Who is My Neighbor? An Anthology in Natural Relations . By Thomas Achord & Darrell Dow. Self-published. 584 pages. $24.99.
We live in an age where traditional and Christian morality are being eroded. Basic Christian teaching that permeates much of the history of Western Civilization is under attack. It is important when we see this fruit that we not only attempt to engage the labors supporting it, but that we understand the root from which it came. In Who is My Neighbor? An Anthology in Natural Relations, Thomas Achord and Darrell Dow provide a guide that moves us in the direction of a better understanding of what it is that we have lost (both in western society and in the church) and why we have arrived at the point we find ourselves.
Who is My Neighbor? serves us in that it functions like a collage of wisdom or a proverbial collection that points us backward so that we might understand how it is that we have developed as a people that no longer loves its history, but rather loathes the Fathers who embodied the values of a well-trained mind steeped in ancient wisdom. I say a proverbial collection because what Achord and Dow have advanced is not a sustained, continuous treatment of one singular subject. It’s not the kind of labor of love that a scholar gives to one of the subjects (say by defending a particular position on gender, sexuality, culture, the nature of justice, or defending a version of the classic two kingdoms political theology, yet it has implications for these), rather it is a collection of writings that share a common core or an overlapping set of ideas that were once considered wisdom, but are now considered folly.
Achord and Dow see these writings as forming a foundation for what it is that we have lost. Taking a page from contemporary media with its penchant for confusing foreigner-love for neighbor-love, they aim to show in the collection that my neighbor, as a concept, is rooted, first and foremost, in the family, which has natural connections to society and the nation. In other words, the collection aims to provide a set of essential readings that frame a proper understanding of politics, civics, theology, and philosophy in what is natural with its ancillary implications for the good of our communities (family, society, and church) and the preservation of those related goods.
Along these lines, they see the mutual relations of biology (as a category for determining what is natural, i.e., good) as commonly yielding implications for a set of relations that entail certain obligations given to us by the God of our nation and the God of the Christian Church. And, it is ‘tradition,’ and ancillary to that a form of hierarchy (where the Fathers of the West and the Fathers of the Church) that bequeaths to us a source of knowledge of what is good, true, and beautiful.
But, there is a problem or a set of related problems of which Achord and Dow are not unaware—see their brief introduction to the anthology (39-42). The problem, ultimately, is as they say: “subversion” of natural and organic connections (family, nation, etc.), which “has spiritual implications.” Ideologies, antithetical (e.g., feminism, lgbt, pure egalitarianism) to the foundations of society threaten what it is that we ultimately hold dear and what God designed as good both in creation and in the church. We cannot maintain the good of society, honor what God has deemed good, while simultaneously destroying the natural family, dishonoring fathers, and undermining the basic good of life itself. We are, in effect, cutting ourselves off from what is right, good, and natural.
Who is my Neighbor? then, serves as a corrective that aids us in the retrieval of ancient wisdom. And, it helpfully does so by offering a set of readings from historical periods. Following the historical offerings, the authors then cataloged readings from denominational perspectives, biblical perspectives in addition to disciplinary perspectives (e.g., literary, history, philosophy, the arts, politics, economy, and sociology).
The common thread in all of these writings is that there is something good about the natural relations designed and preserved by God for our flourishing. These natural relations entail certain obligations, e.g., the priority a Father has to protect, teach, and care first for his own people, i.e., his neighbors, and, only later, the foreigner.
As the authors make clear, this is not a completed work. Rather it functions as a reference for additional reflection and further study in all disciplines and for all spheres of life. Who is my Neighbor? is unique as a reference that would be serviceable in a classical school environment where students could read, reflect and think about the writings in the context of contemporary discussions. They serve as a starting point to read primary texts for the purposes of entering into a Socratic discussion on a variety of topics from nationhood, family, sexuality, ethnicity, and politics. For these reasons, Achord and Dow have provided us, American citizens and Christians, with a valuable resource.