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To Do or Not To Do – The Golden (or Not so Golden) Rule

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Written by   499
1 month ago

Rabbi Hillel (c.30 BC-10 AD) was almost contemporary with Jesus Christ. He came to Palestine from Babylonia and founded a school there, Beth Hillel. He is well known for his formulation of Judaism.

"What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man.

This is the law: all the rest is commentary."

(Talmud, Shabbat 31a)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ said something similar:

"And as ye would that men should do to you,

do ye also to them likewise."

(Luke 6:31, King James Bible)

There are similar rules in other religions. Mahabharata (Hinduism) says:

"Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you."

Udanavarga (Buddhism) says:

"Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful."

Confucius said:

"Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you."

All these appear to express the same idea, but if we examine them closely, they don't. Of those cited above, Jesus' statement is fundamentally different, and this difference is - in my opinion - a major problem with Christian ethics and with its modern secular applications - such as the Welfare State. It paves the way for the Tyranny of Benevolence.

Let us examine the essence of what Jesus said:

"Do to others what you want others to do unto you."

This implies:

"What is good for you is good for others."

Extended it implies:

"What is good for you is good for others, whether they understand (or want) it or not."

You take it on yourself to judge of what is good for another person, because "perfect as you are" what is good for you MUST be good for others. Isn't that the ultimate hubris?

If we extend this further, you take the right to define other people's problems and to devise their solutions; indeed, without even knowing if what you think is a problem is really a problem for them!!

I am sure most of you have encountered individuals with this mentality. Meddlers who try to arrange things for you without knowing if you want them arranged that way, because they KNOW what is best for you. They judge you by their own standards. Yet this is much worse when institutionalised, as in politics. We find it at the heart of the Welfare State; and in international politics it characterises the relation between the so-called "first" world on one side, and the "second" and "third" on the other. A colonial remnant.

It is even worse: Jesus' statement legitimises conformity. Since it assumes the existence of a one and single "best" for everyone (it must be the same as what is best for you, so there can be only one "best"), it follows that conformity is a goal; and that working, pushing, or forcing matters in that direction is not only acceptable, but praiseworthy! Thus it legitimises tyranny.

If we look at the other expressions: Hillel, Confucius, etc., the essence is "do NOT do unto others what you do NOT want others to do unto you." This is no exhortation to do something, to take action, to meddle, just to refrain from doing what you would not like done to you by others. You dislike meddlers, then do not meddle yourself. It is that simple. You want to arrange your life as you want it, so let others arrange theirs as they want them. This is not an encouragement to be uncharitable, you can still be a loving and helpful neighbour, just do not take on yourself to judge when a neighbour needs help or how. People must be allowed to define their own problems and to find their own solutions; to determine what is important in life, and what is not; to live by their own standards.

"Do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you" is no encouragement of selfishness or inactivity, just of respect for the integrity of others.

This has been a well established principle since a very long time, in Judaism and most old cultures. Did Jesus really turn it upside down? We can never know what he said, but I doubt it. His words can very well have been distorted by those handling them after him. And we should not forget the other place where his statement is related: Matthew 7:12. In its entirety it states:

"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."

This might very well give us a clue. As it happens, I cannot find any place where the law and the prophets express this principle in terms of "do". In my opinion, it looks very much like Jesus has been misquoted.

There is another example of this "golden rule" stated in the positive, active, and dangerous way:

Plato said:

"May I do to others as I would that they should do unto me."

But his mentor and teacher Socrates said:

"Do not do to others that which would anger you if others did it to you."

This, in my opinion, well reflects the difference between the two of them. Plato was a sharp thinker, but a monster, Socrates was a genuine human.

Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you.

Their tastes may not be the same.”

(George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman)

Ralph: When she put two potatoes on the table, one big one and one small one, you immediately took the big one without asking me what I wanted.

Norton: What would you have done?

Ralph: I would have taken the small one, of course.

Norton: You would?

Ralph: Yes, I would.

Norton: So, what are you complaining about? You got the small one!

