“Is he not a man of complete virtue, who feels no discomposure though men may take no note of him?” -Confucius, The Analects.
This is a post I wrote last Ramadan on an older blog of mine. Just thought I’d reshare.
The Imam at the Mosque I visited spoke about how there are essentially three types of do-gooders. There are those who do-good because they want a reward. There are those who do good because they are afraid of punishment. And there are those who do good simply because it is who they are.
Those who do good because they want a reward, the Imam likened to businessmen. These are the types of people who will not do anything unless they are going to earn a profit. Will good consequences still naturally flow from good deeds? Yes. Will God still reward those who do good – no matter their reasons for doing so? I believe He will, and the Imam seems to think so, too. But God sees our hearts, and a person who does good just for the sake of reward is still living in selfishness.
Those who do good because they are afraid of punishment, he likened to slaves. These are the types of people who live as if they are under a strict master. They do what they can to please their master – but it isn’t out of love, it is out of fear. And if there were no punishment for bad behavior, would these people suddenly become unruly?
Finally, those who do good because they have cultivated goodness in their hearts and love God – these are the people whom the Imam called “truly free.” These people are not constantly thinking about reward and punishment – but they are simply living as they would live if reward and punishment did not exist! They are living out of a love for God, not out of a desire to get what God can offer or a fear of God’s wrath.
The Imam said that people who live this way are a “walking heaven on earth,” and it reminded me of Jesus’ saying that the Kingdom of God is within us. About five years ago, I decided that I did not want to live merely just to get to heaven, and I did not want to live merely just to escape punishment. I have since sought to take heaven and hell out of the equation of my life and the lives of others.
If there is no God, if there is no heaven, if there is no punishment – can I still live a life of complete virtue? Can I still practice equality, integrity, generosity, peace, simplicity, love, and kindness? I hope so.
That’s the kind of person I want to be.