Universality of the Golden Rule
The moral principle, treat others as you want them to treat you, is a universal idea. If you look at world religious and philosophical literature, you will see structurally similar teachings of the Golden Rule.
This graphic was produced by a Roman Catholic Canadian organization, Scarboro Missions, which has a “Golden Rule Curriculum,” it offers for sale.
The comparative references may not be clearly readable, so here are some in print for the reader’s convenience:
- Bahá’i – Epistle to the Son of the Wolf
- Buddhism – Samyutta Nikaya, 353, Sutta Nipata, 705; Udana-Varga, 5:18
- Confucianism – Analects 6:30; Doctrine of the Mean,13:3
- Daoism – Tao Te Ching, 49
- Islam – Haditha (al-Bukari, 9:85:83; an-Nawawi, 13)
- Jainism – Acarangasutra, 5.101-2; Sutrakritanga, 1:11:33
- Zoroastrianism – Shayast-na-Shayast, 13:2
Both the idea of love for others, and the idea of the duty of reciprocity towards others–not to do to them what we to not want done to ourselves, or, to do to them what we want done to ourselves–appear in repeated and variant forms in world literature and traditions.
The Jewish Tradition of the Golden Rule
In the Hebrew Bible, Leviticus 19:18, the Israelites were given a divine command: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. You shall love your fellow kinsmen as yourself.”
Jewish people were commanded to love others in the covenant community, as they loved themselves. Personal revenge and grudge-bearing were forbidden against others, just as no one wanted vengeance or grudges borne against themselves. We can see how this command ensured a healthier, more cohesive religious community. Yet only a few passages later, in the same chapter, God gave Moses a completely unexpected command:
When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I the Lord am your God.
As slaves in Egypt, the Israelites had experienced legal subjugation, hard labor, fear, anger, and daily anxiety. Displeasure of their Egyptian masters could lead to suffering and death. Based on what we know today from psychiatric disorders, victims once put in positions of power often become victimizers. Would it be unreasonable to think the Israelites who had just left Egypt scarred with such memories well might have been ready to treat strangers as they had been treated?
Psychology or human nature aside, the God of Israel cited the Israelites’ scarred memories as victims and commanded them to apply personal harms to a higher, divine ethical demand. The command was not “Do not treat others as you were treated in Egypt.” The command was not “Do not treat foreigners as you were treated while foreigners in Egypt.” The command was not “Treat foreigners with respect and dignity.” Rising far beyond this, God commanded that Israelites love foreigners as they loved themselves. The God who led Israel out of Egypt required the covenant community to see and treat persons outside their community as human beings worthy of a love as precious as they held for themselves and each other.
This is an example of Hebrew theistic morality which transcends naturalistic morality. Destructive personal experiences were commanded as motives for positive universal ethical treatment even of strangers.
Thousands of years later in the early 20th century, an atheist of Jewish descent, Sigmund Freud, would reject the idea of neighbor-love as a neurosis-producing demand in his treatise, On Civilization and Its Discontents. In his view, the instinct of self-preservation naturally made the neighbor [German, Naechsten, the person next to us] suspect. We do not know the neighbor, nor the neighbor’s intent towards us. Religious commands to love the neighbor created conditions for neurosis. Many in our era have adopted Freud’s skeptical attitude.
Rabbi Hillel the Elder, one of the greatest Jewish sages in history, lived in the century just prior to Jesus of Nazareth. Hillel taught this principle: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah. The rest is the explanation. Go and learn it” [Talmud, Shabbat 31a].
The command given in Leviticus above instructed Israelites to love one another as themselves. Some have said Hillel’s teaching was a negative approach, to start with what “was hateful” to oneself and then to use that as a negative basis for self-control in one’s behavior. This is a shallow reading.
Though we all enjoy loving experiences, our human brains deeply embed painful, traumatic experiences in our amygdala. We never forget painful events caused by others. Our brain’s defense mechanism reminds us of them, so we can escape if conditions arise again. This is biology.
Viewed in this way, Hillel’s apparent “negative” approach is wise (though he knew nothing about the amygdala, though perhaps about its effects). He was teaching his Jewish students to look at the most powerful negative forces in their experience, then to refrain from inflicting such harmful forces on the experiences of others. This is a realistic reading of Hillel’s doctrine from neuroscience, even though he intuited the power of harmful memories without it.
