Monday, May 20, 2013

The Golden Rule and the Love Ethic

The wisdom of Jesus Christ is so profound that no other thinker has ever rivaled him. I stake my life on this claim. Christ claimed to be God's son and one with The Father in Spirit. He demanded worship. And he called us to highest ethic of human love in all of history.

Our  modern cultural dictum of ethics, which finds roots in numerous key thinkers of the past, says “Do not do to others what you do not want done to you.” This is a fine rule for  being a civil person. But this is not the highest ethic of men; in fact, this negative framework has been characterized by some as “The Silver Rule,” for a greater ethic exists beyond it. That higher ethic is voiced by Jesus Christ, and we sometimes refer to it as "The Golden Rule". The Holy Bible presents this rule as follows: “Do unto others as you would have them to you” (Luke 6:31). The former rule lies in the withholding of ill in order to preserve oneself from ill, whereas the latter demands one do good to others because of the good one inherently desires for him or herself.

I had held to the Silver Rule in my own life for many seasons until I realized something horribly unsettling: it is an anti-philosophy, a philosophy against poor behavior, against ill-thought, against wrongdoing. But this means that it is a philosophy focused not on good but on evil; for it requires its adherents to ask “what evil should I not do?” rather than "what good should be done?".

The philosophy presented by Christ on the other hand is a positive one that embraces virtue with a noble command that forces humanity beyond comfort. Christ encourages us to act in benevolence because we inherently desire to receive benevolence. This is not a philosphy against anything but a mantra for the pursuit of another’s good given own’s longing for good. Since you value being fed, then feed others; knowing that you desire to be served, serve others; because you value gifts, then give.

Now, I know that two major criticisms can be leveled against me in this breakdown. The first is that I am misrepresenting the Silver Rule, that in fact is not an “anti-philosphy” but in fact a noble, positive philosphy framed within negative language; however, I feel that this criticism discounts the power and value of language itself. The Silver Rule says nothing of living to increase another’s benefit. Anywhere. It simply says don't harm them. One can invert its teaching to draw the conclusion to do good, but the dictum itself provides no such exhortation: its teaching is plain; do not wrong another if you would not want to be wronged. Thus, I find that labeling it as an anti-philosphy is valid. Second, one can make the argument, and rightly so, that the Golden Rule is dependent on one’s selfishness. Indeed it is, but in no way does the language embrace one's selfishness nor say do good in order to receive good. The language says to do good because you also would want good done to you. This is an important distinction, for the ethic of Christ plays to the aforementioned human selfishness in order to invert the practice of fulfilling the isolated needs of the one to fulfilling the various needs of the many. What I mean by that is this: Christ recognizes that individuals possess personal desires and needs and that they meet those because persons inherently love themselves. He demands that those who follow him also apply that self-love and value to the well-being of others. This is not a dictum of withholding evil but zealously pursuing another’s good inasmuch as we do our own.

This is a high ethic, but that does not mean it is wrong. In fact, in its high calling we see its worth and nobility.  Therfore, this week, I challenge you to put this into baby-steps as best you can:

  • Be patient with others in the same manner you want others to be patient with you.
  • Show kindness to others in the same manner you want others to show you kindness.
  • Listen to others in the same way you want others to listen to you. 
  • Encourage others in the same way you would want encouragement from others.
  • Meet the needs of others as you would meet your own needs.
  • Attempt to understand another to the same extent you want others to understand you.
I could add to this list, and I am sure you could also. I encourage you do so and try to put it into action. I will be honest; I fail at this each and every day, and I need both Christ's forgiveness and his own leading to live in such a way. This is a large task and rising to it well is going to take time, a great deal of time. Maybe a lifetime. So let's get to it.

Thanks for reading!

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