The Golden Rule
Most Christians think the so-called Golden Rule originated with Jesus. Twice in the Gospels, once in Matthew as we heard today; and again in Luke. “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you” sounds Christian. It is in fact a maxim consistent with Christian morality. However, in the Gospels, Jesus is quoting the Hebrew Book of Leviticus, which in turn is found in Greek Philosophy. In fact, the concept occurs in some form in nearly every religion.
There is nothing uniquely Christian or even religious about treating others as you would have them treat you. It is related to fundamental human nature. It is a matter of basic human survival. If people actually treated others as they would like to be treated, there would be no lying, cheating, or violence. Despite the moral imperative, things could be a lot worse than they are.
Although a moral precept, for many, especially in secularized societies, it is more a pragmatic principle than a moral maxim. In other words, I give so that you will give to me. Something like a quid pro quo, I scratch your back so you will scratch mine.
Psychologically, the Golden Rule is a call to empathize with others. Philosophically, it involves a person seeing in others the ego of oneself. Sociologically it involves human cohesion. Economically, it suggests that commerce is best when based on trust.
Even the term “Golden Rule,” only began to be used in the 17th Century of the modern era.
The concept is formed as far back as 2,000 years before Christ, in Egyptian inscriptions. It is found in ancient writings of India hundreds of years before Christ.
There is a passage in the Hadith, or commentary of the Koran of Islam:
“A Bedouin came up to the prophet Mohammed, grabbed the stirrup of his camel and said, ‘O messenger of God! Teach me something to go to heaven.’ The Prophet said, ‘As you would have people do to you, do to them. Now let the stirrup go!’”
That said, there is a fundamental religious connotation to Jesus’ quotation of this ancient proverb.
People sometimes quote the American Declaration of Independence as if it were some kind of divinely inspired document. “All men are created equal” sounds good but the authors didn’t believe it had anything to do with religion. “All men” meant white males who owned property. It did not include women or slaves or the working class. It applies, if you will, to the 18th century 1%.
The universality of the Golden Rule, quoted by Jesus, indicates basic human correct conduct. It is a first step in finding Christ. Without proper behavior, towards others – no matter who they are; if they are believers or non-believers, Christ cannot be found without discovering the person of Christ in others.
In that sense, it is a prerequisite for religious behavior. Religion is not for one’s personal benefit, it is the means by which God is found. Being polite is not the content of Christian teaching. It’s basic human respect for others.