By Fr Oskar Wermter SJ
IT has been disputed since ancient times if the various religions are all the same, or there are differences. It is very clear that this golden rule occurs in almost all major religions, in a positive or negative formulation.
Tobit 4: 15 “Do to no one what you yourself dislike.”
Sirach 31:15: “Recognise that your neighbour feels as you do, and keep in mind your own dislikes”.
Matthew 7:12: ”Do to others what you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.”
Luke 6:31: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Despite all the differences between Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Asian religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, there are some common elements (Walter Kasper, Mercy, Paulist Press, 2013, p37)
It is basically this common saying: ”Do not do to another, what we do not want done to ourselves.”
This is a value and a piece of common experience which is universal.
No one can dispute this, we must all of us accept this saying. It fits in with all religions and philosophies.
Here is a saying which we can all share, it is common to all human beings, like something written by the Creator into our hearts.
Let us now look at some practical examples: My son keeps telling me lies; he frequently says: “You tell me that the sun, the moon and all the stars are in the sky because we ourselves and our astronomers have put them there. But this is clearly not true.
If we believe this then all our knowledge and wisdom about sun, moon and stars is just rubbish and does not help us at all.
Then we must give it up and start again to do research into space and stellar bodies (stars).
- If a businessman tells us that he can sell us a car for half the cost of the present price of a car, how can we buy it?
How can we go through with a business deal if what we have been told is all based on lies and fantasy?
- All the business that we do becomes unreliable and we feel deceived and we suspect that the “deal” we have concluded is fraudulent and simply a bad lie.
A young man wants to marry a girl he likes and loves. But whatever he tells her about his life, turns out to be untrue and unreliable.
How can he marry a young woman, if all young women are just liars, and if most young men are more or less the same?
- What business life teaches us, showing us negative examples, is even more confusing to citizens in political life. Citizens, generally speaking, are very suspicious of what political leaders tell them. They take it for granted that whatever the leaders tell them are false rumours and lies, lies and more lies.
We resent it and become angry and very annoyed if we find out about all the false information we were given.
Will we be more honest and sincere in what we tell our clients. If they are known to be liars and conmen, can we ever trust them again?
- If we tell a lot of lies, what about our business partners?
Can we trust that they are honest, or are we right in assuming that since they tell us only lies, we must tell the same kind of stories which are also without even a small grain of truth?
If we tell people lies, they will think that they can also tell us lies. The relationship gets spoiled, trust breaks down.
- A liar copies the partner who we know from experience has also been known to be very “economical” with “truth- telling”.
If one side is full of lies, is not that our side is also riddled with falsehoods, lies and fraudulent statements? If you start the habit of telling lies without end, how do you think you will tell the truth?
If we are told many lies, will we ever tell the truth again to anyone?
If a man has abused a woman, will she respect and trust him some other time?
Everything between partners depends on mutual trust.
Business can only be concluded if there is a relationship of trust and good faith between partners.
No marriage will succeed if a wife cannot trust her husband, if the husband retains deep-seated suspicions about their relationship then there is a need for repair.
Social life, and more especially family life, is built on reliability, confidence, good faith and similar qualities: Without these qualities of a good and reliable character, marriage partners will find that their relationship is crumbling.
A politician is canvassing for votes before an election, if he is not trustworthy who will vote for him?”
“What we do not want to be done to ourselves, we will not do to others”.
The golden rule emphasises equality and equity. There is a balance in how we evaluate ourselves and our partners and companions.
This rule is based on mutuality. What we appreciate in our brothers and sisters, friends and co-workers and partners, we should also practise ourselves.
The golden rule is connected to love, in actual fact it is connected to love of the enemy, the adversary and the rival, and, indeed, to embracing the stranger and the alien who we still have to accept as our own, our close companion, walking the same road.
This rule presupposes that we respect the partner, the brother and friend as much as our selves, in mutual trust and warm companionship.
If we love ourselves, then even more the stranger who relies on our friendship, our close relationship and our sharing life and having the most precious things in life in common.
We can only accept the stranger and alien as brother and friend, if he is a loved, appreciated and respected companion.
“What we expect for ourselves, we have to give with great affection to the stranger, even to foreigners.
What I seek for myself and for my friends, I am ready to give to the stranger when he visits my home, as if it was a precious gift that belongs to all of us.
What we share as one is owned mutually by all of us.”
If we encounter an alien or foreign visitor, we see in him a person so similar to ourselves.
The golden rule — a signpost
The Fact that we find the rule in so many contexts, in so many religions and philosophies shows us the way forward.
The rule found everywhere enlightens us about the truth of our lives. It gives us a pointer towards a commonality which we had not discovered yet.
Time and again we realise that we have so much in common and can share it as common property and precious treasure which enlightens us on our path and our road which we follow in community or as a family.
If we recognise the authority of the golden rule, its validity for all of us, we can no longer glorify violence and armed warfare, because that is in conflict with the wisdom which we hold in common and regard as one treasure that belongs to all of us: “According to the basic convictions of every religion, the connection of religion with violence represents a misunderstanding, a misuse and an aberrant form of authentic religion.” (38)
Jesus ties up the golden rule with the Sermon of the Mount, which includes the command to love one’s enemies” (39).
