Since the age of 23, I have been a believing orthodox Protestant Christian. I was recently reading the latest book by R. R. Reno, Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society. This book seems in many ways to go deeper than the other recent wave of books – The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher, Out of the Ashes by Anthony Esolen, and Strangers in a Strange Land by Bishop Charles Chaput. But Reno, and many Catholic writers, refer to something called ‘solidarity’ and I am having trouble figuring out what it is.
On the one hand, it might be the same thing, or similar to, the virtue of loyalty, one of those highlighted by Jonathan Haidt in the masterwork The Righteous Mind that is a value of cultural conservatives but not of cultural liberals. On the other, it may be linked to identity, which seems to be of greater value to cultural liberals than Haidt admits to. We all have a long list of identities and loyalties that should not be equal; God first, the nuclear family second, the church after that, our country and others below that – and some are given to me by my background, others are chosen, and others forced on us by culture. For example, the color of my skin steers me toward a certain culture – not a good thing, but hard to avoid. Worse, who I like to look at naked becomes an ‘identity’ rather than a vice. It is a sick society that makes such things an identity. I don’t like fresh tomatoes, olives, capers, or pickles in my food. I would find rather perverse a society that insisted on giving me an ‘identity’ about my tastes in food.
As a Protestant, I tend to see the love and generosity of Jesus as an expression of, well, love and generosity, not ‘solidarity’. On one occasion He did respond to a Gentile woman with what might be called an ethnic slur; “it is not right to take children’s food and give it to the dogs [a slur for Gentiles],” but the lady impressed Him with her faith by a clever response; “Yes, but the dogs eat the scraps that fall off the children’s table.” Protestant Christians believe in a sort of solidarity within the Body of Christ, but anything outside of that they consider ‘outreach’. We don’t condition our charity on expressions of faith, not wanting to create earthly incentives to feign conversion or spirituality [neither do Catholics or Orthodox, for that matter]. I do insist that part of my philanthropy should be directed to things close to home. Maybe that’s ‘solidarity’, I don’t know. I do know that I view my philanthropy as giving back to God and the things He cares about – “God so loved the world” and all that – not giving back to ‘society’. I don’t view paying my taxes as an act of philanthropy or charity. It is my fee for enjoying the protections of the state, good and bad. And if a small bit of my tax money goes to the ‘poor’ and a much larger share to middle class state pensions like Social Security, that is not an act of charity to me, but a substitute for it. In the same way, police are a substitute for a [hypothetical] culture that had absolute respect for the lives and property of others. I have a loyalty to my country, and would fight for it if I had to; but fighting is the business of the state, after all, and I don’t know whether national patriotism is a form of ‘solidarity’ either.