TAKING SELF OUT OF THE GOLDEN RULE (PART I)
By Akin Ojumu
We all know the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you’d want them do to you.”
Reputed as being the most culturally universal moral ethical tenet in the universe, the Golden Rule cuts across races, tribes, cultures, and religions. Right from an early age, children everywhere are taught the moral of the Golden Rule. It’s the epitome of the standard of human relationship. Some have described it as the Mt Everest of ethics.
Although many Christians believe that this popular ethical principle derives its origin from their faith, it actually predates Christianity. The concept featured prominently in almost all systems of ethics that existed prior to the advent of the Christian faith.
For instance, Confucius, the great Chinese philosopher, taught his pupils the Golden Rule: “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.”
Stoicism, one of the dominant philosophical systems of the Hellenistic period, had a statement about the Golden Rule: “What you do not want to be done to you, do not do to anyone else.”
Similarly, the Golden Rule concept is found amongst the Septuagint scholars, i.e., authors of the Greek New Testament. In their letter to Aristeas, the legendary Greek poet and miracle-worker, they wrote:
“As you wish that no evil befalls you, but to be a partaker of all good things, so you should act on the same principle toward your subjects and offenders.”
Evidently, the Golden Rule is not a dogma unique to Christianity and it isn’t based on Christian moral values. Nevertheless, in his closing remarks in the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus summed up everything He had been saying up to that point in His own version of the Golden Rule, which ultimately formed the basis of the understanding of this ethical principle in most of modern-day Western cultures.
“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12).
It’s important to realize, however, that the concept of the Golden Rule that Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount is vastly different from how this concept is understood and practiced in the ethical systems of other cultures or religions.
Whereas other belief systems understand the Golden Rule from the negative perspective, i.e., “Don’t do to others whatever it is you don’t want done to you,” Jesus flipped the Golden Rule around and taught it from the positive angle, i.e., “Do to others whatever it is you want done to you.”
To some, the differences between the two approaches may seem a matter of semantics. But it’s far from that. While the differences may appear nuanced to some, it’s what pretty much distinguishes the teachings of Jesus from all the rest. In all His teachings, Jesus contrasted the manifesto of God’s kingdom to that of the kingdom of this world.
The negative perspective of the Golden Rule that other ethical systems teach is a reflection of the evil nature inherent in mankind. There’s nothing altruistic and selfless about man’s practice of the Golden Rule. The highest ethical standard of man is egoistic and self-seeking. It’s all about self and the preservation of self.
When the world says, “Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you,” the motive is not about concern for others but about protecting oneself. It’s a mindset that seeks to avoid the consequences of reciprocity. They “don’t do” only because they don’t want it done to them.
The reason a man “does not do to others” is not because he cares about the feelings of the other person. Rather, he “does not do to others” because of fear of retaliation that he expects to follow if he did. It’s the repercussion of reprisal that restrains him. Take away the retribution, a man will do whatever he wants to do.
“For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.” (2 Timothy 3:2-5).
At his core, man is evil through and through. The human soul is totally, utterly, hopelessly consumed by love of self. Even with the highest ideal of ethical principle he could devise, he still comes up short.
The heart of man is exceedingly deceitful and beyond cure. Nobody can understand it. Whatever good man does is tainted by ulterior motives. His summum bonum is stained with wickedness.
Next time we’ll examine the Golden Rule from Jesus’ perspectives.