March 1, 2019
Response Paper 2: Divine Friendship
In reading religious texts and authors, I was surprised by the amount of discussion on friendship as a way to further one’s virtuous self and achieve moral integrity. While this is sensible, as religion is the constant striving to be one with God and more virtuous, I would have thought religions’ approaches to friendship would be out of kindness and distinct types of love. In my reflection, I try to focus on other patterns in these texts beyond the common theme of morality. I consult the topics of what is friendship, friendship relationships with God, social order, and the moral responsibilities of friendship within Christianity, Roman culture, Zoroastrianism, Islam, Hinduism, and Confucianism.
The approach to and definition of friendship in these six ideologies thought runs along the tenet of morality. Most similar are the Confucian and Roman approaches to friendship, still with their own distinctions. The Confucian thought to friendship is two-fold: i) friendship is associated with moral good, and ii) friendship serves as the intermediary between family and public life. According to Cicero, we begin friendships because we see a person embarking on their own journey to self actualize morals and virtues. This, coupled with the idea of congruere (lives running parallel in achieving the virtuous self), leads to friendship making a person more virtuous as you learn from each other. This is an almost inverse process of Confucian friendship in which you must learn to be genuine in yourself before you can even serve your parents or initiate friendships. These two definitions of friendship encompass a self-furthering aspect. This relates to Augustine’s view of friendship, although his definition is more religious. Augustine writes that friendship is a gift from God, a desire for good for the self and a friend.2 It is also unitive and indwelling, and this language harkens back to Aristotle’s definition of friends as living together. A pattern arises in religious definitions of friends, in that there is a self bettering component. I do not read this as friends only serve to aid in a person’s moral development, rather that achieving your most virtuous self is one of the most important goals in one’s life, and friends are so critical and should be trusted to journey on this path alongside.
The role of the friend in upholding one’s morals is a pattern throughout these six ideologies. In reflecting on his own experiences with friendship, Augustine offers a new perspective, “friendship can somehow override conscience”1. This contradicts the overwhelmingly positive and virtuous views of friendship in the other ideologies examined. Similar to how Cicero views the summation of virtue between friends, Augustine says friendship aggregates sinful desires between two people. Augustine gives the example of Adam and Eve, concluding that friendship caused the two to be seduced by Satan. In analyzing these cases, Augustine finds that friends can encourage evil behavior because see one’s evil desires enacted makes them more easily done and tempting. The relationship between friendship and moral behavior is seen throughout Zoroastrianism, Confucianism, and Roman thought as well. Zoroaster comments that a person’s behavior can affect their friend’s reputation. This supports the belief that friends are a representation of yourself, and vice versa. Confucianism speaks a similar truth, in that choosing good friends is important for your reputation. Friends should also be held responsible if you have a bad reputation and must promote you. Similarly, Confucianism also states friends are accountable for holding you to moral development. One should accept and give constructive criticism, since friends help prepare you for greater society and bring moral good. Cicero has a more cynical take on the idea of friends as vehicles to achieve the virtuous self, that being that you no longer need friends once you are virtuous.
Another theme among these texts is friendship in social order. As aforementioned, Confucianism holds friendship as a transitional relationship from family to greater society. Confucianism also names the five most important relationships and their associated value: parent-child (affection), siblings (precedence), ruler and minister (righteousness), spouses (distinction), and friendship (faithfulness).1 This list emphasizes the importance of familial relationships in shaping a person. It also outlines the 8 important roles to social order: lord, minister, father, son, older brother, younger brother, wife, and husband. Friends are not part of the 8 roles of social order, which is logical. The 8 roles are permanent, inflexible relationships. Friendship, according to Confucianism, requires faithfulness because we must have trust in our friends as this relationship does not lie in any institution like family or governance. The Hindu concept of Dharma offers a similar perspective on friendship. Dharma is the moral order of life that guides humans to fulfill their duties through laws and rules. Friendship is a major tradition and part of the order of life according to Dharma. In Hinduism and Confucianism, we see friendship as a prescribed relationship in religious and social contexts to be one’s best self.
