Faith & Reason: Tolerance is not enough, as the Good Samaritan showed

Neighbourliness demands more than respect and the abstractions of 'justice'. It imposes a duty of hospitality

Share

Exactly a year ago today, a tidal wave claimed the lives of a group of men and women from southern Asia. They were not on a golden beach in brilliant sunshine, but in the dark and cold of a northern winter's night, thousands of miles from home, on the sands of Morecambe Bay. As the news broke, we were horrified and shaken; disasters like that, we had thought, don't happen in nice safe Britain.

Exactly a year ago today, a tidal wave claimed the lives of a group of men and women from southern Asia. They were not on a golden beach in brilliant sunshine, but in the dark and cold of a northern winter's night, thousands of miles from home, on the sands of Morecambe Bay. As the news broke, we were horrified and shaken; disasters like that, we had thought, don't happen in nice safe Britain.

As the story of the Chinese cockle-pickers came to light, we discovered the underworld of immigrant workers sustaining our own industries, defenceless against exploitation through their lack of language, local knowledge or legal standing. We began to feel helpless in the face of what was happening under our noses. Paradoxically, it has seemed easier to respond to the tragedy on the other side of the world.

The tsunami revealed how very deeply we can be moved by the sufferings of human beings whose lives are quite unconnected with our own. For the first time ever, perhaps, the phrase "global village" became more than a cliché: we grieved for those distant people almost as if they lived next door.

The tragedy of Morecambe Bay showed us the strangers who actually do live next door. The scale of migration today means that all of us encounter vulnerable foreigners as part of our everyday lives. How should we treat them? The problem is not completely new: since cities first grew bigger than face-to-face communities, our fellow citizens have become increasingly less familiar, no longer just friends and friends of friends. One response has been to think of ourselves as linked by impersonal rather than personal bonds, as abstract units, anonymous and interchangeable. The only things that we all share are the laws of our country.

In this type of society, we tend to treat justice as impersonal. The differences between different individuals and our relationships with each other are irrelevant to justice. Indeed, to this way of thinking natural affections and personal ties are likely to tempt us to injustice - to nepotism or cronyism or even racism. What justice does is set a minimum standard, and this applies to every single person in the same way. Related to this is the idea that strangers should be treated above all with tolerance. We should take no notice of the differences between us, but rather simply live and let live.

Tolerance is better by far than oppression, but is it enough? When someone asked him who counted as his neighbour, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan not only dressed the wounds of the man who had been assaulted, but took him to an inn. Our very language captures a history in Christian European society of offering friendly assistance to the stranger in need: the Latin word for "guest", hospes, gives rise to the English "hospital", "hospice", "hostelry", "hotel" and "host". St Benedict, inspired by the parable of the sheep and goats, wrote in his Rule:

Let all guests who come be received like Christ, since he will say, "I was a stranger and you took me in." When you receive poor men and pilgrims, you should show them particular care, because in them especially Christ is being received.

The resulting tradition of monastic hospitality has provided a model for all Christians.

If we contrast hospitality with tolerance, we can understand why it gives fuller expression to the Christian life. To tolerate is to refrain from hurting those who live differently; to give hospitality is to help them. To be tolerant is to ignore their differences from us; to be hospitable is to take interest in those differences. To show tolerance to others is to let them live their own lives; to show them hospitality is to ask them to share ours. Those whom we tolerate remain strangers; those to whom we are hospitable would normally become friends.

Hospitality fits the shape of Christian living because it is something dynamic. Christianity is a way of becoming who we are meant to be, through building relationships of love. In other words, it is about making, and being made into, friends. Hospitality, the offering of friendship to strangers so that strangers may turn into friends, is, then, the richest Christian response to those who are not yet "one's own".

Whatever the politicians decide about immigration, it is clear that foreigners will continue to come to Britain in significant numbers, for jobs, for education and simply for safety. The minimum that we will owe them is impersonal justice. Are we capable of going further, and welcoming them with genuine hospitality? The honest among us will acknowledge our own temptations to become hostile or resentful or simply indifferent towards outsiders. The ideal is far from easy. But the truest test of our membership of the global village will be the way that we treat the people next door.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£13676.46 - £15864.28 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Re...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Tessa fizzes with ideas; she has all the warmth in the world but a core of steel  

Why Tessa Jowell gets my vote for London Mayor

Alan Johnson
Was this the game when the public started to fall back in love with English cricket?  

How can anyone say Test match cricket is dying after this glorious, complex battle?

Matthew Norman
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada
Birthplace of Arab Spring in turmoil as angry Tunisians stage massive sit-in over lack of development

They shall not be moved: jobless protesters bring Tunisia to a halt

A former North African boom town is wasting away while its unemployed citizens stick steadfastly to their sit-in
David Hasselhoff's new show 'Hoff the Record': What's it like working with a superstar?

Hanging with the Hoff

Working with David Hasselhoff on his new TV series was an education for Ella Smith
Can Dubai's Design District 'hipster village' attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?

Hipsters of Arabia

Can Dubai’s ‘creative village’ attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?
The cult of Roger Federer: What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?

The cult of Roger Federer

What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?
Kuala Lumpur's street food: Not a 'scene', more a way of life

Malaysian munchies

With new flights, the amazing street food of Kuala Lumpur just got more accessible
10 best festival beauty

Mud guards: 10 best festival beauty

Whether you're off to the Isle of Wight, Glastonbury or a local music event, we've found the products to help you
Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe

A Different League

Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe, says Pete Jenson
Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey - Steve Bunce

Steve Bunce on Boxing

Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf