Are Love and Duty Incompatible?

Often when people think of Love and Duty they imagine them as a dichotomy. They believe that Love and Duty are mutually exclusive: You must choose one of the two and leave the other alone. But is this actually true? Is it true that acting out of love is ideal and that duty is merely a substitute for love? Is duty what we do to get by when we really don’t desire to do something? Is acting out of duty essentially a compromise? Do “dutiful” people do things they really don’t desire and “loving” people do things they really do desire?

I believe the answer to all of these questions is “no” and there are three primary issues I have with this understanding of the relationship between Love and Duty.

My first issue is that I believe this to be an inadequate understanding of Duty. In modern culture Duty is understood as arbitrary rules or expectations which are forced upon people. Duty, in this view, is boring, controlling, and stifling. But, where does this understanding of Duty derive from? What does duty actually mean? If we examine the use of the term duty we find it used, even now, for those things which are appropriate. In the sentence “The duties of a policeman” we are discussing what is appropriate to the policeman’s position. The phrase “heavy-duty” is used to describe something which is appropriate for “heavy” tasks. This also means that the term duty is related to purpose: an act or property cannot be appropriate unless the thing itself has a purpose to fulfill. The position of policeman is created with a purpose in mind and the duties of the policeman are the tasks appropriate to that purpose. A hammer is created with a particular purpose in mind, in our case being able to withstand heavy tasks, and is then given properties which are appropriate to that purpose, thus making it heavy-duty.

If we consider this as the true meaning of duty we quickly see why people in our modern culture perceive duties as boring and stifling. It is because they also do not really believe anything has a purpose either, at least, not a true purpose. Things, it is believed only have the purpose we give them. Things are just things and we give them meaning and purpose. This means all meaning and purpose is seen as arbitrary and forced upon the thing from outside itself and has nothing remotely to do with the thing’s actual nature. But, this is false. It is understood by Christianity that all things created have purposes that are in correlation with the nature God created them with: The creature itself inclines towards it’s purpose. The creature finds joy in it’s purpose and the acts associated with it. Do we not, as humans, find joy in eating? Yet, eating is a duty of all humans. Do we not as Parents, find joy in protecting and nurturing our children? Yet, nurturing of children is a duty of parents. Therefore duty is fundamentally joyful and pleasurable. It is only when we are being perverse that duty is not joyful and pleasurable.

My second issue is that I believe this to be an inadequate understanding of Love. It is implicitly understood, in this view, that love is solely emotional: It is feelings based. If you ‘want’ something you love it and by want they mean merely having an emotional inclination. They see this inclination as the foundation and origin of love rather than seeing appropriate emotions (not all emotions) as one of the fruits and outpourings of love. That if you do not have this inclination then it follows that you must not love. But isn’t love more than this? Christ himself said “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.” Now, being generous, both heart and soul could be interpreted as emotional love. Clearly strength and mind cannot. Where the first two, heart and soul, seem to be related to inclination, strength does not seem so. Strength seems to be more so related to devotion. There is more to love than emotions and passion, clearly they are part of Love but not the entirety of Love. Even in our own circles we hear those who talk of love, particularly in relation to marriage, being a choice and not an emotion. This smacks more of the popular understanding of duty than of love.

My third issue is that I believe this to be an inadequate understanding of desire. They say we should do things because we want to not because we have to. But why can’t someone want to do what they have to do? Why is it so difficult for so many people to comprehend that the very reason someone might want to do something is because they must or ought and not despite the fact that they must or ought? Couldn’t it be a joy to do that which you are commanded? Particularly if it were commanded by your Creator and Designer: The very being Who knows more about you than you could possibly know of yourself. But this is impossible for those inundated by the modern culture to understand. “Surely,” they say, “if we are ordered to do something the only response is to refuse until we desire to do what we are told. As a matter of fact we may never want to do it now that you have commanded us to do so!” We live in a generation which admires obstinacy and rebellion merely for their own sake.

Now, before anyone points out the fact that there have always been rebellious people, and that we are all rebellious as a result of the Fall: The difference is that these past societies have never been built upon rebellion as ours is. In past generations people rebelled against particular ideas or particular rules with the design of implementing better ideas or rules, this generation rebels for Rebellion’s sake and applauds those who do so. Rebellion itself has become popular. To think for one’s self, no matter how ugly or stupid or wicked the thoughts may be, is held to be better than trusting another’s word.

What I am claiming in summary is that Duty has a fundamental element of fulfillment and joy because it is related to purpose, and finding and fulfilling one’s purpose is fundamentally joyful. That Love has an element of dedication and decision not accounted for in popular culture. That desire is not necessarily at odds with obligation and that obligation can even sometimes be the object desired.

But, what if what I say is true: that Love and Duty are not mutually exclusive? What is the true relationship between Duty and Love? I will discuss this in my next post.

Until then,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s