We are all familiar with the response of politicians to probing questions. Usually they reply in terms of party positions, not on a strictly moral or objective basis. Loyalty to the party is apparently considered as pre-eminent. And the same is often to be found within the highly developed denominationalism of the American religious supermarket. Loyalty to the denomination is seemingly considered as primary, come what may, and if one changes denominations, for whatever reasons, then loyalty to the new institution is called for and expected.
Loyalty is widely in the West proclaimed as a “value” and even a “virtue.”
BUT is LOYALTY a virtue? Or is it made to be so by moderns in order to justify a slavish following of the party line? Do we make it a virtue in order to cover with an air of respectability decisions and positions which are expedient and pragmatic?
Bertrand Russell, the famous philosopher and mathematician, is reputed to have said that “Loyalty is always evil.” I suggest that he was exaggerating but doing so to make a most valid point.
Loyalty is evil if any action is defended solely on the grounds of loyalty alone. Loyalty to the party, group, denomination or cause is evil unless it is truly believed by the loyal person that the party is truly acting for the good of humankind.
The evil consists in the pretending that mere party interest is the equivalent of the pursuit of the good. It is the presenting of that which to rational and moral consideration does not involve the pursuit of the good but the pursuit of gain for party and/or selfish reasons.
Thus, whenever loyalty is presented as a virtue & as the prime motive for any position or action, one needs to suspect that support is being sought for a bad or questionable cause and investigate.
Most of the time “loyalty is a sham virtue exploited to give a bogus moral flavour to amoral or immoral actions.”
Christians are not called to loyalty to any human institution or human persons but to wholehearted commitment to the Lord their God, to trust, love and obey Him and to pursue His will in their lives. Thus they submit to those above them in the Lord, precisely because they are submitting to the Lord and His ordering of the Church, and they are attached to Mother Church, precisely because she is the visible expression of the Household of God and Body of Christ. Here what may be called loyalty is justified for it is on behalf of the greatest good – the goodness of God the Father and God the Son. Likewise in Christian marriage the loyalty itself is not a virtue, it is what occurs when there is a commitment to the real virtues of chastity and faithfulness and so on.
Love - agape & caritas -- does not necessarily call for loyalty!
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon
Minister of Christ Church, Biddulph Moor,
England & Vice-President and Emissary-at-Large
of The Prayer Book Society of America