EthikaPolitika Deputy Editor Mattias Caro recently penned a short and muddled tirade against “community service.” Apparently, according to Caro, Christians have a special obligation to reject the idea of community service, inasmuch as it “creates a false dichotomy between ordinary and charitable activity [and] devalues genuine engagement with others.” He goes on to express a preference for the language of charitable “work” over “service” since the former incorporates charity into the “normal part[s] of daily activity.”
It remains unclear to me how this argument is supposed to play out. What exactly does Caro mean by community service? How does community service create a dichotomy between ordinary and charitable activity (indeed, why is the opposite not true?)?
What lies behind Caro’s subtly gendered preference for “work” over “service?” And most of all, from where has Caro derived his idea of “ordinary” life into which works of mercy must be incorporated? None of this is actually argued in the piece.
This confusion only grows when Caro nods in the direction of Trinitarian theology. “Community is primarily the family,” Caro declares, while pointing to the apparent resonance between the sort of relationality found in families and that which is found among the persons of the Trinity. But this view of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a sort of proto-family maps creaturely distinctions onto the nature of the Godhead, confusing the direction of the analogia entis. Is the sort of self-giving characteristic of the Trinitarian intercourse really identical to the sort of human interactions that occur in the family? Or, to the contrary, can a genuinely inter-subjective exchange happen between persons regardless of whether or not they share blood (or, indeed, race, religion, or nationality)?
If by community service we mean the idea that people ought to help the less well-off, it remains utterly unclear why a Christian understanding of the Trinity, the family, or “ordinary life” (!) should prevent one from endorsing it.
Conversations about charity, philanthropy, and service benefit from a variety of perspectives, and there is every good reason to think theologically about such matters. But as it stands, Caro’s denunciation of community service fails ultimately to land any blows.