and the Bible Gawd ‘elp us, is no exception. A collection of 39/46 books spanning some 4000 years+ charting the shenanigans of the Hebrews/Christians was never meant to collected in one book and is not unnaturally a matrix of inconsistency. Rather than not answer the question ”who is my neighbour,” it answers the question in a hundred different ways and from a hundred different viewpoints. To add insult to injury we have the translations of Wycliffe, Tyndale, Coverdale, Douai et al, all giving their pennyworth (some of course giving up much more than a pennies worth of essential bits of their anatomy in the process!)

        One can use this book to justify by implication some sort of moral or lifestyle choice but in the end I suggest it is casuistry of a high order.

        Where the Bible is concerned: you pays your money and you takes your choice.

  • antoncheckout

    But Jesus doesn’t say ‘Everyone.’ When He is asked ‘Who is my neighbour?’ He answers driectly with the story of the Good Samaritan. It is not a parable in the same sense as the Parable of the King’s Son, or of the Marriage Feast, or the tale of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, which are metaphorical moralities, figures. The story of the man who was travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho is a tale drawn from life, as if from a news report – casual greed breeding violence, near-murder, and responses from passers-by of, first, indifference, and then of the wholehearted generosity of one who in everyday life was emphatically *not* a literal ‘neighbour’ – a Samaritan, of different beliefs, ethnic history and geographical origin, one who would have been held in virtual apartheid by most Jews.
    This is my neighbour – the chance passer-by, or the one met by happenstance, one in need at this time in the place I happen to be. It demands an instinct for spontaneous human sympathy that transcends prejudice and sees us all as sons of God.

  • antoncheckout

    Btw I’m not surprised to find depressive symbols such as that description of the slow moving river in the work of Eliot – an essentially pessimistic writer. That natural image recurs a lot in Romantic German and English literature – suicide by drowning in a river was extremely common, particularly among the young, and the coldness, inexorable, slow movement and invisible depths of a river was a metaphor for a universe and a Providence perceived as grim, uncaring and distant.

  • JJD

    The duty of charity is universal in principle – that was Jesus’s point – but is applied in a great diversity of situations, which requires prudence and practical judgement on our part.

    It’s hardly fair to moan that a religion doesn’t tell you what you ought to do in *every* concrete circumstance, and provide a neat answer to *every* ethical dilemma. It can furnish principles, but applying them to everyday life is our work.

    It seems like this is a plea to be delivered from the burden of moral responsibility, the burden of moral reasoning and decision. That’s not what faith in Christ is for.

    • Woman In White


  • Woman In White

    ooops, have they killed all the Disqus again ?

  • MrHarryLime

    Parris has written on this theme time and again, and I’m afraid it comes across (to me, at least) as an exercise in self-justification. There isn’t really any great confusion about how much we should help our fellow man. It is still perfectly possible to answer the question in the way Aristotle did in the book Parris mentions. Nor is it fair to accuse Christianity of lacking an answer. I think it’s clear that Christianity encourages people to help each other as much as they reasonably can. (I’m not a Christian myself, incidentally).

    Parris has more trouble defining the question than Christianity does answering it. Given the way he writes about the recent cuts in public spending – he’s claimed he’s hardly noticed them, and they should therefore be much deeper – I suspect he doesn’t have a huge amount of empathy for those whose experience is different from his own. I support most of the cuts, for what it’s worth – but I also know that, if I don’t feel the impact of the cuts, it’s because I’m fortunate enough to have a good job and a good home. If I’m not feeling the cuts, that doesn’t mean that nobody else is.

    So, beautifully written as it is, this column reads to me like it’s throwing its hands up and saying, ‘Oh, this social justice lark is just all too difficult. What to do!’.

  • martivickers

    Oh, Mr Parris.

    You wrote not so long ago that Christianity gave us now answer as to our modern refugee crisis, that Jesus had never spoken on this dilemma of what we should do when faced with the misery of foreigners. I see from this latest essay that someone has confronted you with Jesus’ definitive word on that – the Good Samaritan parable – and so having acknowledged that, you have now proceeded to suggest the faith has no answer as to what to do with finite resources, how do we start…oh, best do nought.

    Again, rightly or wrongly, the Scriptures are way ahead of you. What is the ethical framework when your means cannot match their need? The answer, of course, is in the lesson of the poor woman with two pennies. You give of your utmost, however poor that utmost be, and that is ethically sufficient. And of course, in his admonition to the rich young man, Jesus notes how difficult and unpleasant such instruction is to us in the rich west with rather more than two pennies.

    Yes, He notes it. Which is rather different from suggesting we don’t bother.

    I’m not someone of immense faith; I don’t suggest the Scriptures are correct, only that they are, despite your suggestion, available and clear; But I suggest the failings you note are rather of the weak christians who fear to employ them, than the teachings of Christianity itself.

  • goodsoldier

    Mr Parris will only be able to answer that question when he believes in God. Not all answers come in words. If he could pray with the innocence of a child his answer would come. It doesn’t help searching for it in texts, asking other people, trying to be sincere and true. Sophistication and cleverness will get him nowhere. He must know this but is too busy with his lifestyle. It is not easy for him.

  • Al_mac

    Proving that the comments can be killed, but will rise from the dead…
    Matthew’s problem is answered here: (at the third blog down)

  • John Gravino

    Christianity has not lost its bearings; Christians have. And they lost them when they lost Christianity– the inevitable outcome when one attempts to wed Christianity to western consumerism.

    • apotropoxy

      Christians have been failing to acknowledge members of their own tribe since Paul wrote his letters. What today is called the No True Scotsman Fallacy would be better called the No True Christian Fallacy.

