"England expects that every man will do his duty”. So signaled Admiral Lord Nelson to the fleet at Trafalgar. This was during the same war in which the standard of the Havant Volunteers, hanging above our heads, was raised.
But what is
‘duty’? Duty is that obligation we owe
to each other, as fellow citizens, in any community. It is the action we perform, regardless of
our personal desires. It is an action
which puts the needs of our community, or our country, above our personal
As such, ‘duty’
has a rather old fashioned ring about it, to our modern ears. We live in a society in which personal
happiness and personal fulfillment has become the primary goal. To the modern, western mind, it often doesn’t
matter very much who else suffers, or who else is living in poverty, as long as
I have everything I need. As long as I
am happy. As an example of this kind of thinking, here’s a quote from Grant
Cordone, a self-help guru and business advisor.
He says ‘Success is your duty, obligation and responsibility’. He is referring of course to personal
course, the search for personal happiness, success and wealth is never a
pathway to the building of a society. Building
society requires an instinct for self-sacrifice among all its members.
On Friday, incidentally
on Armistice Day, we witnessed the re-taking of Kherson by the Ukrainian Army,
from the presently terrorist state of Russia.
This would not have happened if Ukrainian citizens had neglected their
duty. If the Ukrainian volunteers had
each decided that their personal happiness and safety was more important to
them, if they had decided to flee to Europe with their families, then we would
never have seen Friday’s victory come to pass.
If the Western nations had not done their duty, and stood by Ukraine by
supplying them, Kherson would still be in Russian hands today.
remember, however, that the young men and women of the Russian army are also
doing their duty, as they see
it. They have been systematically lied
to, by their government. They have been
told that Ukrainians are Nazis who, with the support of the Western powers, are
about to invade Mother Russia. So they,
too, fight out of duty to their country, albeit misguided.
And this is
of course where duty has its limits. For
duty to be holy, righteous and purposeful, it must itself be subject to a
higher authority still. Duty must be
subservient to Truth. Any person who
prepares to do their duty must first do the hard work of working out what is true about the situation they face. We live in a post-truth world, in which
propaganda, and so-called ‘fake-truth’ is harnessed for political ends or
personal gain. And it is hard, indeed,
to disentangle the half-truths from the lies.
How can a Russian soldier, for example, know whether his duty is
misplaced, if he does not have access to the Truth? How, then, can anyone’s call to duty be
assessed, for Truthfulness?
Christ said that he was the way, the life, and the Truth. In other words, he taught that by following
his way of life, and his teachings, we would be led by his Spirit into all
Truth. Christians, then, have a
yardstick by which to judge the various truth-claims with which we are bombarded,
by the political maelstrom around us. So,
whenever a truth-claim is uttered by a national leader, the Christian holds
that claim up against the teaching of Christ – to discern whether or not there
is a duty to be followed.
And so, the
Christian asks themselves, ‘how does this truth-claim equate to the wisdom of
Christ’. Let’s say, for example, there
are competing claims about immigrants ‘invading’ our shores. How do those truth-claims stand up against
the Bible’s teaching about giving hospitality to the stranger? Let’s say that
there are political forces who want to reduce the income of those who rely on
the State for essential support. How
does that policy stand up against the Bible’s teaching on caring for the
poorest in our community? Let’s say that
there are political and economic forces who want to destroy the Amazon, or keep
pumping carbon into our atmosphere. How
does that stand up against the Bible’s teaching that humankind has a duty to
take care of the Earth? Let’s imagine
that a call to arms is issued to the members of 16 Regiment here today, to take
up their weapons and fight against a foe.
How will that call stand up against the Bible and Christianity’s
teaching about what is, or is not, a just war?
not easy questions, and there are no easy answers. But in general, I observe, Western society
has lost its touch-stone, its ability to discern right from wrong, because it
has lost touch with the teachings of Christ.
For me to do my duty, in every circumstance of life, I need to know with
clarity and truth what that duty is. The
teachings of Christ give me a lens, or perhaps a stained glass window, through
which to discern what is, and what is not, my duty.
I am a
Canon of Cape Coast in Ghana, West Africa.
I have seen with my own eyes the slave-trading fortresses built by the
British army of yesteryear. I’ve seen
the putrid dungeons in which slaves were guarded by British soldiers, who all
believed they were doing their duty. I’ve
seen the first church in Ghana, built over the entrance to those very
dungeons. I know that not every duty
carried out by our own soldiers, and our own clergymen, could be described as
springing from the pure Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
remember, and we give thanks, for all those who have done their duty for their
country before us. But as we give thanks
for the duty displayed by the fallen of the past, and we pray for the
service-men and women of the present, let us also pray for the wisdom to
discern among the lies and propaganda of the world where our duty lies – our duty
to our community, to our nation, and to our God. Amen.