The Golden Rule Taught by Jesus of Nazareth
What most people popularly call the Golden Rule–Do to others what you would have them do to you—has been passed down over the centuries through the influence in the West of the Christian religion. Jesus of Nazareth was a Hebrew Bible-centered, observant Jewish rabbi. As the next sections will show, his interpretation of the Torah was unique. Because his teachings were spread across the world, the West has become more familiar with his interpretations, one which is the “positive” command to love others as we love ourselves.
When we look at the Gospels in the New Testament, we see several different teachings which bear on the Golden Rule. The differences between these are important, so we will consider these in turn.
Version One: Self-Interest and Justice
Whatever you want others to do for you, do so for them; for this is the Torah and Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)
Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. And just as you want people to treat you, treat them in the same way. And if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same thing. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, in order to receive back the same. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for God is kind to ungrateful and evil people. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:30-36)
The first version begins in self-interest. Do to others what you would have them do to you. This suggests you first consider how you want to be treated by others. It requires an act of reflection on what moral behaviors are important to you, those you like to experience, or those you want to avoid. Then, Jesus commanded, you take your self-interested calculation and act in that way towards other persons. Why? There is a presupposition that by acting first in a positive way, you give other persons a factual reason—a personal experience—to lead them to treat you as they have experienced.
This form of the Golden Rule is based on the Principle of Reciprocity: I act this way, and by it I invite you to follow my example. It is the Law of Justice put in positive, anticipative form. Normally any law prevents a certain behavior. In this form of the Golden Rule, Jesus commanded that you make a moral calculation, then take action upon it, with the clear intention, hope, and expectation, that your self-interest will be rewarded by those who experience your good acts, and who will behave well towards you as a consequence.
Nevertheless, while this version begins with self-interest, moral calculation, and the hope that reciprocity would follow after good had been done, the context makes clear Jesus had more than that in mind. His followers were not to be mere moral mathematicians, seeking in-kind good treatment by initiating it first. The dynamic principle was higher: the example of God towards human beings. “Doing what others do” in moral action–following the lead of the majority in the world–simply was to cheapen and lower oneself, one’s identity, and one’s connection with the God one alleged to know, love, and imitate.
According to Jesus, God’s own example to the believer, and to the world in general, vivified and empowered this version of the Golden Rule. “Do to others as you would have them do to you” was grounded in the Father who “is kind to ungrateful and evil people.” The implication is that God desires to be loved back for the love given to ungrateful people. Why God of all should have “emotions” or “desire” or “need” to love or be loved is never addressed in the Bible, but is a common foundation within both Judaism and Christianity, calling people to a personal response and relationship of love for such a God.
This version of the Golden Rule–active doing of good to others, first, with hope of returned good–actually is grounded in the example of a God who does not wait for humans to give, love, do good, lend, or show mercy, before doing these to humans. The Father initiates and acts, regardless of whether reciprocity will come from humans, though the Father’s acts of goodness imply somehow God seeks reciprocal love. This version of the Golden Rule is driven by Jesus’ teaching that religious people who know God will respond to human beings as God does, as God shows to the religious people themselves. The real power of this version is the actual experience, the actual recognition, that God’s ways–though they are unknown and not followed by the world–are the ways of God’s people.
The statement above from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter seven, verse twelve, contains implicitly the God-centered principle of love stated explicitly in the passage from the Gospel of Luke.
Version Two: Self-Interest and Love
An expert in the Torah asked Jesus a question to test him, “Rabbi, which is the great commandment in the Torah?” And Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.’ This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Torah and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40, and see Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18)
If world religious and philosophical literatures base the Golden Rule in reciprocity, it cannot be said that Jesus’ second version of the Golden Rule is merely that. Taken out of context, the command to love the neighbor as you love yourself seems based in self-interest. Begin with self-love and love others that way. Yet Jesus framed religious reality first in the love of God, from which other loves flow. Love even of the self is in the divine context, and then love for the neighbor is commanded from that self-love.
Nevertheless, love is not justice, which contains the principle of reciprocity. Love is an attachment to another human being. Jesus commanded in this form of the Golden Rule that we love, we attach, we make a loving commitment of ourselves, to our neighbors, as we love ourselves, within the first and fundamental orientation to our love of God. When he gave this command, he was repeating what Moses had taught the Jewish people. They were to love each other, as God loved them in the call, the covenant, and the Torah.
Version Three: Jesus’ Classic Illustration of the Golden Rule – “The Good Samaritan” or “Man In the Ditch”
To be commanded to love our neighbor begs for the question, “Who is my neighbor?” A rich young Jewish man asked Jesus just that question in another place in the Gospels (Luke 10:29ff). Jesus responded with an illustration, a story many know as “The Good Samaritan.” Dr. S. Scott Bartchy, Professor at UCLA, has given an alternative title, “The Man in the Ditch,” which focuses on the person in need.
