CHAPTER 4: The Purpose Of Life in the Family and Society
In addition to a vision of holiness or perfection for the individual,
all religions recognize that individuals are nurtured and in turn give of
themselves within the context of family and community. To participate in
the family, fulfilling the roles of parent and child, husband and wife,
grandparent, cousin, etc., is, many would say, essential to being human.
The same can be said of the social roles and responsibilities which people
undertake as they constitute communities, nations, and even the family of
In considering the social dimension of the purpose of life, we are
informed by the Confucian doctrine of the Five Relations--between ruler
and subject, father and son, husband and wife, elder and younger brothers,
and between friends. Summarized in the all-encompassing virtue of filial
piety, this ideal finds support in most religious traditions. We are also
informed by the first three of the Four Ends of Man (Purushartha) in
Hinduism: social ethics (dharma), material gain (artha), and pleasure
(kama). We find principles of family and social life at the center of the
divine law given to Moses and the Shariah of Islam.
These expressions of social morality do not simply sanctify existing
customs and norms. At their best, they teach a spiritual ideal by which
the family and society may prosper and be upheld in divine grace. In
addition, they contain teachings which promote equality beyond race,
class, gender, or creed, and affirm the dignity of all members of society.
We can even find in them a common vision of the family of humankind. Thus
the world's religions have been and continue to be wellsprings for
humanity's perennial hopes for world peace.