Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Golden Rule

In a society historically saturated with the teachings of Christianity, most folks have heard of The Golden Rule, usually summarized this way: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Having heard of it, how much do we know about it? The rule is stated twice in the Gospels, in slightly different wording.

Matthew 7:12 Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
Luke 6:31 And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.

Many other religions have rules that simulate the Golden Rule. For examples:[i]
  • “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” (Udana-Varga 5:18, Buddhism
  • “What I do not wish men to do to me, I also wish not to do to men.” (Analects 15:23, Confucianism)
  • “Do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.” (Mahabharata 5:1517, Hinduism)
These similarities are often highlighted by those who view all religions of equal ethical, moral and spiritual value. Interestingly, most “golden” statements of other religions are placed in the negative, as a prohibition of bad, evil, or immoral action. Jesus’s “Golden Rule” is active, a directive to positive, good, and moral action.

The “Golden Rule” of Christianity must be placed in the larger context of biblical ethics. Without that, the bare statement itself might be contrived to fit any form of reciprocity – no matter how vile or vulgar – just so it suits the pleasure of the contriver! Under such heavy spin, the drug dealer might justify her actions, saying, “I would like others to sell me heroin, so I ought to sell heroin to others.” Or the adulterer might say, “I would like her to have sexual relations with me, so I ought to have sexual relations with her.” These might “go down to their houses feeling justified,” while completely obliterating the moral ethic of the Bible!

The Golden Rule is generally considered an ethic of reciprocity, and often not distinguished from the reciprocal ethics of other religions.[ii] In its bare form, reciprocity is a mutually beneficial exchange, done solely for the purpose of the mutual benefit. In that form is little more than teaching selfishness as a virtue! The reciprocation is a means of getting what one wants. Ancient Egyptian philosophy stated the virtue of getting what one wants plainly by stating, “Do for one who may do for you, that you may cause him thus to do.”

In contrast, seen in its context in Luke chapter 6, Jesus’s “Golden Rule” is not an exhortation to refrain from evil that evil might not be done to you, or to do good to get good. Jesus’s rule ultimately is to do good because it is the right thing to do! In Luke 6:27-30 Jesus states plainly and without equivocation that to love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, pray for them which despitefully use you, turn the other cheek and give to every man that asks of you – none of which hold out the gift of reciprocity. Further, Luke 6:32-36 he demonstrates that loving those who love you, doing good to those who do good to you, and loaning to those who can pay you back, sets Christians apart from no one. Everyone naturally does what is in their best interests.

The children of the Highest look most like their father when they are kind unto the unthankful and to the evil, showing mercy to those who may seem to deserve it the least. Do right because it is the right thing to do.

[i] Passages of religious texts in 14 faiths re the Ethics of Reciprocity found at Religious Tolerance.Org
[ii] Reciprocity is mutual exchange – doing something for another because that person has done for you, or doing something for another expecting that person to do something for you.

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