“The fact that compassion and mercy are universal human virtues can encourage us to engage in dialogue with other cultures and religions and to work together with them for understanding and peace in the world.” (W Kasper, Mercy, p39).
The commonality of the golden rule, the fact that it can be found in so many contexts, points out to us that the golden rule is not one isolated piece of wisdom found in this rule (in a collection of wisdom sayings), but that it is wisdom which reaches the depth of our hearts and has as such a unifying power.
In all of us, we must discover and see the human face of all that the golden rule seeks to unite in one humanity.
If the human face is the face of all of us together, there cannot be enmity between us that the rule wishes to overcome by dialogue and common action.
The golden rule is not compatible with war, armed violence and random killing.
It represents a power for peace and reconciliation, mutual forgiveness and a shared effort to build a new world with all the creatures it contains, that can give life once again to humankind and its manifold manifestations of God, the Creator.
The golden rule has found its home in religion, in the many religions that we know of.
But it is not simply a religious phenomenon, or a spiritual vision. As such it would not be at home in our secular environment which has no connection with religion, a spiritual environment, or a devotion to our God and Creator.
Even inhabitants of this globe who have no spiritual vision can accept the golden rule as a yardstick for life in this world. Even a secularist can see the wisdom of the rule and take it as his personal or communal yardstick for his life and existence on the earth.
We can praise God, the Creator, for the creation, we can also praise and celebrate all the creatures in this world, even though they have no spiritual vision of it.
This is another aspect of the rule which unites us all as one.
Religion, or even the multiplicity of religions do not necessarily divide us. We can include the secular view in the spiritual vision of the gospel, scripture and all the teaching of the church.
Even if our view of the world and all creatures in it, is different from theirs and separates us from these “secularist” co-citizens, the “golden rule” gives us a common yardstick by which we measure and judge this world and its inhabitants.
The golden rule creates a commonality which is very precious for our common life. It gives us a common basis for dialogue, a common outlook on life and society. If we all accept the golden rule we can reconcile and live in peace and a common understanding as citizens with the same vision as companions walking the same road.
We would recognise the one human face as belonging to all of us.
This does not mean that all religions and all aspects of our Christianity are all the same so that we can no longer accept differences between religions or aspects of our religion as a spiritual outlook which are our inheritance even in their diversity.
Dialogue between religions and spiritual visions which include even secular outlooks can accommodate even our spiritual vision and beliefs, on the basis of the golden rule, which has a reconciling and peace-making role to play.
The golden rule in our personal and communal history, in education and in the formation of young people.
Our youth, preparing for leadership in the church and in society in general, would greatly benefit from a thorough knowledge of the golden rule and its implications for their education and formation.
Some teachers might hesitate to familiarise their students with a teaching that seems to minimise the differences between religions and philosophical outlooks to the point where they become irrelevant, negligible and insignificant.
This is not the aim of teaching the golden rule in class or in lecture theatres. No form of dialogue between religions or worldview is meant to reduce intellectual or spiritual variety to uniformity.
Thomas Aquinas ….”succeeded in making Christian ethics capable of connecting to and communicating with a universally comprehensible system of ethics, without allowing it to degenerate into a universal morality of the least common denominator…..”
“The fact that compassion and mercy are universal human virtues can encourage us to engage in dialogue with other cultures and religions and to work together with them for understanding and peace in the world.
“Conversely, this common human tradition gives us pause to think. For it says that where compassion, beneficence, reciprocal assistance, and mutual forgiveness are lost, where egoism and apathy concerning one’s fellow human being gain ground and interpersonal relations are confined to economic exchange processes, the humaneness of a culture and a society is in danger. …It has shaped Western culture and, in addition, the culture of all humanity in a decisive way.” (40)
Perhaps our part in Christian-Islamic dialogue could benefit from this process. Islam has for a long time emphasised the importance of mercy and the recognition for members of the Islamic community.
For Matthew, Christ’s work are the healing and helping deeds of mercy.
Caring for those in need of help and for the poor, the little ones, and those who are unimportant to mortal eyes is, accordingly, the epitome of Jesus messianic mission.” (Mt 11: 5, p 66)
“There is the clear and unambiguous message: in Jesus Christ, God wants all people to be saved “ ( 1 Tim 2: 3). This universalism goes well together with the golden rule which also admits no limitation. God wants to “reconcile everything in heaven and on earth”.
That is the aim also of scripture and church doctrine which are not primarily concerned with defining boundaries and separating people, one from the other.
The golden rule has a mission to make people understand one another better. Mercy and compassion are meant to demolish walls and reunite people, which is also Jesus’ aim and objective.
Our summary is this: People who act on the golden rule do away with the narrow fences that they themselves have put up, with the restrictions which separate people from one another. People of the golden rule do not regard themselves as the final answer in their coexistence, but accept the rule as guarantee of their freedom.
It opens the door to the restrictions that they have to bear in their narrow surroundings, and also gives them the freedom to move beyond the fences that they regard as obstacles to the freedom which they find in the rule, that is for them an open space, an assembly point where all can find each other.
The golden rule bridges the gap between me and strangers: I recognise in him what I am myself. That reduces tensions, conflicts, resentment and outright hatred. It teaches us what we can regard as our own and find in ourselves.
- Fr Oskar Wermter SJ is a social commentator. He writes here in his personal capacity.