      • That’s exactly right. Not everyone who says he is a Christian is telling the truth. See Mt. 24:11, 24. See also 2Pt. 2:1-3. See also 1Jn. 2:18-20. Even the Apostles admit this truth, as you seem to acknowledge in your post.

        • apotropoxy

          … and considering how long the tradition of intolerance and authoritarianism has been since Paul, the No True Scotsman Fallacy is better named the No True CHristian Fallacy.

          1. The writer of Matthew, the most knowledgeable of Jewish tradition among the gospel writers, was very aware of the numerous, localized Jesus stories circulating in the Levant. He was particularly exorcized over his fellow Jews who dismissed the claim that his Jesus was the messiah. As it turns out, the Matthew writer was wrong and Jesus proved to have been a false prophet. He, Luke and Mark, all passed on Jesus’ promise that the messiah would return and crush Rome and ‘the nations’ while some of those listening to him remained alive. As we know, that didn’t happen.

          2. 2 Peter is pseudographical and the only NT book to treat other NT writings as scripture. It barely make the cut into the canon. That said…
          The writer(s) were warning against the growing Gnostic movement within Christianism. We see, in this case the orthodox community attempting to marginalize Gnostic Christians. The Gnostics did not attempt to anathematize their orthodox brethren.

          2. 1 John 2:18- “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.” The last hour. Here you have a pretty obvious error. The John writer breathly exclaims that the END is nigh and anti-Christs abound. That was written 1,900 years ago.

          BTW: The Gospel of John, unlike the synoptic gospels, claimed that Jesus was a deity. The others all claimed (incorrectly) he was only the messiah. It is for that reason that this work was finally, and after much debate, admitted into the official canon. The Gnostic Christians LOVED that gospel because they used it to prove their beliefs. The “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” passage almost kept the Gospel of John OUT of the canon because it argued for the gnostic gloss for Christianism.

          The apostles did not write those gospels. They were all written in the third person by pious believers decades after Jesus’ execution. At no point do any of the authors claim to have witnessed Jesus work or words in person. The original readers knew this.

          • GoJebus

            Christians and their bible references are a bit like almost-extinct woodpeckers trying to feed by winkling fossil maggots out of a petrified tree stump.

          • A Theologian

            It’s an interesting question as to whether Josiah was the lost or the last Messiah. I tend to think that he was the latter and that after him the concept of the messianic is lost within Judaism which ends as you know with the rewrite of history in 1/2 Chronicles. Luke then rewrites Chronicles in his infancy narrative (e.g. the census of David which became the census of Satan now becomes the Roman census) which culminates in the trip to Jerusalem and the ‘missing’ Jesus (itself rewritten in the road to Emaus episode).

            So Jesus is, as Blake said, the seventh eye of God or the incarnation of Jahweh.

            The eschatological scandal is theologically well known starting with Schweitzer and Weiss but it is best traced through to Thomas Alter and the death of God and then to the recently late and very great David Leahy.

          • I fail to see what is authoritarian or intolerant about claiming that Christianity is defined by a long established creed. Even the New Atheist, Sam Harris, is exasperated by progressive Christians who think they can change everything and still claim to be a Christian. I am not being intolerant when I exclude 4-sided figures from the class of triangles. Nor do I think it intolerant to exclude atheists from the category of Christian, even if some of those atheists–like Shelby Spong, for example–are called “bishop.”

            With regard to Bible scholarship, you treat as fact that which is merely conjecture. Pope Benedict is a widely respected scripture scholar (who accepts the historical-critical method, ) , as is Scott Hahn. Neither of them would have raised an objection to my Bible references.

            Clearly you reject Christianity. You have your reasons. But I accept Christianity, and I have my own reasons. I cannot do justice to those reasons in the space of a com box. That’s why I wrote a book.

          • apotropoxy

            “I fail to see what is authoritarian or intolerant about claiming that Christianity is defined by a long established creed.”

            Your creed entrenched the top-down model of magisterium administration and anathematized the non-authoritarian organizational model of Valentinius and his Gnostics. There would have been virtually no persecutions had this not happened. Those persecutions have, I believe, instilled a deeply neurotic condition into the psyche of Christianity and it has been riven by it ever since.

          • Cogra Bro

            Exercised, dear boy, exercised. As for your remarks about the Messiah returning to crush Rome… Dear me.

          • apotropoxy

            You’re right… ‘exercised’ … happy?
            The role of the messiah was to rid Israel of foreign domination and establish the Jew’s as rulers over the earth.

  • kevinlynch1005

    Let us not forget the musings of Lord Atkin in Donoghue v. Stevenson [1932] AC, the seminal case on the modern law of negligence….his judgement deals with this very point; contextual perhaps, but worth considering!

  • Cogra Bro

    Jesus doesn’t answer ‘everyone’. That is the answer of the leftism / liberalism . Tney love the whole world, or say they do. Then they get everyone else to pay for their charitable feelings through the levy of taxes.

    Christ says that one’s neighbour is the person one can personally help. This is the difference between the right wing conservative person and the leftist.

    The leftist uses other people’s money to make himself feel good about himself.

    The Christisn does something in person for someone out of love. If we all did that, the world’ sills would surely be greatly alleviated.

    Christianity wins because it’s ethics are motivated by a feeling, love. Ethics which are a ‘science’ or ‘rational. fail, because 98% of people simply don’t understand a formula like Kant’s and even If they dud, most would see no reason why they should comply.

    Without religious belief, talk of an ethical system is just a waste of breath