The following is my paraphrase of that story, which adds some facts Jesus’ original hearers would have known–but which escape us from our place in time today.
A Jewish man was traveling a dangerous road and was robbed, beaten, and left naked beside the road. Two Jewish men came along and saw the bloody, helpless victim, but passed on. Then a Samaritan came by. Samaritans practiced a form of religion that Jews opposed and considered heresy, false religion, and whom some Jews even hated for it. This Samaritan saw the Jew, who might have hated him, and felt compassion. Compassion is based in empathy. That is, he saw the Jewish victim as a member of the human family, just like himself. The Samaritan got off his animal, cleaned and bandaged the Jew, put him on the animal, walked beside him and comforted him along the way, and took him to a safe place, an inn. The Samaritan then instructed the innkeeper, “Take care of him and when I return, I will pay you for his expenses.”
Jesus asked the rich young man, “Who was the neighbor?” The young man answered correctly, the Samaritan, which probably pained him to say. Then Jesus commanded this fellow—who had just bragged he was a very religious man—“Then sell all you have, give your wealth to the poor, and come, follow me.” Jesus saw the evidence of the young man’s wealth, which had the potential capacity to give material assistance to “neighbors” in need. Jesus’ response was both a practical challenge for the young man to love, with capacities he had, as well as a religious challenge to a person proud of his alleged obedience to the Torah. The Bible says the young man went away disappointed at this instruction.
This form of the Golden Rule presumes self-interest, that you love yourself and your life. But it places not justice, but love, as the motive for loving others in the same way. When Jesus made a Samaritan heretic the hero, who loved with compassion because he had empathy for another human being who likely hated him, Jesus took away the principle of justice and replaced it with love based on empathy.
Justice, and common sense, would have interpreted the story completely differently. The Jewish traveler ought to have chosen a better, safer road. The two Jewish passersby were correct not to get involved. They were on the road because they had their own lives and purposes. They had schedules and appointments. To have stopped to help, on such a dangerous road, was to invite certain risks to themselves. The criminals might not be far off, or more might be in the area. The story said he was naked and bleeding. How could they even be sure he was a fellow Jew, unless unstated, he had the capacity to speak in his condition and allege to them he was a kinsman? But to stop and help also surely would have meant giving up some resources, getting blood on their hands, which had other problems for them as religious men. They were right not to stop because they had nothing to do with their fellow Jew’s situation. He had put himself in a dangerous path, and gotten what he risked he might. Good sense and self-preservation ruled it best to move on past a nasty situation.
To this illustration it is not inappropriate to add one of Jesus’ parables: that of the “sheep and goats” in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter twenty five. There he made clear the idea that God would judge people based on their care, or their disregard, for the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned. The implication was clear. The people of God were to see these classes of persons as if their true identity were God, not persons. The religious person was to see human beings with the same valuation as the God in whom they alleged faith and love. This is an even more radical idea, to see persons in dire straits as precious as God; to respond fully; for which they could expect divine approval and reward. The neighbor in need is God in need. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and many others in the history of Christian compassion, as well as other non-Christian traditions, lived out this application of the Golden Rule.
Implications of Jesus’ Golden Rule
With this said, the Golden Rule taught by Jesus includes the following clear implications.
- Human beings are our neighbors to be loved by us. Though Jesus Christ had not the scientific knowledge to know what we know about the One Genome and the universal bond we all share in it, he did know his heavenly Father had created all people, which made them all one family.
- Our own self-identifications, in terms of religions and ethnicities, do not cancel out our universal membership in the human family.
- Love for other members of the human family is not cancelled out by their own choices, or by harms done to them by evil people who took advantage of superior strength to harm them.
- Others who suffer real harms must be viewed with and in empathy by us. We must see their suffering just like we see our own.
- The causes of their suffering are to be disregarded by us, even if they brought it on themselves. Empathy for them overrules the calculation of justice.
- Our empathy must take a real form through an act of intervention. Feeling badly is not enough. The two Jews who passed by their fellow Jew surely had some sad emotional responses, but they did not have empathy, or enough of it to act.
- Our interventions involve doing for others what we would want them to do for us: to stop what they are doing, to become involved with our suffering, to give up time and resources to help us, and to do all these things not for justice but out of love.
