Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Duty, R.I.P.

Somewhere in the graveyard of dead and gone virtues lies a lonely, neglected, and long-forgotten gravestone. It bears just one simple word: "Duty." So long has Duty laid in its grave that few if any souls ever come to visit it. Although it was once universally known in many nations, although not always as well respected as it ought to have been, Duty is now a distant memory.

In place of Duty, this generation has set its affections upon a new virtue: Convenience. Whereas Duty formerly acted as a compelling force to do what one ought to do regardless of what one felt like doing, Convenience is a much easier virtue to cultivate. All it requires is that I decide what's most important for me to do based upon whatever standard I think best, and disregard any other task that might be done. In place of Duty's universal standard of what was important and what was not, Convenience sets the individual free to decide how he ought to invest his limited time and energy. Convenience is especially beloved in today's America. It is honored not only in every drive-through food pickup lane and ATM, but also in the way people choose to use their precious time. Duty is dead, long live Convenience!

Before its demise several generations ago, Duty enjoyed a long life. In addition to its sporadic enshrinement as a cultural virtue in various nations at various times, Duty played a prominent role in the Christian Scriptures. Long ago, especially in churches that purported to subscribe to the old doctrine of Sola Scriptura--Scripture alone--strange notions were taught in the name of Duty. For instance, believers were told that love was not primarily an emotion or a passion, but was instead a Duty that one owed to God and one's neighbor. Whereas a Convenience is left up to one's free choice, a Duty is invariably tied to some kind of commandment such as "love your neighbor as yourself" or "husbands, love your wives even as Christ loved the church and died for her."

This belief in Duty led to some rather strange situations. In many old Christian households, husbands sacrificed personal comfort--leisure, sleep, solitude, etc.--in order to act as the spiritual leader of their households. No matter how hard he worked during the day, he always took the time to patiently instruct his wife and children in the Word of God. Not only did he count it his obligation to be his family's breadwinner, he also counted it his Duty to act as the loving servant leader of his family. Mind you, he wasn't necessarily the world's greatest teacher, and his efforts invariably fell short of what they could have been, but because he believed that God had commanded him to be the spiritual leader of his household, our old-fashioned husband invested countless hours into doing things that seem peculiar and quaint today. Some wives also acted in a peculiar manner. Many, even though they may have been more richly endowed with gifts of teaching or intelligence than their husbands, graciously submitted to his leadership not because of his greater talent, but because they believed that it was their God-ordained duty to submit to his spiritual authority. Like our strange husbands, these strange wives did what they did on account of the Duty they felt to do what God had commanded regardless of their personal comfort or Convenience.

Things have changed a great deal since those days. Many Christians, excepting a tiny handful of renegades and rebels, have come to adopt the virtue of Convenience. Husbands still bring home the bacon, but many wives bring home their share as well. Their hard work as well as all the time and effort necessary to live a prosperous, comfortable life often makes it difficult to obey all of those old-fashioned commandments, so many have learned to disregard them as though they were relics from a bygone day. Thus, husbands often leave it to their wives to bear the primary load as spiritual leader in the household. In our fast-paced, hectic world, the old virtue of Duty seems to be woefully unrealistic, because circumstances have made it so clear that it's simply impossible to do all of those things that God commanded us to do. Thus, it's just as well that we no longer profess the sufficiency of Scripture for all matters of faith and practice, because we've learned to pick and choose the parts of Scripture we're going to use based upon our circumstances, preferences, and talents.

Convenience is indeed king. No wonder then that Duty lies a-moldering in its grave, forsaken and forgotten, along with so many of God's commandments that are difficult or just plain Inconvenient to obey.

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