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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Radical Rule

One of the best known rules in the Bible is the Golden Rule. It's called in philosophical circles "the ethic of reciprocity". You know: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Jesus said, "Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them" (Matt 7:12). Ask someone to explain what it means and you'll generally get something like this: "Don't do things to other people that you wouldn't want done to you." This concept is found in a wide variety of "scriptures", instructions for a variety of religions. You'll find it in the Bahá'í faith, Brahmanism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Ancient Egyptian, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Native American Spirituality, Roman Pagan Religion, Shinto, Sikhism, Sufism, Taoism, Unitarianism, Wicca, and Zoroastrianism ... to name a few. It's not rocket science. We teach it to our kids. "How would you like it if someone did that to you?" Don't do to others what you don't want others to do to you.

While it's clear that Jesus included that thought in His command, this is not what Jesus said. Sure, that's good practice, but Jesus said something different. We see a lot of commands stated in the negative: "Thou shalt not ..." And the general understanding is in the negative: "Don't do ..." But Jesus's command was in the positive: "Do." And that makes this command somewhat more radical than we tend to think of it.

The question is not "How would you like it if someone did that to you?" The question is "What do I like?" followed by "Go and do thou likewise." Do you like people to be nice to you? Be nice to people. Do you want someone to comfort you when you're sad? Comfort people. Do you want people to be understanding when you make a mistake? Be understanding. When you are remorseful for doing something wrong, you want forgiveness. Forgive. In other words, the command is not to avoid harm, but to affect pleasure. Give to people around you the good that you would want them to give to you.

Face it ... we're not so good at that. We may avoid hurting people whenever we can, but we're not good at looking to find good things to do to people. We're good at finding out where others are wrong, but are we correcting them because we would want to be corrected (and in a way we would want to be corrected), or are we doing it for personal satisfaction? When we have excess, do we seek people to whom to give it? I know I'd appreciate it if someone who had extra would share with me. Are we telling the truth in love? I know that I appreciate the wounds of a friend because I know that friend cares. Are we actively seeking to do the good to others that we would like done to us? That is the Golden Rule. And that is radical.


Dan Trabue said...

Good points.

Sherry said...

Thanks. It's interesting seeing that info about so many of the major religions all in one place like that.

It's interesting, too, that even though it states, "Within the Holy Books of many religions, there are passages which contradict their own Ethic of Reciprocity", but only those in Christianity are listed, complete with links that open up to what looks like all kinds of "dirt" on The Bible.

Of course this would have been MUCH more balanced had it included references to a list of exceptions within Islam and some of those "many" others. As usual, it is only Christianity that is targeted and maligned.