Faith and the Challenge of the Golden Rule 

Is treating other people well more important than whether we pray or not?

All religions, faiths, life paths or ‘spiritualities’ today have many, many branches and an even wider variety of different practices. They all, however, have two things in common:

1. reliance on a power greater than ourselves

2. to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves

I had been wondering which topic to do next (even though I have a list) when the topic of a class I’ve been attending came up today as the ‘Golden Rule’, which also happened to be next on my list. So, let’s get into it!

WHAT IS THE GOLDEN RULE?

Essentially every religion, spirituality or conscious life path has a version of this ‘rule’:

Baha’ì: “Blessed is he who prefers his brother to himself” (Bahà’u’llàh tablets — 19th century).
 Buddhism: “Whatever is disagreeable to yourself, do not do unto others” (The Buddha, Udana-Varga 5.18–6th century BC).
 Confucianism: “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you” (Confucius, Analects 15.23–5th century BC).
 Christianity: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself. [ On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Gospel of Matthew 22, 36–40–1st century CE).
 Gandhi: “To see the universal and all-pervading Spirit of Truth face to face, one must be able to love the meanest of all creation as oneself” (translated from: Il mio credo, il mio pensiero, Newton Compton, Rome 1992, page 70–20th century).
 Jainism: “In happiness and sorrow, in joy and in pain, we should consider every creature as we consider ourselves” (Mahavira, 24th Tirthankara — 6th century BC). 
 Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow-man. This is the entire Law, all the rest is commentary” (Talmud, Shabbat 3id — 16th century BC).
 Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty. Do not unto others that which would cause you pain if done to you” (Mahabharata 5, 1517–15th century BC).
 Islam: “None of you will believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself” (Hadith 13, The Forty Hadith of Imam Nawawi — 7th century).
 Native Americans: “Respect for every form of life is the foundation”(The Big Law of Peace– 16th century).
 Plato: “I can do to others what I’d like them to do to me” (5th century BC).
 Yoruba wise saying (West Africa): “If somebody stings a bird with a sharp stick, should be first try it on himself and realize how badly it hurts”.
 Seneca Stoic Philosopher: “Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your betters” (Letter 47 11–1st century).
 Shintoism: “Be charitable to all beings, love is the representation of God” (approximately 500 CE: Ko-ji-ki Hachiman Kasuga — 8th century BC)
 Sikhism: “I am a stranger to no one, and no one is a stranger to me. Indeed, I am a friend to all” (Guru Granth Sahib, religious scripture of Sikhism, p. 1299–15th century).
 Voltaire: “Put yourself in the other person’s shoes” (Letters on the English, n.42).
 Wicca: “An it harm none, do what ye wilt.” “Love shall be the whole of the law, love under will.” Zoroastrianism: “Do not do to others what is harmful for yourself” (Shayast-na-Shayast 13, 29 — between 18 and 15 century BC).

The most well-known version of this ‘Golden Rule’ in English is:

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or essentially, ‘treat other people as you want them to treat you’.

The converse, sometimes known as the ‘Silver Rule’ is:

“Don’t do things to other people, that you would not want them to do to you.”

These can also be seen as the positive and negative ways of expressing the same thing — ‘do’, and ‘don’t do’.

Interestingly, although found in all religions, this precept does not mention God. So it is not obviously a direct concept of faith but it can be seen as the expression of faith in the world.

By fulfilling this precept, both positive and negative, we can consider that we are fulfilling our relationship with God (or the Universe or however you choose to believe or think) in that treating our fellow human beings as ourselves is the expression in the world of that private personal relationship.

In the world, there is a problem these days with some people believing themselves to be and wishing to be seen as ‘religious’ ie displaying the outer signs of religiousness according to the various faiths but in fact, treating other people badly — not following the Golden or Silver rules — and in many cases behaving badly in society, even to the extent of criminality.

This is obviously a terrible thing for the individual behaving this way but also has ongoing ramifications in society itself whereby others see these ‘religious’ people and their actions and judge not only them but all of their ‘type’ or members of that faith in the same way and so believe ‘they are all like that’.

It even puts off people of the same faith from wishing to express outer identification with their faith or to even become ‘observant’ of the ‘rules and regulations’ of that faith due to not wanting to associate themselves with ‘those people’ whose behavior is so unpleasant.

Question:

Could it be that this precept — the Golden and or Silver Rules — or treating others as you would have them treat you — is ‘more important’ than the direct relationship between oneself and God?

If someone does not have a specific faith in God as such and does not ascribe his or herself to any religion and indeed is not sure what ‘God’ is or wants from human beings — if that person behaves well in all dealings with other people, would that be enough???

In the class I mentioned that I attended which discussed the ‘Golden Rule’, the concept of steadfastness ie commitment — an ongoing commitment to worship etc came up in the context of ‘how to maintain’ ongoing day in, day out acts of worship etc adherence to the rules and regulations.

Perhaps the Golden Rule is one perspective on this.

Every day we are humans going about our business, interacting with others and with the institutions of our society. Every day we are affected by and affect other people. Our interactions can be pleasant or unpleasant. We are always reminded of our relationship with others and the results of the condition of these relationships, whether they are harmonious and conducive to good, or otherwise.

If we treat each other respectfully and well, things go well and we are happy or at least content with it. If people are rude, late, disrespectful, inappropriate or even steal from us or harm us in some way — things go downhill very quickly.

We could take this as a reminder that our relationship with God (the Universe or whichever way one believes) is just as important and requires the same kind of attention in order to keep things running smoothly.

Something which always comes up for me when I think about these things — which is a lot — is the question of how people can treat others so badly — cheating, stealing, lying, abusing others in so many different ways. Obviously, we hate it when people do this to us. Everyone does. So how can we do it to others?

Some possibilities are: disconnection, lack of empathy, lack of care, lack of trust, pure self-interest and selfishness. I guess for many people, hurting others — well, they don’t feel the physical pain. Stealing from others — they have the money or goods now and can spend it or do with it whatever they want so who cares what that other person eats for dinner or whether they can pay their rent?

They ascribe themselves to the ‘Law of the Jungle’ — only the strongest survive, might is right, kill or be killed, dog eat dog etc.

But which society would you prefer to live in with your family, friends and everyone you care about?

That ruled by the Law of the Jungle, where it’s every man for himself?

Or that governed by the Golden Rule, where people treat each other as they wish to be treated?

Whenever I think about these things and question myself about how people can do the things that they do, it always comes down to the fact that humans are designed this way, ie faulty and prone to extremes of selfishness, whereby we can cheat, lie, steal and even murder others to get what we want for ourselves,presumably in order to overcome this inbuilt possibility of ‘evil’.

Another, and perhaps better way of expressing this idea came in discussion after the class I mentioned, which is the suggestion that:

“You can’t BE good unless you can CHOOSE to be good — and you can’t CHOOSE to be GOOD without being also able to CHOOSE being BAD.”

So, we are to take it as a challenge. It is our choice. It’s up to us.