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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Service as Duty? What the Hell?


Wait. What? Service is a duty that we as human beings, social creatures, are supposed to perform? Get out of here! I want my Facebook! I worked hard in this capitalistic society. I ain’t giving nothing away to nobody that ain’t earned it. I don’t care if it’s my time, my prayers, or money. I sure as hell ain’t giving freebies away.
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               Immanuel Kant strings his metaphysics through Christianity’s New Testament teachings. “This virtue is greater when the benefactor’s means are limited and he is strong enough quietly to take on himself the hardship he spares the other; then he is really to be considered morally rich.”[1] This clearly originates from Mark’s Gospel of the widow’s offering.[2] From this mixture of metaphysics and theology, Western society is heavily predisposed towards a distanced relationship with others. Nevertheless, whether it is through daily interactions, service, or familial relationships. We have duties. To others.
               Today. We have Jesus as God on earth doing the impossible; loving one another as I have loved you, turning the other cheek. Saints are those individuals that aim for that inverted, unworldly perfection.
Language is a powerful, manipulative tool in both the philosophical and theological arenas.[3] Language has created this everlasting Schism over good works as means for salvation, which is to suggest the profundity of the Saints is dulled. Still, somewhere along the way, we become caught up that we all can’t be Saints. Similarly, works as the pinnacle aspect to our very being, our purpose or goal in life, is somehow bogged down by this Schism. What we get today is some watered-down version of what coincidentally happens to be the Corporal Works of Mercy; done out of the sake of our…for our…
Our what? Our Christian-human nature? No. Christians cannot even agree on whether the implicit biblical language that stresses our human nature is to serve others through works or to be some sort of result from that very nature.
               But wait. Oh, there happens to be this other half of the world called the East. And what is that one Jewel of three called in Buddhism? Dharma is it? Transliterated as duty? And there happens to be six qualities of it too! The first being: Svakkhato. “The Dharma is not a speculative philosophy, but is the Universal Law found through enlightenment and is preached precisely.” (Thanks Wikipedia!) Is this to say there is no gray area in what’s to be done in the Buddhist tradition?[4] There’s no astonishment in duty being part of our nature when it’s esteemed as the Universal Law. 
               Yet, I could sit here and draw parallels between Buddhism’s interpretation of dharma as well as Hinduism’s; the Tao Te Ching, Christianity’s Beatitudes-all of which are interchangeable for what is to be seen as life’s duty (or a guide for it.) It’s no mere coincidence that world religions share similarities on the emphasis of duty. What’s irksome, though, is philosophy’s-particularly Western philosophy as seen through Kant’s metaphysics-assertion to rationalize our duty when all along it’s within the very essence of our being. Not to take philosophy out of its historical context, as it seems to be so often in order to continue being dubbed meritorious in modern times, but the emotional relationship that the religions listed above (and others) foster existed long before metaphysics enabled the world to empirically understand human nature.
               I don’t know why it is incredibly difficult for humans to grasp that our essence implies “relationship” as our distinguishing feature. (Distinguishing us from animals with that rationale we possess and so many philosophers like to draw out as profound.) Where does one human come from? The sexual relationship of two other human beings. And while hermits intentionally deny themselves to partake in that inherent, rudimentary distinguishing feature-that is to say the relationship-mass society lives either in harmony, disharmony, or an amalgamation of both. I heard that morality is the balance of the relationships shared in a community. Morals are the pillars that uphold society. This is to say morals are a measurement of the gravity of relationships (e.g., a stronger communal support for morals implies a more united community.) From our relationships derive our world; we either choose to establish and nurture our relationships or to cripple and damage them.
Therefore, morality, the same found within world religions, implicates we have a duty to others. We can call this service, we can call it love. Language of today suggests that what we now deem as charity, this mindless, almost worthless giving of financial aid, is of lesser value.[5] (Lesser when compared to social justice enacted through service.) Language of yesterday suggests that charity comes from the Latin word caritas, and as any Christian might get giddy over, caritas derives from Greek’s agape. What we know about agape in the Christian sense is that it’s defined as love of fellow man.[6]
Social justice. We can similarly use language to trace justice to iustus, which we can break down to ius, meaning law. What I really like about this etymology-dictionary site I am using as a point of reference is that it takes ius a step further to ious. “‘Sacred formula’…that originated in the religious cults.”[7] Here we are presented with several points I would like to emphasize. Some circles, particularly theocracies, enact certain morals as laws. Second, this etymology emphasizes the bridged gap between human nature and morality with religion. It is no mere coincidence that Kant intertwined beneficence with the widow and the coin.
Nonetheless, the misinterpretation of charity of today (I mentioned above,) is incorrectly separated from social justice. The misinterpretation itself is enough grounds to suggest that the truer sense of charity alone holds more value than the misconception of this sort of aimless giving. But the fact that social justice has roots in this concept of sanctity can be further driven by charity’s truer meaning of love of fellow man. Social justice is charity. Charity is social justice. Because human nature, emphasized by morals, is to foster a relationship with others, both charity and social justice combined are to be seen as an intrinsic duty.  

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[1] Immanuel Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals. Mary Gregor, trans. (New York: Cambridge, 1991.)
[2] 41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44.)
[3] If I might add, I personally find theological language more focalized and straightforward than philosophical jargon. Here’s why. Theology aims to explain nature in a way for believers to understand and follow. Philosophy is a constant dialogue that is questioning nature’s qualities. Both, however, evolve from inner circles of either faith or reason that propel their explanations forward. Theology’s objectivity differs from philosophy’s in that faith enables for a more accepting reception of evolution because it happens more rarely. Philosophy cannot be pinpointed by its believers and subscribers because it is often subject to change.
[4] Yet, there still are divisions in Buddhism.
[5] My classmates made this distinction when the words CHARITY and JUSTICE were written on the whiteboard. Charity became this seasonal tithing during the holiday season; lowered to a sense of tangible giving. Justice was therefore elevated to the only giving (of time) of value.