I thought I understood [the parable], and moreover that we are living in a society that could be said to embody its message to a remarkable degree. In the NHS [UK's National Health Service], for example, care is free at the point of need. That surely is what the Samaritan offered the Jew in the ditch, and what the other two [a priest and a Levite] did not. But it was not until I started to think about friendship, and read the rebel Catholic philosopher Ivan Illich, that I saw otherwise. Illich thought that the parable has been subtly misunderstood, and in so doing its meaning has been what he called ‘perverted.’ It’s not about welfarism, he argued. The key detail is the way Luke describes the compassion the Samaritan has for the Jew. The important word is one of those wonderful Greek ones – splankgnizesthi, from Splanknon, the bowels. The Samaritan is moved in his guts. That’s what fundamentally distinguishes him from the priest and the Levite, not that he offers the care.
Illich, as anyone who has read The Rivers North of the Future will understand, reads this parable not as an instruction always to help those in need but rather as a definition of neighbor. It makes the point that one is free - everyone is free - to choose whom they want to relate to as their neighbor. And this complete and absolute freedom to choose, Illich argues, is enormously disruptive to tradition and "normal decency." It means that people are free to ignore traditional tribal boundaries, for instance, and it topples many certainties and unleashes much volatility. And the ramifications of this disruption, Illich argues, are still being worked out by the Western world.
Vernon may be pleased to know that his blog post is, according to Google, the only page on the Web that uses that word, splankgnizesthi. That, or he is misspelling it. Illich reads the word as referring to the part of an ox's gut that one discards during a sacrifice "because there's too much shit in it." Hence the title of Vernon's post: "On being moved in your bowels".