Kleshas and Tanhas

ethics morals faiths ideals

Service as Duty? What the Hell?

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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 inthis capitalistic society. I ain’t giving nothing away to nobody that ain’tearned it. I don’t care if it’s my time, my prayers, or money. I sure as hellain’t giving freebies away.
               Immanuel Kantstrings his metaphysics through Christianity’s New Testament teachings. “Thisvirtue is greater when the benefactor’s means are limited and he is strongenough quietly to take on himself the hardship he spares the other; then he isreally to be considered morally rich.”[1] Thisclearly originates from Mark’s Gospel of the widow’s offering.[2] Fromthis mixture of metaphysics and theology, Western society is heavily predisposedtowards a distanced relationship with others. Nevertheless, whether it isthrough daily interactions, service, or familial relationships. We have duties.To others.
               Today. We haveJesus as God on earth doing the impossible; loving one another as I have lovedyou, turning the other cheek. Saints are those individuals that aim for thatinverted, unworldly perfection.
Language is a powerful, manipulativetool in both the philosophical and theological arenas.[3] Languagehas created this everlasting Schism over good works as means for salvation,which is to suggest the profundity of the Saints is dulled. Still, somewherealong the way, we become caught up that we all can’t be Saints. Similarly, worksas the pinnacle aspect to our very being, our purpose or goal in life, issomehow bogged down by this Schism. What we get today is some watered-down versionof what coincidentally happens to be the Corporal Works of Mercy; done out ofthe sake of our…for our…
Our what? Our Christian-human nature? No.Christians cannot even agree on whether the implicit biblical language that stressesour human nature is to serve others through works or to be some sort of resultfrom that very nature.
               But wait. Oh,there happens to be this other half of the world called the East. And what isthat one Jewel of three called in Buddhism? Dharma is it? Transliterated asduty? And there happens to be six qualities of it too! The first being: Svakkhato. “The Dharmais not a speculative philosophy, but is the Universal Law found throughenlightenment and is preached precisely.” (Thanks Wikipedia!) Is this to saythere is no gray area in what’s to be done in the Buddhist tradition?[4] There’s noastonishment in duty being part of our nature when it’s esteemed as theUniversal Law. 
               Yet, I could sit here and drawparallels between Buddhism’s interpretation of dharma as well as Hinduism’s; the Tao Te Ching, Christianity’s Beatitudes-allof which are interchangeable for what is to be seen as life’s duty (or a guidefor it.) It’s no mere coincidence that world religions share similarities onthe emphasis of duty. What’s irksome, though, is philosophy’s-particularlyWestern philosophy as seen through Kant’s metaphysics-assertion to rationalizeour duty when all along it’s within the very essence of our being. Not to takephilosophy out of its historical context, as it seems to be so often in orderto continue being dubbed meritorious in modern times, but the emotionalrelationship that the religions listed above (and others) foster existed longbefore metaphysics enabled the world to empirically understand human nature.
               I don’t know why it is incrediblydifficult for humans to grasp that our essence implies “relationship” as ourdistinguishing feature. (Distinguishing us from animals with that rationale wepossess and so many philosophers like to draw out as profound.) Where does onehuman come from? The sexual relationship of twoother human beings. And while hermits intentionally deny themselves topartake in that inherent, rudimentary distinguishing feature-that is to say therelationship-mass society liveseither in harmony, disharmony, or an amalgamation of both. I heard thatmorality is the balance of the relationships shared in a community. Morals arethe pillars that uphold society. This is to say morals are a measurement of thegravity of relationships (e.g., a stronger communal support for morals impliesa more united community.) From our relationships derive our world; we eitherchoose to establish and nurture our relationships or to cripple and damagethem.
Therefore, morality, the same found within world religions,implicates we have a duty to others. We can call this service, we can call itlove. Language of today suggests that what we now deem as charity, thismindless, almost worthless giving of financial aid, is of lesser value.[5] (Lesser whencompared to social justice enacted through service.) Language of yesterdaysuggests 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’sdefined as love of fellow man.[6]
Social justice. We can similarly use language to tracejustice to iustus, which we can breakdown to ius, meaning law. What Ireally like about this etymology-dictionary site I am using as a point of referenceis that it takes ius a step furtherto ious. “‘Sacred formula’…thatoriginated in the religious cults.”[7] Here we arepresented with several points I would like to emphasize. Some circles,particularly theocracies, enact certain morals as laws. Second, this etymologyemphasizes the bridged gap between human nature and morality with religion. Itis no mere coincidence that Kant intertwined beneficence with the widow and thecoin.
Nonetheless, the misinterpretation of charity of today (Imentioned above,) is incorrectly separated from social justice. Themisinterpretation itself is enough grounds to suggest that the truer sense of charityalone 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 befurther driven by charity’s truer meaning of love of fellow man. Social justiceis charity. Charity is social justice. Because human nature, emphasized bymorals, is to foster a relationship with others, both charity and socialjustice 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 Jesussat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowdputting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in largeamounts. 42But 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, “Itell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all theothers. 44 They all gave out of theirwealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had tolive on.” (Mark 12:41-44.)
[3]If I might add, I personally findtheological language more focalized and straightforward than philosophicaljargon. Here’s why. Theology aims to explain nature in a way for believers tounderstand and follow. Philosophy is a constant dialogue that is questioningnature’s qualities. Both, however, evolve from inner circles of either faith orreason that propel their explanations forward. Theology’s objectivity differsfrom philosophy’s in that faith enables for a more accepting reception ofevolution because it happens more rarely. Philosophy cannot be pinpointed byits 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 wordsCHARITY and JUSTICE were written on the whiteboard. Charity became thisseasonal tithing during the holiday season; lowered to a sense of tangible giving.Justice was therefore elevated to the only giving (of time) of value.

Written by Jack Viere

October 29, 2011 at 8:13 pm

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