The Golden Rule, Pulpit and Pew Speak to 2020 Presidential Hopefuls, Silverside Church Delaware, David Albert Farmer Ph.D.

“Do Unto Others,” original drawing by Norman Rockwell
Dr. Farmer

some excerpts from spiritual reflections shared by David Albert Farmer Ph.D. at the Silverside Gathering on March 31, 2019


Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) had the highest hopes that the United Nations could solve the humanitarian crises and the wars of his midlife. It’s hard for many to remember these, and some never realized, that the United Nations was formed after World War II to prevent future wars. The above painting hangs in the United Nations headquarters in New York City. As his paintings reveal, Rockwell loved people, and his love for people only intensified when he took a trip around the world during which he further developed his interests in the religions of the world. One of Mr. Rockwell’s most stirring discoveries was that many or most of the world’s great religions had as a key teaching some form of the golden rule.

I.

Dating back to 4000-3000 BCE, there was a teaching in Taoism:  “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss” (Tai Shang Kan Yin P’ien).  This may be the oldest form of the golden rule, which—thereafter—made an appearance, numerous historians of religions have said as Rockwell discovered, in every major religion of the world at least up until modern times.  The golden rule has also been referred to as the ethic of reciprocity.

Dated about 3000 BCE, the Hindu version of the golden rule began to be known. “This is the sum of duty; do naught unto others what you would not have them do unto you” (Mahabharata).

“Do for those who may do for you, that you may cause them thus to do.”  This is a statement from an Egyptian document titled, “The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant,” which circulated some 2000 years before Jesus was born. 

The oldest of the three monotheist religions, Judaism, had its version of the golden rule, which appeared in the book of Leviticus 1200 to 1400 years after the Eloquent Peasant:  “You shall not hate your sister or brother in your heart, but reasoning, you shall reason with your neighbor, lest you bear sin because of her or him. You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the children of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:17-18)

About 600 years before Jesus was born, Zoroastrianism in Persia was teaching its adherents:  “That nature only is good when it shall not do unto another whatever is not good for its own self” (Dadistan-i-Dinik).

A hundred years closer to the birth of Jesus (500 BCE) Buddhists began teaching: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful” (Udana-Varga).

At about that same time, Confucius taught his followers:  “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others” (Analects of Confucius).

Then Socrates, a hundred years later (about 400 BCE), taught this: “Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others.”

The Ethic of Reciprocity

The Golden Rule

“Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”

religions at their best

Jesus taught the ethic of reciprocity in his Sermon on the Mount sometime between the years 25 and 27.  He was a Jew teaching Jews, of course; but the Christian religion, the second of the monotheistic faiths, was based on his teachings.  Recorded in the Gospel of Matthew:  “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”

The Koran was compiled between 609 and 632.  Islam, the third of the monotheistic religions, uses the Koran as its scripture and believes that Allah, God, gave the words of the Koran to Muhammad (peace be unto him) through the angel Gabriel.  This is the Islamic version of the golden rule:  “Not one of you is a believer until she or he loves for sister or  brother what is loved for self” (Fourth Hadith of an-Nawawi).


II.

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”  This is huge.  For Jesus, this principle was all-encompassing, literally.  “In everything,” he said.  All day, every day.  In every engagement (provided the people to whom you are relating aren’t hurting others…I think that’s a fair proviso based on Jesus’ actions, which he didn’t apply to treatment of himself), treat people the way you want to be treated.  And then a show stopper for his original hearers, almost all of whom were Jews:  “…this is the law and the prophets.”  In other words, this single principle summarizes everything–gazillions of religious laws and countless prophet pronouncements:  Treat others the way you want to be treated. 

Context.  Context.  Context.  You don’t want to take something a preacher said out of context, do you?  No, of course not.  So, a few sentences ahead of this one, as Matthew’s Gospel edited the Jesus material of interest to its editors, Jesus is remembered to have been preaching about judging others, and he preached something like this:

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.  For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  

If we don’t judge others, there’s a much less likely chance we’ll mistreat them.  Or, said another way, we are more inclined to treat others the way we want to be treated if we haven’t judged them, which—among other things, requires that we convince ourselves that we are better than the ones whom we judge. 


III.

So how do others and we ourselves want to be treated? My quick summary is:

Human beings want to be:

  • acknowledged as humans whose birthrights include access to fresh air, clean water, and the bounty of earth’s food
  • assured of safety in the living out of our humanity regardless of what we own, the person one chooses as her or his partner in love if an individual wishes to make such a choice, and our religious views or rejection of religious views 
  • affirmed as full members of the human family whatever the color of our skin or the poverty or wealth into which we are born, members of the family whose value doesn’t diminish with age
  • appreciated as unweighed-down entities, free and able to make our own independent marks in the world beyond just being here if we care to
  • assisted when in need whether or not we are able to ask, whether or not we even know we’re in need
  • allowed to think our own thoughts and hold our own views and to act on them without fear of retribution or retaliation from anyone or any group provided we are not harming others