Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Obligatory Gratitude

This past Sunday during church we had a lesson on gratitude. The comment was made that service is designed to make us grateful for the things that we have. Comments like these have always been given in church without much thought or remark, almost as though this was a given fact. However this time I noticed what was being said and thought about the ramifications behind that statement. After jotting my thoughts down on paper I handed it to my roommate Jake who was sitting next to me. The following is written conversation that Jake and I had about gratitude:

Me: Isn't there something inherently wrong with the idea that service is supposed to make us grateful for what we have? Isn't that like saying you serve to realize you have it better than someone else? It almost seems that it boils down to the concept of competition - I serve to realize that I'm better than others.

God does not want us to serve so we realize He has blessed us more; He wants us to serve because we realize beforehand that we have been blessed for the intent of blessing others.

{I can see a flaw in this idea as well}

Jake: How?

Me: 1) Did God bless us only for the intent to bless others? If so, why doesn't He just bless everyone?  2) Is it really being gracious if we follow the commandment to bless others? Shouldn't gratitude be given freely?}

Jake: In reply to 1) I think God did bless us so we could bless others. By blessing others we are able to garner chartiy, etc. In the end, we will be gods and this gives us an opportunity to practice blessing others.

In reply to 2) It depends on your motives. It's not altruistic if you're doing it based on command. How does one give gratitude?

Me: In response to Jake's reply to 1) I agree He blessed us to bless others for that reason, but does that mean we are showing gratitude when we serve others because of this blessing? It seems like doing service for this reason is done not because of gratitude, but for obedience. Since this is the case, the response to 2) is that gratitude is expressed without obligation or external pressure. Though we are commanded to be grateful, one cannot be grateful if obligated to do so. It must come from our own will and desire.

Jake: So are you saying it's not pure to serve others for the purpose of expressing gratitude for our blessings? Do people really feel obligated to serve others when feeling gratitude? Possibly, but I feel people want to bless others when they are grateful for what they have and they want others to have the same blessings.

Me: I think it is possible to serve out of gratitude and that many serve because they want others to have what they have. However, to say that we must serve to show gratitude is fallacious because it wouldn't be gratitude but instead it would be obedience. As soon as one serves out of obligation instead of gratitude they have lost the ability to show gratitude in that service. Gratitude can compel a man to serve, but obligation cannot create gratitude. A man can be obedient and still show gratitude though his service, but the obedience must just be a natural consequence of his actions expressing his gratitude and not his motivating factor.

This was the conversation we had. I found it interesting to notice very strong Kantian ideals and logic in my arguments. I have just finished reading his book "Metaphysical Principles of Virtue" where he lays the foundation for the categorical imperative. Clearly he has had a profound affect on my thought process.

Any thoughts or comments on the above conversation would be greatly appreciated. Feel free to tear it apart - I would love to know where this logic is wrong or what you think.