- Our human bond with others, our empathy for others who suffer, our interventions according to need, our personal sacrifices, all disregard and ignore what those helped by us later may or may not do.
- God approves as truly religious those who love their fellow human beings precisely as they would want to be loved—affirming human unity and solidarity, denying human divisions and preferences, affirming that suffering must be alleviated and stopped, and denying to forbid one’s own time and resources be used for strangers, even though those strangers may not appreciate or respond as we would hope.
How you see Jesus’ versions of the Golden Rule depends on you, your experiences in the past, how they affected you, and the values and philosophy of life you have developed from them.
The first form of the Golden Rule, “Do to others what you want them to do to you,” appeals to people who understand justice, the Principle of Reciprocity, the idea of contractual obligation. Moral people who live by principle have some expectation others will live by those principles too. One hand washes the other, so to speak. So these people find this form of the Golden Rule to make sense. Based on their experiences with other persons, there is some reasonable expectation that, by doing to others what you yourself expect, they will reciprocate. They believe others have enough of a sense of justice they will respond in kind. Only people who have experienced moral reciprocity take the risk that this form of the Golden Rule will work, and obey it.
The second form of the Golden Rule, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” appeals to people who are emotionally healthy, who understand love as a healthy motive. To love, to attach to other persons, to invest in other persons, is a basic biological, human, natural response. Persons most attracted to this command will understand what love means because they have experienced it. This form of the command makes empathic sense from personal experience. They will remember their parents—who might have done otherwise—who loved and cared and sacrificed for them as babies and children. Love issued from parents not in the hope that the baby would return the favor, but because the baby needed care, was dependent, as part of the parents’ lives themselves. The Self is formed by parental love, and the nature and identity of the Self is based in love, in all normal, healthy human experience. So the command to love the neighbor as one’s Self is naturally appealing to people who experienced, learned, and remember love was and is most important to them as human beings. This form of the Golden Rule makes sense to them.
Now that we have considered the Golden Rule as originally given in its two forms, let us apply this to our American situation.
Our Perverse American Golden Rule:
Who Has the Gold Rules
Though I have not tried to locate the first appearance of this idea, some years ago I ran across this version of the Perverse Golden Rule: “Who has the gold rules.” Whomever created this took the famous, familiar form we know from Jesus and cynically affirmed what many in our society believe: money has the power to dominate over other human beings. We can look at world history and see there is a factual basis for this cynical idea. The quest for and corruption of money and power is the history of nations.
There is a large part of American history that fits that model. The original annihilation of the Native Americans as “savages” and the outright theft of their lands were about wealth. America’s first foundation for our story of expansion and economic growth is the gradual and complete taking of the lands and natural resources on this continent. Our earliest European, white historians portrayed this process in heroic terms–brave pilgrims, adventuring pioneers headed West, and God’s hand on a god-fearing new nation. Of course, there is some truth to that, for from the viewpoint of many millions who came here, that was what they were thinking.
But most of us have no Native American blood. Most of us have no collective memory of broken federal treaties, or the Trail of Tears. Most of us see the early American story as merely old history with no connection to Wall Street markets, or our purchase of the latest electronic device. This is not true, however, for the few remaining Native Americans who live among us. They see our history as a story of systematic lies and wrongful court decisions where billions of acres of land, water, natural resources, and biological life–which Native American originally viewed as a stewardship, without ownership, under the sight of the Great Spirit–were taken over by Europeans for their own use and exploitation.
One should read President Andrew Jackson’s statement to Congress on “Indian Removal” in 1830. The “red man” had to move where he was instructed or else face “annihilation.” That was the word he used. The Perverse Golden Rule was in action. Those who had the gold ruled that genocide was the only option Native Americans had, if they disobeyed the command to leave their own lands of historic habitation.
With so much land taken over by so few, they had a second problem: how to cultivate and develop it all. The institution of slavery arose from this practical problem, which led to our second major immoral chapter in the American story. One of the first examples we have of slavery in our national story comes from 1629. The Dutch patroons living in the New York area were granted absolute control over their region’s economy, and “more African blacks” were to be sent as their labor force. We are familiar with the Civil War, which began 234 years later, after slavery had spread across our land. Yet it would be another 100 years before the Civil Rights Act again addressed the problem of American discrimination against the heirs of the slaves. The Perverse Golden Rule was at work in American slavery, and still is at work among white Americans who imagine that “ancient history” is something today’s American blacks simply ought to stop digging up, as if racial discrimination is dead in our land.
