Who is my electronic neighbour?
Has the age of the internet changed the answer to the Gospel’s famous question? asks Jill Segger
A trick question, an attempt at entrapment, a Socratic answer and a story which has been read and pondered for 2,000 years. The account about the disingenuous lawyer, and Jesus’ attempt to engage him on the question of how to define a neighbour, has left its imprint on our language. We speak of someone being “a good Samaritan”. A telephone service which has saved the lives of people in despair and supported those to whom no one else has time or inclination to listen, bears the name of this merciful traveller. And most of all, the question posed by Jesus remains to challenge us and demand interpretation in our own circumstances.
“Who is my neighbour?” There is a tendency to identify neighbourhood, if not solely by postcode, then in terms of communities who share an interest, faith or cause. The story in Luke’s gospel takes us straight into simpler and more demanding territory: The neighbour is the one we encounter in need. The traveller lying wounded and robbed by the roadside was unknown to his rescuer, and Jews of Jesus’ time held Samaritans in contempt. All these two men had in common was an encounter.
Now, electronic media has brought encounter into our own homes. Thanks to television and the internet, we can observe, up close and often in harrowing detail, the suffering of victims of natural disasters, armed conflict and terrorism. Many respond with great generosity to appeals for relief, but the scale is so vast that there is unlikely to be any sense of personal engagement with the suffering of an individual whom we may call by name. And yet social media may – paradoxically because of its narrower focus – draw us further into encounter and moral relationship…
This is an extract from the November 2014 edition of Reform.