Friendship and Peacemaking
April 2, 2019
Blind Faith, Radical Forgiveness, and Duty in Friendship
The phenomenon, ethics, and practice of friendship continues to be a highly debated and heavily discussed within religious thought and philosophy. Many of these inter- and intra-religious conversations grew from original discussions of Aristotle and Plato while some had no knowledge of the existence of these classical thinkers. Through shifting interpretations and varying degrees of awareness spiritualities have grown to both intersect and diverge. In this response I will examine different takes on what constitutes the formation and perpetuation positive and negative relationships as well as the motivations for friendship and what healthy friendship asks of those who participate in it. The three pillars that stand out as a focus of conversation in the systems of thought within Confucianism, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Roman, Christian and Muslim Cultures are faithfulness, forgiveness, and duty. The latter of the three growing first out of Confucianism and Hinduism and developed in the Abrahamic religious, Christianity, Islamism, and Judaism while the others are not fleshed out explicitly until the more modern belief systems.
According to Confucianism, friendship is participated in most purely through our responsibilities assigned to us within our relationships. Mengzi described five types of bonds and the what holds them together. These are: affection between a father and a child, distinction between a husband and a wife, precedence between elder and younger, and faithfulness between friends. Faithfulness is a duty and a virtue that is pervasive in all of the aforementioned forms of belief and is expressed in different ways that will be addressed later in this response. Xunzi develops these roles into eight singular different stations: lord, minister, father, son, oldest brother, youngest brother, husband, and wife. These roles stem from an innate need for order and community, two things that are fundamental to a high functioning and well-oiled society. These social divisions have their own virtues and duties that are associated with them and one’s morality hinges on understanding and subscribing to your social role. The most important virtue one can have in Confucian thought is Xin, or being true to one’s word.
Indian philosophy builds upon and more strongly emphasizes duty, or svadharma. One’s duty trumps all other things and any good friendship is fostered from performing one’s duty but must always come after after having performed it. In other words, friendships and family are social and not caste specific, therefore they should be prioritized after your svadharma. Since one must do their duty toward others without looking toward consequence, friendship based on utility and pleasure are neither healthy nor pure. Zoroastrianism similarly views friendship as parts of covenants, or groups.
A strong parallel between Confucianism and its contemporaries, Christianity and Islamism is it’s philosophers views on human nature as inherently good or evil. Mengzi believes that humans have within them an inherent goodness that is fostered and “grow[s] into virtuosity”. This belief can be seen in Muslim schools of thought. A foundation of inherent goodness is critical because it determines how the belief system says to navigate friendship and the degree to which it cautions negative outcomes of friendship. If people are inherently good, then friendships, usually, will foster that goodness. If the opposite is true, friendships must be approached with caution since a sinful nature will perpetuated by one another. This negative outlook on humanity is expressed Xunzi, who believes that human nature arcs toward sin, a lack of morality, and selfishness. Christianity, specifically Catholicism, echoes these sentiments. My mother, who was raised a Roman Catholic, always confesses to me about how her catholic upbringing has instilled in her an unshakable sense of guilt. In order to cleanse yourself of your constant sins and inherent evil, Christians (Catholics) must give confession and receive forgiveness from God.
Consequently, forgiveness is seen as mandatory because to be human is to participate in sinful acts and therefor is to always in need of forgiveness. In contrast, Islamic thought follows the Mengzi belief that humans are innately good and therefore there is no foundation of regular or necessary forgiveness. Being inherently good means that when a sin is committed that necessitates forgiveness, they have gone against their human nature and thus, that forgiveness is a privilege not a right. However, because we are inherently good, we are predisposed to forgive and are rewarded for that goodness. One who forgives is more virtuous. In both cases forgiveness is an extension of one’s faithfulness in their friends.
Faithfulness is a very interesting aspect of friendship and is heavily prioritized by various philosophical and religious houses and, I argue, sometimes leads to a lack of accountability. According to Al-Ghazali, one must “find seventy excuses” for a friend or family member before admonishing. Just as I believe that mixed friendships are the most powerful, contrary to Aristotle’s belief that samness is preferred, I maintain that mutual accountability and mutual improvement, whether through difference or through responsibility, is fundamental to healthy friendships. Morally and ethically established friends deserve the benefit of the doubt, but to an extent. I take comfort in the fact that my friends will hold me to a high standard, and if I stray from that standard they will correct me before I harm others, myself, or my reputation. Friendship fosters virtue when we encourage each other to be more virtuous, not by finding seventy excuses for lack of it. Finding a balance between radical forgiveness and accountability is incredibly important. Knowing when to forgive a sinner of their sins, knowing when to hold them accountable, and knowing when to do both are vital to justice and social progress. If we ignore the past, or hold on to it too strongly without forgiveness we will never move into the future.