The quest for money, profit, and power is genetic in our American story. The Perverse Golden Rule always has run deep in our history. The idea of wrongful taking of others possessions and labor, without coming to moral terms with the immoral effects of it, but excusing it with false narratives that represent the takers as “American patriots winning against all odds,” is in our national genetics. I did not always think this way, growing up as I did as a white American who never had studied the facts of our history. After I finished a doctorate in European history, and later had occasion to teach American history–becoming immersed in the facts of our own story–I came to see things differently. No “liberal disposition” did this for me, only my willingness to explore and see what actually had happened.
We always have had what I call a moral schizophrenia in our American moral culture. On the one hand, we see ourselves as the heirs of the original Golden Rule, those who treat each other as we want to be treated, and our Judeo-Christian heritage reinforces this idea. On the other hand, many of our ancestors practiced the Perverse Golden Rule. For wealth and profit they took what was not theirs, then used the power derived from that taking to rule over those they exploited. This is our moral schizophrenia. Conceptually we think of ourselves as Golden Rule people, yet practically our nation was shaped and driven by the Perverse Golden Rule. Our national character, our national thinking, never has come to terms with the bifurcation between moral allegations and immoral history.
Today we have many, many crises in America. We have financial crises related to greed, which is a force empowered by the Perverse Golden Rule. We have leadership crises in business and government, where men and women seek money and power for themselves, regardless of the harms done to others. This is a trend empowered by the Perverse Golden Rule. We have millions of Americans conditioned and addicted to materialism, consumerism, living for themselves, and “living for today.” These also are under the driving force of the Perverse Golden Rule. Our movies and television, our advertisements, and so many of our cultural messages are filled with the Perverse Golden Rule. Whomever has money and power rules not only his or her own life, but can believe what our national, morally schizophrenic story always has said. You can allege yourself to be a moral person, yet disregard the costs of what your values and behaviors do to innocent persons.
Perhaps the reader believes my allegation of our moral schizophrenia is false. There is a simple factual test to see how the Perverse Golden Rule is true in our story. “Follow the money.” Look at American history and follow the trail of how money, wealth, and power, penetrates our national story. You will find a different reading of American history than that presented by Forbes Magazine.
- the history of land grants
- the history of labor
- the history of voting rights
- the history of American federal laws
- the history of federal regulations on banking, finance, and manufacturing
- the history of rigged elections and appointments
- the history of finance and manufacturing for our wars
- the history of U.S. foreign assassinations, puppet governments, and “nation-building”
American history too often has been the story of the Perverse Golden Rule: Who Has the Gold Rules. Now, in one sense, perhaps we ought not beat ourselves up over this. We simply can say, “This is world history. This is how things are. It is natural for persons with wealth and power to desire to get more. The people ‘below’ become grist for the money-mill, or cannon-fodder for the battle over money and power.” Yet this is entirely too convenient and cheap an escape from the broader issue of who we claim to be as Americans.
Fortunately, we also have another history in America, and one not duplicated precisely in Europe or other places around the world. We always have had persons who have been entrepreneurial, geniuses in business, sometimes persons who have seen the right opportunity at the right time, and earned millions from the correct decision. As a result of skill, and sometimes some luck, these have become very wealthy. Wealth can be earned in moral ways (and the Jewish and Christian scriptures surely support this). Among the moral wealthy always have been a percentage who have retained a deep sense of human bond with others, who have shared their wealth for the sake of persons in need. Look at the history of philanthropy in America from its first origins hundreds of years ago, or, simply look at recent charitable foundations, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
In other words, to possess wealth in itself is not automatically to endorse or live by the Perverse Golden Rule. The rising popularity of our cynical reading of the egocentric applications of wealth, illustrated by Ayn Rand’s book, The Virtue of Selfishness, is something fairly new. We might date the rise of emboldened self-centered wealth from from the 1980s forward, when we began to see scandalous behaviors on Wall Street, and open corruption of our election system; however, I am not making that argument, only suggesting what I believe.
Nevertheless, though all these developments, we still have among us some very fine Americans with great wealth, who follow the Original Golden Rule; who see human needs all around them; who often are frustrated needs are greater than all their wealth could correct; and, who thoughtfully and compassionately invest freely and gladly what they have earned for the benefit of the improvement of persons who never will know their names, nor need to in order to receive the good done. These Americans are identical in character to the poorest Americans who also do the same with what they have to help others. These both are in the same genus, living out the Golden Rule Jesus taught, and as taught by others.
