The intellectual power-house and thinking woman’s crumpet known as David Allen Green has written an interesting post in today’s New Statesman.
Whilst I do not wish to re-hash the entire case with regards to the case of the B&B owners, I note that Ed West of the Telegraph echoes the point made on this blog last week, namely that the owners were not refusing the couple outright hospitality but were offering a restricted hospitality, in line with the type of hospitality on offer to all unmarried couples.
Mr Green says “The duties which one owes to strangers are central to any developed system of law, as they are to any sensible system of ethics”.
Whilst I wouldn’t dare to contradict Mr Green’s extensive professional knowledge, I would like to point out that while systems of law do incorporate duties, it is equally true that law does not exist to justify behaviour. Indeed the law prescribes both duties and limits to our behaviour. The duty of care to one’s neighbour is not automatically approving.
Mr Green continues “In both legal and ethical contexts, there is long tradition of valuing the hospitality to be given to travellers and guests.”
Again this is correct, however what Mr Green omits is that hospitality cuts both ways. Hospitality is generosity to another, opening one’s doors to another, however this does not mean that the guest is able to behave exactly how they wish. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the responsibility of the recipient of hospitality is as important as the hospitality offered by the host. It is a two-edged sword. If we examine those cultures and traditions whereby hospitality is of vital importance, the encounter pivots upon the graciousness of the guest in the way they accept the hospitality on offer. One would not offend the host by refusing to eat the food provided – refusing to observe traditional customs, insisting on following one’s own habits and certainly one wouldn’t call the police if one felt that the hospitality on offer was different to what one had been accustomed. Hospitality is a mutual exchange.
My mother-in-law has just returned from attending her brother’s funeral in China where the rules of hospitality meant that she had to accept the hospitality that was on offer from her brother’s wife, a Chinese national. This included some funeral customs that were a complete anathema to a practicing Christian,however as a guest of her sister-in-law it was not for her to dictate the terms of the funeral, nor indeed the wake, which consisted of a Chinese karaoke party. She was welcomed as a guest into the house as a family member and thus had to accept the generous hospitality that was on offer, despite the fact that it was contrary to her preferences.
Mr Green concludes: “So it is saddening that some followers of the very religion which gave us the parable of the Good Samaritan appear now to be completely unaware of this.”
With the greatest of respect, the parable of the Good Samaritan is not purely concerned with hospitality, but also with that greatest of Christian virtues, namely Caritas – love for one’s neighbour, a love that enables one to put one’s fellow-man above one’s self. That does not simply mean their neighbour’s own perception of their desires first. As I have discussed in previous posts, love often entails an element of discipline.
This is where the clash of ideologies takes place. The liberal does not wish to have their physical freedoms restricted or dictated by another.
Furthermore, I do believe that it IS possible for so-called “mainstream Christians” to object to Mr Green’s statement which attempts to explain the principles of their Christian faith to them, assuming that they have misunderstood it – something of a slightly patronising attitude. Mr Green falls into that classic trap of defining his version of what he believes Christianity to be all about, and assuming that those who disagree with this definition are by very nature extremist or ill-educated.
The commandment “Love thy neighbour as thyself” is often, understandably, thought to be the cornerstone of Christianity. To some extent it is, but as discussed above, love is not to be confused with giving free rein or licence. It also needs to be understood in the context of the commandment immediately preceding it, namely “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12: 30-32)
The second commandment cannot be taken in isolation to mean simply be nice to other people, which is how it is often misunderstood and misinterpreted. One has to be able to love God with all one’s heart and soul in order to be able to contextualize how to love one’s neighbour. Loving God includes following his commands on how we should live. To love our neighbour as ourselves is to desire for them the good that we desire for ourselves which is to follow God and to follow his commandments. God’s commandments are not those of a dictatorial, authoritarian God as the likes of Stephen Fry might have one believe. God is love and therefore his commandments are given out of love, because he desires the best for us. The things that are prohibited are ultimately the things that cause self-destruction.
This is not quite the same as be nice to each other folks version of Christianity that many liberals and perhaps poorly catechised Christians subscribe to, not being able to deal with the idea of a God who might prohibit our freedoms and our basest desires. People often perceive that their actions or desires do no harm to others and thus cannot accept the idea of a God who will not condone a deed, which as far as they are concerned, does absolutely no physical or discernable harm to anyone else.
The idea that the Christian B&B owners might have been acting out of love is unfathomable to many. As I mentioned here, the idea that a homosexual act is a sin, i.e. something that separates us from God, seems to many unpleasant. It smacks of dislike and hatred, when the reverse is true. The merest mention of sin, sends many reaching for their copy of the Guardian to fan down their waves of indignation, but in fact sin is just that – sin. An American Jesuit priest friend of mine involved in enticing me back to the fold many years ago, once recounted a story about a time he committed a mortal sin. Utterly repentant on his knees in the confessional the next day, eaten up by remorse, his kindly superior said to him “Hey son, it’s sin, that’s all it is”. Sin is obviously not desirable in that it separates us from God, but ultimately God is love and mercy: He always forgives.
Without wishing to go too far into the realms of basic apologetics there are 2 types of sin, mortal and venial. Venial sin is accidental, like when the internet troll pushes you too far and you swear at her in the heat of the moment. It is certainly not honouring God, but neither is it pre-meditated. Mortal sin is when you deliberately and with full knowledge of what you are doing, commit serious sin. That’s it. Sexual sin is no worse than any other type, whether it be mortal or venial.
This seems to me to be the root of the issue. To a self-professed liberal like David Allen Green, the idea of saying that something is bad, seems unkind, unpleasant and not in kilter with his definition of Christianity. He is a highly principled, ferociously intelligent man of integrity and scruples who wishes to fight for the underdog. To deny a couple their double room seems deeply unkind, rooted in contempt and thus un-Christian. The reverse is true. It was an act of pure Christian love.