Scotland's National Catholic magazine

Help first and ask questions later

Ross Ahlfeld argues that our Christian duty should be less talk and more action.

When was the last time you heard someone say ‘I dunno’?’ Everyone has an opinion on everything these days. Sometimes it

feels as if we’ve become a country of ‘Know It Alls’ happy to share all our thoughts on every topics, even though nobody asked!

Worse, we are increasingly expected to pick a side on any given polarising topic, with no room for nuance or doubt, and then subsequently have our entire identities by whatever we said in a single social media post.

Questions such as Leave or Remain, Unionist or Nationalist, Trans or Terf, Pro- Lockdown or Anti-Vaccine.

One example of this that truly shocked me recently was the recent spate of abuse being direct towards RNLI volunteers rescuing refugees from drowning in the English Channel. Last month Nigel Farage even went as far as describing the work of the life boat charity as providing a migrant taxi ser- vice. Rightly RNLI hit back, pointing to its moral and legal duty to rescue people at risk of dying.

The most troubling aspect of all this is the way in which an entirely non political charity like the RNLI has become dragged into the cultural war.

Listen, I am pro-immigrant and pro refugee. I think we can and should let many more people in. If anti-immigration activists might target me fair enough! Come at me but the RNLI are simply responding to an immediate need by saving lives, just as they always have.

Sadly, the RNLI have fallen victim to the prevailing ‘with us or against us’ aforementioned attitude. As Christians we need to avoid this, find new ways of engaging.

That’s not to say that we should become passive outsiders, we have a duty to hold opinions on a whole range social questions but that doesn’t mean to say we must become experts with all the answers. Rather, it means that sometimes we simply just get on with the daily business of serving others without stopping to worry too much about the wider political implications.

Too often, we think that we have to become experts with a PhD in the Philosophy of Religion and Ethics before we can decide to get involved but as Stanley Hauerwas says, “Learning to be a Christian has meant learning to live without answers. Indeed, to learn to live in this way is what makes being a Christian so wonderful. Faith is but a name for learning how to go on without knowing the answers.”

Similarity, one of the first things I always tell young volunteers keen to help out at food insecurity and poverty alleviation projects is to empathise with everyone and judge nobody because it’s not our business to ask questions.

I also encourage them to get used to encountering both friendly and unfriendly people as to avoid any disillusionment later on because the homeless are all individuals, much like people lucky enough to live in houses. To pretend otherwise is to dehumanise and patronise people who are just like us, but who happen to be facing hardship.

Neither are we required to see passports or ask how the individual presenting in front of us got here or where they came from before we feed and clothe them.

As Dorothy Day teaches us, “The Gospel takes away our right forever to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.” This has always been the Catholic Worker way; the late Mark Zwick of Houston Catholic Worker founded Casa Juan Diego House of Hospitality in 1980, to serve immigrants and refugees from South and Central America.

Today Glasgow Catholic Worker very much models itself on Houston Catholic Worker by following Mark’s advice to avoid bureaucratic systems and business techniques and to remain organic and uncomplicated.

Mark Zwick once said that he didn’t worry too much about breaking the law because he was too preoccupied with keeping to the Gospel law which commands us to love our neighbour.

So let’s not worry too much about questions which are above our pay grade as Christians, questions which have long since been resolved by the lesson of the Good Samaritan. Our job is to protect and care for the vulnerable and to uphold the dignity of all.

Ross Ahlfeld is a community worker, activist and writer who lives in Greenock.

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