I have been a fan of Walter Russell Mead’s Yule Tide Blog since back when he wrote at The American Interest (now the American Purpose). His annual recap of the Christmas Story has something to offer both steadfast Christians as well as those simply curious about the faith and what it entails. Today’s entry starts:
The Christmas story suggests that we can somehow try to be loyal members of our nations, our families, our tribes—and to reach out to the broader human community of which we are also a part.
Just because we all belong to groups, doesn’t preclude us from reaching out to others. In fact there is a desire to do so. Yet a tension arises.
It’s a puzzle. Human beings need roots in a particular culture and family, and those roots shape them; at the same time, human beings have values (like freedom and democracy) and ideas (like the Pythagorean theorem and the laws of thermodynamics) that demand to be recognized as universal. We seem perpetually torn between “cosmopolitan” and “local” values: universal ideas and the customs of the country.
Importantly, within the faith there an obligation to welcome and help strangers.
We think of the trade-off between local identities and universal values as a modern problem, but it is deeply rooted in human experience. In the ancient world, where tribal and family affiliations were very strong, many cultures shared a strong belief in the moral duty of hospitality to strangers, whatever their tribe. Day-to-day life revolved around your own group of close associates, but the duty of hospitality required a willingness to look beyond these limits to recognize the common humanity and worth of all people.
And this is hardly unique to Christianity. The tradition of hospitality runs throughout Islam. Read adventurer Dervla Murphy‘s account of her solo bicycle trip from Ireland to India in 1963, as detailed in Full Tilt.
Her dedication reads: “To the peoples of Afghanistan and Pakistan with gratitude for their hospitality for their principles and with affection for those who befriended me.”
You can be true to your tribe, true to your group within your group, and still reach outside that structure for all sorts of interactions. Not only can this be true, it is the best form of social commerce. And not everyone has to play. This show-stopper-outrage that has controlled our dialogue, the one that holds up the one offending example, sidesteps the reality that a few bad apples (racists, sexists or otherwise horrible people) don’t monopolize the ability for the rest of us to extend a hand where they won’t.
One doesn’t have to practice in a faith community to believe in the goodness of human nature.