Jesus wasn’t too hung up on Kant’s Categorical Imperative, as he made clear when he said, Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Matt. 5:16, 3 Ne. 12:16). Based on this type of reasoning, we often hear injunctions in Church that we should serve others coupled with self-serving statements that it will make the Church look good or make the people served think highly of the Church.
Jesus’s command quoted here justifies this mindset and precludes moral culpability for those who embrace it, at least if one is willing to rank Jesus above Kant as a judge of what is morally acceptable. It is pragmatic almost to the point of wondering whether Jesus was British or perhaps even American.
But for those who find Kant’s moral philosophy persuasive, this view of service can create some difficulty. When I sit in Church meetings where service is discussed in conjunction with PR-related issues, I cringe. It is as if the benefit of PR that results from our Christian service sullies the moral value of the service itself, as if we are serving for the purpose of getting this benefit for ourselves and the Church rather than for the naked reason of our duty alone, devoid of any considerations of inclination/benefit to ourselves flowing from the service. For me, it has a service chilling effect, making me not want to serve because I don’t want it to seem like I am serving for any reason other than my duty, as part of the human family, to serve other people, and not to make the Church look good. Since I know that the latter is bound to seem the case, I sometimes find myself reluctant to serve.
Salt Lake City is an interesting case study for this. The mentality of the Church, entirely consistent with Jesus’s injunction in Matthew 5:16, to let others see us serve and to calculate our service to reap good PR, has had a discernable effect, in my opinion, in some of the older neighborhoods of the city. I feel that subconsciously, even if they have never heard of the categorical imperative, many members of the Church in these areas are affected by the feeling that if they serve their non-LDS neighbors in these areas, then the neighbors will think that they are only doing so in an effort to convert them to the Church and will reject or be suspicious of the service being rendered. This causes a service chilling effect, with concientious members of the Church not wanting their good non-LDS neighbors to take this view, and so therefore opting not to serve them in the first place, but rather to leave their relationships with these non-LDS neighbors on a friendly, say-hello-in-the-driveway level.
I wonder if we should stop worrying about whether anyone converts based on our service and just serve them because it is our duty to serve. That would feel more comfortable for me personally. Still, I realize it is possible to go too far with Kant and to dismiss any action that is done for selfish reasons (such as the "good feeling" one gets inside when performing a good deed or an act of service) as not a truly moral act (because not done merely out of the necessity for respect of the law, i.e. duty alone). This is where my Schiller comes in and reminds me that we should not only do our duty, as Kant observes, but we should be allowed to love doing it (i.e. derive this type of personal benefit from it or even, gasp, do it for the primary purpose of deriving the benefit rather than simply because it is our duty). Even allowing for Schiller’s gloss on Kant, however, I feel that the service chilling effect could be reduced or avoided if we would serve without making the reason for our service to bring the Church good PR.