Friendship and Charity
Perhaps the very uselessness of care for the dead is its virtue. It is a sign that even when responding to the needs of others, love means more than helping people (which is certainly not to say that helping them with their needs is not essential). Charity is a sign of what Plato called "the Good," and burying the dead reminds us that charity has to do with the Good beyond need as much as it does with human needs.
Aristotle tells us that some friendships are built on usefulness and some are built on pleasure, while others are a matter of the Good. Our friendship, like many friendships, involves all three. But my friend's odd declaration of our relationship shows how friendship and Christian charity come together: we are useful to one another, we enjoy one another's company, and we are related to the Good through our relation to one another. As a relation with the Good, our friendship is a relationship of Christian love, a relationship beyond need.
When we parted, my friend gave me a kiss on the cheek. It wasn't a continental air kiss, but a real kiss on the cheek. I was at once both startled and touched. I couldn't help but be reminded of Paul's "holy kiss" (e.g., Rom. 16:16), a public affirmation of both a love relationship between persons (almost always family in a first-century context) and a sacred relationship with God.
My friend and I don't talk about religion very much. During this visit he asked me to tell his son something about Mormon beliefs, and I did. At another point he mentioned that he had become convinced of the resurrection after a bout with cancer some years ago. But I think that in two days that was more talk about religion than we've had in years. Nevertheless, though our friendship doesn't often express itself through overtly religious discussions or practices, it seems right to say that ours is a relationship of Christian friendship and love. It is a relationship that points beyond us to what transcends utility and pleasure and, by doing so, gives meaning to our friendship—and its utility and pleasure.
James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.