Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Thoughts on the Golden Rule

The 'Golden Rule' basically says, "treat others as you yourself, would wish to be treated". Here are two examples of the Golden Rule; from the New Testament:

1) Luke 6:31 - Do to others as you would have them do to you.

2) Matthew 7:12 - So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Notice an interesting difference between the two quotes above. The first one from Luke, is simply advisory, it is a rule rather than a law. Luke is basically saying, "I think this is a moral way to behave and he is simply passing this advice on". This natural moral teaching is innate in parents and they do it with their children all the time.

The second quote from Matthew, is more demanding and authoritative than the first - Re: "for this sums up the Law and the Prophets". ...Instead of just presenting a rule, it is presenting a rule in the form of a law to be followed. The assumption that seems to be being made, is that one cannot apply the Golden Rule, as an innate sense of one's own internal justice to others, without some form of demand.

The claim made by many theists, is that one cannot be good without religion. To back up their claim, they will often quote passages that relay the Golden Rule. Although I think the Golden Rule as formed in the second quote above from Matthew is a little suspect. It seems to making the assumption that one cannot be good for 'goodness sake', rather it is presenting a law, that one should follow. I can only presume it is making the assumption, that individuals are innately bad and thus, need a law to keep them on the 'straight and narrow'... Why would a 'loving' God, create men and women, who had to have demands placed on them, to prevent them from being bad? - Why not just make them innately good in the first place?

...Indeed, it is my proposition, that individuals are innately good in the first place and whether they are good or not, has nothing to do with religion and the Golden Rule is an innate part of our nature. Of course people are often bad only because of religion, this quote sums up the point perfectly:

"With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion." - Steven Weinberg (US physicist), The New York Times, April 20, 1999

The Golden Rule as presented by Luke, can be seen as a natural rule, that is passed on from mother to child in every day communication. If a child hits another child, how often have you heard a mother spontaneously say to a child, "how would you like it". This is a perfect example of a parent instilling empathetic values in the child, without the need to apply demands in the form of laws. It is simply a natural and universal response and is instinctive, in every psychologically healthy person. The reason this lesson works so well on children, is because saying "how would you like it", naturally appeals to their already inbuilt, innate sense of justice (The Golden Rule). This is why, when a child is presented with the consequences of their actions, they immediately feel shame and guilt.

The Golden Rule then, is not particular to religion, it is incidental to it. The Golden Rule is a natural aspect of our human nature. That is why we can also find the Golden Rule in moral philosophy and not just within religion. Indeed, it has been pointed out by many philosophers before, that if we do get any moral values from religious text, to the degree that we do, we simply 'cherry pick'. That ability to identify moral teachings within scripture, is available to each and every one of us, whether we are religious or not.

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