God plays an integral role in friendship in Augustine’s Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrianism. Yazata, a Zoroastrian text, writes that any Iranian who promotes friendship deserves God’s charismatic gifts. This is a heavy statement given that rulers were believed to have these same charismatic powers. Zoroaster is quoted asking God, “Oh God, let us eternally be close friends.”1 This demonstrates that the ideal relationship with God is friendship; this statement carries weight as it shows the sacred nature of friendship. In a different light, Augustine believes that true friends bond over love of God and Jesus, and all other friendships are somehow lesser in comparison. Here, Augustine communicates the unifying power of God while rejecting many types of friendship and religions not based on Jesus as the messiah. Later, Augustine shares a very different message on friendship, saying that it is “fornication against God.”2 This leads me to believe that Augustine thinks the only real friendship one can have is with God himself. The sexual language here might imply that friendship is for God and God only, and having friendship with anyone else is like committing adultery. Arazabd Omidan wrote similarly that “the real connection with religion is only attainable through friendship.”3 Omidan’s quote is inverse of Augustine’s, but both support each other in that true religious connection is friendship. Miskawayh, a prominent Muslim scholar, believed that religious rituals are designed to promote friendship.4 This aligns with Omidan’s statement; the true essence of religion lies in connecting to and befriending others.
Even after analyzing these documents and philosophies I remain surprised by the importance of the self in friendship. In my own experience, I put my friends’ lives and feelings before my own and do not expect them to fend for me or guide me to the ultimate truths. I do not feel that these are responsibilities of friends but rather of the self. While I learn much from my friends, I do not think it is fair to rely on them to make me the most moral person I can be. I learn through observation, absorption, and advice giving. I appreciate approaching one’s relationship with God as one of friendship, since my own belief in God is more centered around community rather than an omnipotent figure. The art I found, 100 Boots on Their Way to Church, relates to friendship and religion. The boots, all empty, are lined up as if people are walking into church. I saw a sense of moral responsibility of friendship in these boots, as the boots are the feet of friends and community members supporting and promoting the collective virtual self into church. I also found that it relates to a Muslim quote from class, “the essence of prayer is being together.”3 The boots establish community and moral integrity that promotes friendship and religion together.
- Choksy, Jamsheed. “Friends and Friendships in Iranian Society: Human and Immortal.” Irania Antiqua, vol. 46, 2011.
- Tamer Nawar. “Adiutrix Virtutum? Augustine on Friendship and Virtue.” Ancient and Medieval Concepts of Friendship, by Gary M. Gurtler and Suzanne Stern-Gillet, State University of New York Press, 2014.
- Quote given by Professor Mahallati in class
- Goodman, Lenn. “Friendship in Aristotle, Miskawayh and Al-Ghazali.” Friendship East and West: Philosophical Perspectives, by Oliver Leaman, Routledge, 2016.
Antin, Eleanor. 100 Boots on the Way to Church. Oberlin, 1971.
Choksy, Jamsheed. “Friends and Friendships in Iranian Society: Human and Immortal.” Irania Antiqua, vol. 46, 2011.
Cottine, Cheryl. “That’s What Friends Are For: A Confucian Perspective on the Moral Significance of Friendship.” 2014.
Goodman, Lenn. “Friendship in Aristotle, Miskawayh and Al-Ghazali.” Friendship East and West: Philosophical Perspectives, by Oliver Leaman, Routledge, 2016.
Tamer Nawar. “Adiutrix Virtutum? Augustine on Friendship and Virtue.” Ancient and Medieval Concepts of Friendship, by Gary M. Gurtler and Suzanne Stern-Gillet, State University of New York Press, 2014.
Weiss, Robin. “Cicero’s Stoic Friend as Resolution to the Paradoxes of Platonic Love: The Amicita alongside the Symposium.” Ancient and Medieval Concepts of Friendship, by Gary M. Gurtler and Suzanne Stern-Gillet, State University of New York Press, 2014.
I affirm that I have adhered to the Honor Code in this assignment.