In my office, resting on the side table, lies an impressive, hefty volume (583 pages) titled “Who Is My Neighbor?: An Anthology In Natural Relations.” While the focus of this anthology is specific to the subject of man’s “natural relations” (family, neighbor, nation, etc…), its scope ranges from ancient to modern, including both pagan and Christian, as well as a fair representation and Catholic and Protestant sources to boot. There is literally something here for everyone. Everyone, that is, with a desire to know what wise men have thought and said about some of the most pressing questions facing Christians today.
One of the editors and compilers is Thomas Achord, and he was kind enough to take some time to answer a few questions about the book:
Can you introduce yourself? What are you busy with when not producing encyclopedic volumes of traditional wisdom?
Sure, I’m a husband and father, and also a headmaster of a Christian Classical school in Louisiana. I have been in Classical Ed for a while but I originally got into it indirectly through studying theology, history, and the “Great Tradition.”
What led to the publication of this volume, how did it come about?
The cosmopolitan impulse has been with us in the West for some time, but Darrell Dow and myself observed a sharp increase in oikophobic rhetoric in mainstream discourse around 2015 or so. We also noticed a dearth of historical viewpoints brought to bear upon modern narratives on this topic. So, we decided to collect into one file some sources that spoke differently from the nearly unanimous socio-political message we hear today. After some minor research we quickly realized the vast treasures of material out there and decided that something more formal and orderly was required. Hence, the idea of a book was born.
Who is this book for?
The book is for those who want some guidance from those who’ve come before us regarding how to think and feel about place, people, and belonging today.
How long did it take you and Darrell Dow to compile this volume?
We spent about five years compiling the work. I’d say it was more sporadic than sustained work, but there were periods of intense focus. We pilfered libraries, online documents, and even purchased a small library of our own for our research.
Is it possible for a Christian to love their family or their Nation too much? How about too little?
Technically, yes, this moment occurs when one chooses to love, honor, or obey the demands of one’s nation above those of God. I suppose that most modern examples of this would derive from nationalist reactions to communism. I’m reading about a Romanian leader name Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, who, in the fight against communism’s threat to destroy his people, at times encouraged his “legionaries” to “do the work of God” and save their fatherland. This seems to approach the issue of what is valued most. People tend to defend things that are threatened, and if these people are Christian then they will invoke God to do so. The American government promoted religion as a means to fight communism in the 1950s. So, in the back of our minds today is this idea that Christians in the 1950s and conservatives since have too often confused church and state. I think a similar critique can be leveled at those who use religion to promote their particular vision of liberal democracy or social justice. There are some salient portions of our work that detail the distinction between these respective loves, loyalties, and allegiances.
What was the most surprising thing you uncovered when mining resources for this book?
The most surprising thing I discovered was how uniform among all peoples at all places and times was the view of the order of man’s natural affections, beginning at home and extending outward. The globalist impulse today is quite an anomaly, and would have actually been abhorrent to past peoples.
Do you have a favorite source/quotation in the book?
Yes. This is from G.K. Chesterton and it illustrates the predicament we are in:
Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, “Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light. If Light be in itself good–” At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality. But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light; some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something. And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes. So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, to-morrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.
It seems to be priced very reasonably ($24.99 paperback on Amazon) is there a specific strategy in place here?
No, we aren’t adept at marketing strategies. This price seemed right to signify the work out into it and the importance and amount of material contained in the work.
What are some of the biggest mistakes modern Christians make with regards to “Natural Relations”?
In the evangelical West the largest political-theological tendency is toward some grace vs nature struggle, usually with grace destroying nature. Others call this gnosticism or pietism or even a flattening of the classical Protestant two-kingdom theology. This means evangelicals will often say that whatever is the case in heaven or in Christ should be the case is society. If all are admitted into heaven so long as they believe the right creed, then all should be admitted into America so long as they admit the right creed. If we are to be “Good Samaritans” to our neighbor, then we should send foreign aid to hurting nations or enact welfare programs for the poor. Perhaps the last of these analogies, finally, to be made is that if there are no Greeks or Jews, no slave or free, no male or female in Christ, then there should be no ethnic or gender differences in the church or home or society. Evangelicals are struggling with this issue right now and they have little means to refute it, if they assume a flattened, gnostic paradigm.
The title of the book relates to the parable of the Good Samaritan. How do you think Christians are supposed to understand and interpret the point that Jesus is making with this story?
The Good Samaritan parable was an injunction to disciples on a personal level. The Samaritan walked by the person in need and gave aid out of his own time and money. As such, disciples today abound help those around them, no matter their social hostilities. You are a neighbor to those nearest to you. The social point of the parable is that you are to lend aid to those around you whom you are given to despise, be they your own color or no. People often assume this to mean that whites should help nonwhites. Rarely do they apply this to mean that, say, white collar urbanites should help blue collar middle American Trump voters.
Have you taken any of the wisdom or lessons from this book with you into your own lived experience?
I hope so. It’s caused me to become more Reformed and generational in my theology as well. I think these are connected. If God is a God to those who keep his covenant and to their children’s children, then this changes an individualist view of salvation to an inter-generationally connected view; one that is akin to natural bonds of affection and loyalty. This has been a long road for me, but because of my early studies in this realm I’ve made it a point to get married, have children, build a house on some land around family, and more.
How can our readers find you online and learn more about these subjects?
I’m on Facebook mostly. I also co-host a podcast called Ars Politica.
Any other publications in the works?
I have a Political Philosophy reader called “The Soul And The City,” mostly used in a few classical schools.
Many thanks to Mr. Achord for being so gracious with his time. I think this anthology will prove to be a valuable tool and resource for the engaged Christian scholar and thoughtful layman alike.