Who could have predicted that a rousing chorus of boos would erupt at a Republican Presidential debate at the mere mention of an ethical principle championed by Jesus and, maybe more importantly, Ronald Reagan.
Some in the crowd, having just heard Newt Gingrich’s gung-ho endorsement of killing America’s enemies, were in no mood to embrace Ron Paul’s call for applying the Golden Rule to America’s foreign policy.
So as a quick refresher (as some people evidently need), Jesus was a big fan of the Golden Rule. Repeatedly throughout the New Testament you find quotes like this:
Do to others as you would have them do to you. —Luke 6:31
Before you think Jesus was just a pushover, there is this contrasting quote:
Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword! —Matthew 10:34
Regarding Newt Gingrich’s call to kill your enemies, a different Bible quote comes to mind from the ever-warring book of Joshua. God is so eager to let the Israelites continue the slaughter of the Amorites that he decides to stop the sun from moving in the sky for a whole day! (It probably would have been less taxing to just invent some night vision goggles.)
So the sun stood still and the moon stayed in place until the nation of Israel had defeated its enemies. Is this event not recorded in the Book of Jashar? The sun stayed in the middle of the sky, and it did not set as on a normal day. —Joshua 10:13
By the way, It doesn’t help you prove that the 36 straight hours of daylight actually happened, when you tell people to look it up in a book that no longer exists.
Depending on his mood, God can clearly take either side in this foreign policy debate, but how do other world religions feel about the Golden Rule? It turns out that Jesus was in fact a late-comer to this superlative maxim. As can be seen below, it is the closest thing we have to a universally recommended principle of human conduct, for some 4,000 years running.
Baha’i: Choose thou for thy neighbor that which thou choosest for thyself. —Lawh’i ‘Ibn’i Dhib, “Epistle to the Son of the Wolf” 30
Brahmanism: This is the sum of duty: do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you. —Mahabharata 5:1517
Buddhism (560 BCE): Hurt not others with that which pains yourself. —Udana-Varga 5.18
Confucianism: Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself. —Analects 15:23
Egypt (2000 BC): Do for one who may do for you, that you may cause him thus to do. —The Eloquent Peasant
Greece (400 BCE): Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others. —Socrates
Hinduism (3200 BCE): One should always treat others as they themselves wish to be treated. —The Hitopadesa
Islam: Not one of you is a believer until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.” —Fortieth Hadith of an-Nawawi 13
Jainism: One should treat all creatures in the world as one would like to be treated.” —Sutrakritanga 1:11:33
Judaism (1300 BCE): Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. —Leviticus 19:18
Sikhism: Treat others as thou wouldst be treated thyself. —Adi Granth
Taoism: Regard your neighbor’s gain as our own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss. —T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien
Zoroastrianism (600 BCE): That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good for itself. —Dadistan-I-Dinik, 94:5
Is the Golden Rule the ideal military strategy? By itself, probably not, but it’s a reasonable start. I strongly believe in the Golden Rule, and I teach “Treat people the way you want to be treated” to my kids; however, I add my own corollary which is “But don’t let people walk all over you either.”
I’d like to take a second, before you think I’m just out to bash Republicans, to gIve credit where credit is due: a Republican candidate for President advocated we employ the Golden Rule in making foreign policy. Surprisingly, as it turns out, that was a pretty gutsy move. And after he wrapped up and had mentioned wanting to bring the troops home, many in the crowd applauded. So it’s likely that a small minority in the crowd that night were anti-Golden Rule.
But the issue still remains: why do some Christian conservatives, who like to claim this is a Christian nation, seem oblivious to certain sayings of Jesus? Several studies reveal that conservatives in general display less empathy than do other groups.* The Golden Rule is all about seeing things from the other person’s point of view and recognizing our common humanity. It could be that all Christians tend to avoid dwelling on the teachings of Jesus that don’t fit their worldview.
If they were paying attention, they would realize that Jesus’ version goes beyond some of the negatively-stated, do-no-harm-types of Golden Rules and is actually a positive, proactive version. But if they won’t listen to him, maybe they’ll listen to the words of someone they seem to love even more:
We might come closer to balancing the budget if all of us lived closer to the Commandments and the Golden Rule. —Ronald Reagan
* Pratto, Felicia; Sidanius, Jim; Stallworth, Lisa M.; Malle, Bertram F. (1994). “Social dominance orientation: A personality variable predicting social and political attitudes”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
Michael Morris is the author of Bible Funmentionables: A Lighthearted Look at the Wildest Verses You’ve NEVER Been Told!, which features all of the shocking and hilarious verses that your minister, rabbi, or charismatic cult leader is afraid to preach.