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."
"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."
"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:
"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!
(This article is based on material previously published in TMA/Meriondho Leo, 2008.)
Copyright © 2008, 2015, 2021 Meleonymica/Mictorrani. All Rights Reserved.
You find all my writings on Read.Cash, sorted by topic, here.
My 5 most recent articles:
Suggested Reading 11
Colour & Cosmology II - Religions
Colour & Cosmology I – Cultures & Alchemy
Colours X: Yellow, Gold & Orange in Focus – Imperial, Courage, Creativity...
Colours IX: White, Black & Grey in Focus – Purity, Death, Boredom...