The Golden Rule

 

Sir, – Ellen Sides states (“Secularism and Christianity”, Letters, September 7th), “ . . . our morality comes from our deepest inner core and is developed through our experiences as we live our lives both as an individual and as a member of society. I agree that we are all wired for seeking to live good moral lives”. She also quotes a version of the Golden Rule. “‘Do not do to others what you would not like for yourself’. This is written in the Analects of Confucius circa 500 BC and so precedes Christianity by half a millennia.”

There is a significant difference, however, between the ancient philosophers’ version of the Golden Rule before Christianity and the version Jesus states in Matthew 7:12: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Jesus elaborates later in the same sermon exactly what you should do to others. “Love your enemies, do good to them who hate you, etc.” Nowhere is this found in any other religion or philosopher. In other words, we are to treat others as God treats them, we are to be proactive in doing good out of love even to our enemies.

What is found with Confucius and in different forms in other world religions as well as in secular teaching is a negative injunction: “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” You also find a negative form of this saying in the Book of Tobit 4:16. “What is hateful to yourself, do to no other”. There is a significant difference, however, between the positive form of this saying by Jesus and the negative forms of this saying.

When this rule is put positively, when we are told that we must actively do to others what we would have them do to us, a new principle enters into the moral life, and a new attitude to others.

It is one thing to say: “I must not injure people; I must not do to them what I would object to their doing to me.”

The secular law in general can compel us to carry out this negative version of the rule. It is quite another thing to say: “I must positively help other people and to be kind to them, as I would wish them to help and to be kind to me.” That, only love can compel us to do.

The attitude which says: “I must do no harm to people” is quite different from the attitude which says: “I must be proactive in helping my antilabour.” – Yours, etc,

Fr PADRAIG

O’DAIBHIS, SJ

Tamney

Co Donegal.