Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

The Good Samaritan Friend

Recently, I read an article about abortion that used a story from the Bible to justify why women should be allowed to terminate their pregnancies. Enduring a complicated pregnancy for the sake of the life of an unborn child is exhibiting the qualities a “Splendid Samaritan” in the opinion of Thomson. In her essay, “A Defense of Abortion,” Thomson distinguishes between two kinds of Samaritan: the Good Samaritan and what she calls the Minimally Decent Samaritan. Thomson quotes Luke 10:30-35, in which a lawyer asks Jesus “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan, a story about a traveler who is beaten almost completely to death and is left on the side of a road. First a priest and then a Levite pass the man and ignore him, until finally a Samaritan happens upon the traveler and helps the battered man by tending his wounds and by taking him to an inn for further care. Jesus affirms that the neighbor is the man who showed mercy to the injured man, the Good Samaritan who went out of his way, at some cost to himself, to help the man in need. Jesus urges us to “Go, and do thou likewise.” Here, Thomson concludes that Jesus encourages people to do more than what is morally required of them. However, a key point to Thomson’s argument is that although Jesus may urge us to go above our moral duties, we are not required to do so. “Indeed,” Thomson writes, “with one rather striking class of exceptions, no one in any country in the world is legally required to do anywhere near as much as [risking their own life and health] for anyone else.” Thomson concludes that no person should be required to make great sacrifices to sustain the life of another who has has no right to demand them; a pregnant woman should not be required to gestate a fetus by means of compromising her own health and well being. Outside of pregnancy, even when sacrifices do not include life itself, we are by no means required to be Good Samaritans let alone Splendid Samaritans to one another.

I tend to think that this idea would and should also apply to friendship. When we meet people/interact with people, we should by no means be expected to be “Splendid Samaritans,” putting their needs before ours, etc. We should all be expected to be Decent Samaritans, and be kind to others (unless they are unkind to us maybe). Deep friendships form when two people are splendid to one another, but a friendship doesn’t necessarily have to be so deep and intense to be good.

Aristotle would disagree with me on this, as he emphasizes that only the truly virtuous can form friendships, and that anything less is not true friendship. Graham Little, however, might be more aligned with the idea of the Good Samaritan parable as it relates to friendship, as he notes that there are other types of friendships that are valid, even if they are not particularly intense and full of material; social (profession-related), familiar (nursing) and communicated (communication single identities) friends. Although he notes that it is the third that stimulates hope and invites change, he does mention the first two types of friendships for a reason, as they are important and valid too. If we are only looking to develop incredibly intense and meaningful friendships, which in my time has been rare and hard to come by, then I don’t think we can expect to get very far when it comes to state and domestic politics. There can still be value in these less developed types of friendships. “Although they would not reach deep into one’s sense of oneself…they would provide a venue for activities, emotions, geographic locations,” explains Little, “in short they would give structure to one’s life.”

Social relationships can be used as building blocks for deeper relationships, and create space where there can be trust and vulnerability. Trust is the basis of communication, and an important part of creating strong and unbreakable relationships in politics and across countries. Familiar friendships are those in which most reflect the Good Samaritan parable in the most literal sense. They are important because they teach empathy, and empathy too will lead to trust and openness.

Resistance to neoliberalism, which is often thought to be difficult or even impossible, is closer at hand than we might think, and although deep friendship and understanding contributes, other types of relationships are helping to dismantle neoliberalism and its ideologies. Through conscious, and careful connections between people, friendships of all different depths begin to form the basis for political solidarity. A solidarity which in turn can be used in the resistance of neoliberalism. Passion is an important part of friendship and an important part of the elimination of neoliberalism. Friendship does not simply involve a sharing and a passion but also some recognition that these are in place, a sense of commitment. A friendship is not based on the happenstance for sharing and passion, one that seems no more than a stroke of good luck. Rather it also involves what we might call a tending to, in the sense that one tends to their chickens (or their garden). As we carefully tend to and work on our relationships to other countries and to our politics and our economy, we must tend to our friendships as well.

Work Cited

May, Todd. Friendship in an Age of Economics: Resisting the Forces of Neoliberalism. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2014

Judith Jarvis Thomson, “A Defense of Abortion,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 1, no. 1 (1971).

Mahallati, Class notes, April 3 and April 5, 2018.

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