(The Honeymooners)

(This article is based on material previously published in TMA/Meriondho Leo, 2008.)

Copyright © 2008, 2015, 2021 Meleonymica/Mictorrani. All Rights Reserved.

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Comments

To clarify in the context of all those before:

The-One-Law

".No Being Shall Violate another Being ."
is a judgment by violence and is not a commandment or regulation.

The-One-Law can be, and was originally perceived as, a 'legal' base.)_

The fundamental difference
between The-One-Law and all that came before
is that The-One-Law is based exclusively
upon the consent of the recipient regarding physical efforts.
None seem to regard the consent of the recipient as important.
They all grant the aggressor the privilege of deciding what is acceptable.
That is an omission that has prevailed for millennia.
It is time to revise that 'crime against those violated'.

The English language seems to have few verbs
to describe
'the physical effort [by someone] against the recipient's consent'.
That, in itself,
seems a complicated concept so many are unable to comprehend.

"Harm" is often used but such is a word confused by overreach:
"to injure physically, morally, or mentally"
"morally or mentally", at best, cannot be measured or quantified.
Violence, on the other hand, can be examined and judged.
"Violate" specifies physical impact absent consent.

The judgment is whether an entity

  • is a Being (within the Law):
    simply 'being someone who is not violating other Beings'.
    or
  • is not a Being (outside the Law):
    violating anyone who is not violating other Beings.

The-One-Law is a very binary judgment of a spectrum of violence
spanning actions of innocent infractions to the darkest atrocities imaginable.

We all make mistakes.
The Tyranny of Benevolence you describe is one real problem to address.
We can try to make our transgressions upon others
at least reversible or at worst forgivable or reconcilable.

I should probably turn all this into another article.
...somehow readable by ordinary people.

Live Well and Prosper.

$ 0.01
1 month ago

You basically misunderstand the context in which Jesus said: "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise." You ought to have read the entire chapter and not extrapolate the scripture to your own hurt. He was speaking of loving, forgiving and giving to others. You want others to love you, love them. No rational being want to be a victim of hatred. You want others to forgive you when you have wronged them. Then, forgive them when they wrong you. Jesus did not leave his hearers to wonder as to what he meant. It is clearly stated in the scripture. Sometimes when people profess themselves to be wise, they actually play the fool.

$ 0.00
1 month ago

Apart from the question whether Jesus was misquoted or not, what you say does not change anything of what I said. If you don't want to be hated,the reasonable phrasing would be "do not hate others", not "love others". These two things are entirely different.

Thank you, but I have read the whole text, not only in translation. That goes for all the texts I quote above.

$ 0.00
1 month ago

By the way, did you know that Jesus was talking to His disciples in the text? Are you one of His? If you are not, I quite understand your position. He wasn't talking to you or anyone who was not His follower. We who are His disciples, take Him as our Lord and Savior and as such we do not question His wisdom nor share your view about HIs statements.

$ 0.00
1 month ago

Yes, I know.

No, I am not one of his disciples or followers. If you are, I can understand your position as well. It certainly makes a difference.

Thank you for taking the time to comment and discuss my article.

$ 0.00
1 month ago

So true, some people arranged the things where in fact you doesn't need it anyway. They try to guide you as if they know what's the best for you. They do the things that you're not used to, thinking this could make you better.

$ 0.01
1 month ago

I totally agree with your poured out ideas here regarding the said golden rule first of jesus and then of other great philosophers of the ancient decent but i'm a little bit sceptical as regards your statement of "expansion of what jesus' own golden rule means. What i'm trying to say here is quite simple that hence jesus taught by means of illustrations and though his teachings had very deep meaning while he was spending his early ministry here on earth, yet he was at every point in time very clear and straight forward with respect to his point and they were direct points as well. Therefore, that statement "do to others what is good to you and its implied meaning as " what is good for you is good for them", can be said to also mean, "what is good for them, is also good for you". It has always been a vice versa to It as i don't see any form of tyranny associated with in that It is balancely placed to judge two or more persons fairly through the middle. Good morning and God bless!

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1 month ago