Do We Have A Moral Obligation To Help Others (Part I)?

From Thinking Outside The Boxe’s Sydney Correspondent: Most people, when considering this question, would form an image in their mind of helping an old lady across the road, or coming to the aid of someone who had fallen over. These are examples of situations that we might experience throughout our lives, either as the person helping, or the person being helped. Of course, the ‘others’ referred to in the title of this article may not just be friends, or people who live in our community. They may be other citizens of our nation who we may never even meet. In even broader terms ‘helping’ may refer to giving foreign aid in order to assist people living in other countries.

Because of the broad nature of this topic it may be easier to examine the question in two distinct parts. First, what do we mean by ‘moral obligation’, and where are we deriving this sense of moral obligation from; and second, a more specific examination of the question using examples of help given to other citizens of our nation and to those from other nations. It is also worth considering the proposition that if we believe we have a moral obligation to give foregn aid should we give it directly to the Governments of other countries, or through the UN, or international agencies. The point is can we trust that the Government of these nations will pass this assistance onto their citizens (especially in the case of financial aid).

First we must define what morals actually are. Wikipedia states that, “Morality is the differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good (or right) and those that are bad (or wrong)”. Because it would be all too easy to get caught caught up in a lengthy investigation into the question of where we derive our moral code from I would suggest we examine two strong contenders. As America is still a nation where the majority of the population come from a Judaeo-Christian background we should first look at what the Bible says, and Jesus’ instructions more specifically. Second, Americans should consider whether the Founding Fathers provided any moral instruction in the Constitution.

The most obvious place to look for moral instruction in the Bible is the Gospels, where Jesus gave instructions to his disciples. He emphasised the importance of the Commandments, which are found in the Old Testament. In addition to this, the Book of Matthew states that when asked which of the Commandments was the greatest Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two Commandments” (Matthew 22: 37-40). Interestingly, the Commandments of the Old Testament (Exodus 20) do not mention love thy neighbor as a Commandment. But they do include instructions about not giving false testimony against your neighbor, and not coveting your neighbor’s wife or his possessions. Therefore we can see that Jesus is more explicitly stating the instructions given by God many generations earlier. By placing such a high level of importance upon this Commandment we can clearly see the implication that we have an obligation to help others. How seriously we view this as a moral obligation may depend upon each person’s view of Christianity and other faiths that espouse the same notion.

The Constitution was established by the Founding Fathers to set out instructions to guide Americans in the way they lived to promote peace, justice, law and protect the rights of citizens into the future. It may be argued by some that some aspects of the Constitution may be outdated now (such as the right to bear arms) but we still hold dearly to much of what it says as is shown by the number of Judicial cases that focus on aspects of the Constitution. Therefore the Constitution still remains relevant to the way we go about our lives. It goes without saying that the Founding Fathers had a strong Christian faith and as such the Constitution was informed by these beliefs. But what specifically does the Constitution say about helping others, and if so, is there a moral dimension to these statements? Reading the transcript of the Constitution it is interesting to note there are no specific instructions about how Americans should behave toward their fellow citizens. However, as mentioned, the Constitution does protect the rights of citizens. As Christians, the Founding Fathers may simply have assumed that people would follow the Golden Rule of loving thy neighbor.

Looking forward we can ask one more question. That is, are these teachings still relevant today. We have already seen that elements of the Constitution are still discussed today, adhered to in the community, and are examined routinely by the Judicial system. Christianity and Christian teaching still plays a large role in the lives of many Americans as is shown by the debate over whether Creationism should be taught in schools. As such we can definitely say that the moral instructions given by Jesus are still relevant in American society today, and are likely to remain so in the forseeable future. The second part of this article will examine more specific examples of helping others both in America and abroad, as well as asking how far this help should extend. The Bible, New International Version (NIV). This article from July 2012 refers to the debate over whether Creationism should be taught in schools.

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