The Ethics of Radical Neighborism

Father John Kaoma, Oct. 12, 2012

The ethics of radical neighborism is visibly illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this parable, an identified man is attacked by robbers and left for dead. While religious people ignored his plight, perspective Samaritan (avowed enemy of the Jews) came to his rescue. The Samaritan did not count the cost, but looked at the other with compassion. Interestingly, the other remains nameless, without status, race or nationality, sexual orientation but is spoken of only as a human being (umuntu). He is attacked by robbers and could not empower himself to get the desired liberation. The radical love of a Samaritan met the needs of the man in need. From an ecological perspective however, this concept should include nonhumans as well.

The attitude of the Good Samaritan is not self-seeking but selfless because to him all life is sacred. Saving life is more valuable than saving money in a capitalistic sense. The attitudes of a Levite and a priest are arguably closer to the values of capitalism. In political terms, their attitudes are similar to politicians who demand millions of dollars from multi-national companies – while children are dying from curable diseases across the world. However, Christianity is about radicalneighborism. This understanding has special implications for the Church in the face of globalization. Our neighbors are all over the globe, human and nonhumans alike. If capitalism demands competition and enjoys profit at the expense of our neighbors, Christian faith demands that we deny ourselves for the sake of saving life (Jn 3:16). To be neighbours, therefore, is to realise that we are each other’s keepers in this sinful world. It means politicians giving up their entitlements for the sake of the other. It also means standing up for the plight of the unemployed and advocating policies that will create wealth for all.

The world should realize that love for the neighbour is more valuable than profits. But to postmodern humanity, radical neighborism fails to make sense. To the economists for example, Jesus’ answers and parables reflect complete ignorance of economic policies and realities. How can we live without property? Or how does he expect people to give up competition and give up all they have for the sake of a stranger? To Jesus, however, relationships and equality are more important than profits. In reality, if all of us lived on the Jesus’ principle of love for God and the neighbour and put God’s creation above profits, we will be “all one, strong and free,” as the Zambian national anthem proudly states. Only then can we accomplish more and make this world a better place for all.

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