Still, American history is full of the Perverse Golden Rule. It required some centuries for that rule to run its course. Today there is a great majority of Americans who have suffered greatly, for decades, with the losses of disposable income, employment, their own homes, benefits, savings, retirement accounts, investments, and even the ability to go to college, which used to be one achievement that promised lifelong better employment and a standard of living.
Connect Yourself to the Story and Choose
To which story am I referring? There are at least two. There is the story Jesus told of the man traveling to Jericho. There is the story of the American Perverse Golden Rule. Depending on the reader’s values and life story, either one of these stories may be equally compelling, familiar, and attractive.
Perhaps you are an American who has been beaten and stripped financially. You have lost much or nearly all of your original American Dream. Perhaps this was due to your choice. You took a dangerous road, and overloaded yourself with debt, trusting your income or the economy would remain stable. Yet your risk, your choice, led to your condition to which no one forced you. Perhaps you are a victim of some American thieves who bought out your strong company, stripped its assets, and sent jobs to another nation. Perhaps these misrepresented a contract you signed, and you do not read well, let alone can read fine print written by lawyers, and now you have been informed your signature committed you to obligations misstated when you signed. We have millions of people beaten and naked beside the road, bled dry due to both examples.
Perhaps you see yourself in the two Jews who saw the victim, but who crossed over to the other side, and passed on. We have millions accustomed to “minding their own business,” continuing with their personal plans, and not involving themselves in any empathic risks for strangers. Some of these never have been in desperate need. Some have been, but no one offered to help. For these, the “principle of reciprocity” is to do the same: ignore those needing help, let them find their own way back, if they can, and maybe they will or will not. What seems to some of us to be mere selfishness may in fact be old memories of frustration, anger, despair and, for whatever reason, “surviving without any help.” We have a long history of these behaviors throughout our national story with the heading, “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.”
Fortunately, we also have millions of good Americans, rich, poor and in-between, who can connect with the Good Samaritan. These still hear their call to live empathic lives of compassion and mercy. They see themselves as they might be, others in need. and they act to do what they can. Some believe in God and remember God gives rain to the just and the unjust; that they are unjust at times and do not deserve all the good they get; and so, they give love and help to persons in trouble, in imitation of the divine example towards them. We also have a growing number of Americans who have no theism (often due to bad examples by theists) yet who still care for other members of the human family. Indeed, some of these care for all living things, and for the ecosystem which sustains us. These also take up the model of the Good Samaritan, for nonreligious reasons, out of basic feelings of empathy and compassion.
The Power of the Golden Rule for Today’s Crises
It may sound completely simplistic and naive to make the following statement, which nevertheless is true. If all Americans would adopt the Golden Rule, either version, and resolve to follow it in all they said and did in regard to each other, our nation’s many crises would have the one, single foundation upon which national solutions would be found.
The Golden Rule actually is embedded in human nature itself. Our species births infants who need love and nurture to survive for many years. Love is required for our health, safety, and growth into well-adjusted persons. In itself, this ought to be a commendation for the Golden Rule, to do for others what we have experienced, to do for others what also is their own nature: to receive and give love. Throughout life, we need love in order to be healthy, and when we begin the process of physical decline, we need love and assistance once again. Love is the one thing we always need to be human.
We Americans have pushed God away from our public discourse, as if talk about our ultimate nature, purpose, and destiny, is something we “wise, advanced people” no longer need to do. Yet we have developed a society built on consumption, materialism, and the Perverse Golden Rule with its predominant love for money, wealth, and power. Nevertheless, the deep restlessness of those who follow that false idea shows that the mere acquisition and accumulation of inanimate things fails to meet our deepest biological human nature, needs, and instinctual hunger to be loved, and our nature to love others.
Throughout the best in American history, and the best in the history of other nations, there has been a golden thread of a minority who lived by the Golden Rule. In this golden thread can be found your own narrative of true humanity, true religiousness, and the golden path of those who believe that God is love, that God loves, that God calls human beings into the fellowship of love, and that the hope of the world is yet to be found in the Golden Rule. There also are non-theists who have the same beliefs that kindness is something they must do to be authentic, healthy human beings.
Regardless of your position towards the Original Golden Rule and its significance, it is my prayer that you will join me in becoming Good Samaritans. For at some time or other in life, we all are beaten, robbed, bleeding, and unable to provide the loving care and nurture we need; rather, we require the help of others and their compassion. The future of America in part depends on your moral reflection, moral decision, and moral actions towards such issues, or not. JDW