Sunday Thoughts: Distorting the Golden Rule

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Golden Rule

The Golden Rule is the principle of: “treating others as you want to be treated.” It is a maxim that is found in many religions and cultures. The idea dates at least to the early Confucian times (551–479 BC), according to Rushworth Kidder, who identifies that this concept appears prominently in Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, and “the rest of the world’s major religions.”

Whether you are religious or not, you still live in a Judeo-Christian culture if you live in the Western world. Whereupon, much of our core beliefs have come from this marination of this culture in our society. So it is useful to look at where this belief came from. Some common Biblical references that would seem to support the idea of the Golden Rule are:

  • Leviticus 19:18, “… love your neighbor as yourself.”
  • Matthew 7:12, “… do to others what you would have them do to you.”
  • Galatians 5:14, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
  • There are many more Biblical references similar to these, as well as references for this same principle in other faiths.

This all sounds pretty good. For sure, if people practiced this simple rule, mankind would benefit enormously. Can you imagine the criminals and gangs today roaming the cities across the world practicing the principle?  Would they want their own property stolen or destroyed – even their lives threatened? Most likely not. But there is a slight problem to this rule that has become pervasive in our culture today. Again, under the notion that “you should treat others as you want to be treated,” consider the following:

  • Many men would want women to treat them as they would want to treat women. But would women agree? 
  • We want Muslims (or any other faith) to be re-educated to our own faith because if we were in their shoes, this is how we would want to be treated.
  • We justify hate towards others because if we were them, it would be perfectly understandable.
  • Imposing rules and morality on others that we believe to be right is fine because we would not mind those same rules imposed on us.

In the current ongoing culture war of our society that is quickly growing into a civil war, we keep hearing the word “morality” spoken of often. Leftist call out the morality of the Right, because they feel the Right does not care for the underprivileged. More recently, the Left has turned harder in enforcing this morality by protests and what they deem justifiable violent riots – the end justifies the means. The Right feels the best way to help the underprivileged is through the encouragement of self-reliance – or tough love – thereby yielding better outcomes in the end without human coercion, rather through natural forces. They both are only doing what they think they would want to be done to them – both following the Golden Rule, and yet in conflict with each other.

So this Golden Rule can be distorted to some dubious outcomes. Refusing association with a “bad actor” or forcing others to comply with our “morality” is doing to others as you want to be treated. And just who defines the “bad actor” or the “morality” we should follow? The point here is that “to treat others as you want to be treated” is not good enough. What we want for ourselves is not always right. And it assumes a base morality mutually agreed upon by society. 

So, how could the Judeo-Christian world and the Bible get this so wrong? Well, did it? When reading a text (especially the Bible), two people can see two entirely different things. So often in this headline-driven world, people are quick to pluck a phrase out of context and assign a meaning to it. Let’s go back and re-read the entire text and see what is actually being said. Picking up the story starting in Matthew 22:36:

  • 36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
  • 37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
  • 38 This is the first and great commandment.  
  • 39 And the second is like, unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
  • 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

So the Golden Rule is predicated on an even greater rule. A Loving God or for the non-faith-based folks a loving set of moralities. So how does one love God?  John 14:15, “If you love me, keep my commands” and Deuteronomy 11:1 for old testament only folks. Just what those commands (morality) are, is another subject. But the point here is that before we can get to the Golden Rule, as mentioned before, even from a secular viewpoint, we must first have a base understanding of agreed morality before we can justify actions on a “treat others as you want to be treated” basis.

Following only the Golden Rule may indeed be insufficient. As always, please give your comments below.

image RWR original article syndication source.