The Golden Rule: Not an Excuse for Immorality
“So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets” Matthew 7:12. Or in today’s more guttural language, “treat others how you’d like to be treated”. If you haven’t heard the golden rule before, you are probably actually a piece of biscotti, freshly baked and ready to be dunked in coffee and consumed, and so you haven’t lived long enough to hear it. Also, you’re bread, so what are you doing reading this anyway?
I must confess that I have a certain difficulty with the golden rule. Not because there is anything wrong with it, since it is in fact the unalterable word of God and is most true, holy, sacred, and a good tenet for us to live by. In fact, it is one of the most basic rules that Jesus gave us. Sometimes it is treated as one of the more high and lofty ideals, but Jesus was basically reiterating some of the basics taught in the Old Testament. The golden rule teaches us about the most basic sense of human kindness, which we should all know. Of course it makes sense that if I want to be treated with dignity and respect and love (etc), that I’m not the only one, and so I should bestow that same sense of love, respect and kindness to others. I think that’s why the golden rule has become so universal, because we know this on a natural level. But Jesus calls us to something far higher than simply to treat others the way we would like to be treated. That’s the least we can do. Jesus calls us further, to love others the way God has loved us.
This brings me to why I have difficulty with the golden rule: it’s not that there’s anything wrong with the rule, it’s that there’s something very wrong with us. Our natural sense today of right and wrong is so skewed, that the golden rule has been used more like a gold brick to beat religious people over the head to permit immoral ways of acting under the pretense of good intentions.
Let me explain: I love chocolate cake. If I were to treat others as I’d like to be treated, I would give them lots of chocolate cake. Or perhaps someone might even be so kind as to bake delicious chocolate cake for me every day! Thanks for treating me like you’d like to be treated! And what if I’m a total cake fiend? I want chocolate cake, all the time. I’m just crazy about cake. I will eat all of the cake. It shall all be mine. …Is it really good for me to have that much cake? It’s certainly not healthy to say the least. But maybe this person doesn’t care about health, but more about deliciousness, and so is just dead committed to being my cake supplier. Meanwhile I’m becoming grossly overweight, I’m getting no nutrition, and while I absolutely love the cake all the time, it’s not good for me to live off it. Clearly I have serious issues here, and I’m addicted to chocolate cake, and meanwhile my donor is continually feeding my problem.
What I mean to say by this is, simply treating others as we want to be treated isn’t necessarily a good thing, if we aren’t ourselves willing to be treated the way we need to be treated. We need to have a godly sense of how to love one another as God has loved us. Today we see a lot of emotionalism (I’m not sure if that’s what you’d call it), where people often live subordinated to their emotions. What matters most is how I “feel”. This has produced a new ethic by which we live, where we treat others according to their feelings. While I’m not advocating ignoring someone’s feelings or dismissing them, sometimes we can feel very strongly about something and desire things which are not good for us. And sometimes, we can be dead set on believing that there can never be the possibility of happiness outside of what we currently “feel” will make us happy.
It goes a little something like this: I have such an inordinate attachment to chocolate cake that I feel that the only way I can truly be happy is to be eating lots of it all the time. I weep, I sob, and tell my sad, heart wrenching story about how I’m not hurting anybody else by eating this cake, and that I’m happy with who I am. I fall into a depression when I am without my cake, so clearly having no cake is making me unhappy. Why don’t people just leave me alone and let me eat my cake? … Now, should people be making fun of me for my cake obsession? No. Should people ignore me or disrespect me because of what I’m doing? No. Do I deserve the love of others? Absolutely. But here’s where it gets tricky: to love and respect me, given my habitual massive-cake-ingestion, does not mean that you ought to celebrate and rejoice in my dysfunction. But it would be misplaced compassion to say, “oh you poor thing, of course you should be able to eat all the cake you want… in fact, I’m going to make sure that you get all the cake you could ever eat.” In fact, this is not respecting me or loving me, but not having the courage to stand up against the raw emotion of my suffering, and say, “You need help Steve, man was not meant to eat that much cake. You have a problem.” Sure, I may think that chocolate cake is the only path to my happiness, but if people helped me get out of my dysfunction, I would in the end be more grateful to seek after what is truly good, and not over misplaced ideas of good. That’s what it means to have a Godly love for people, and that is what the golden rule is meant to foster—a love that has the courage to treat others as we ought to be treated, not how we might at times like.
So the next time someone tries to use the golden rule on you as proof of how you ought to be more “open minded” and celebrate someone’s dysfunction, just say to them, “If I ever do something that is not good for me, I would hope that others would love me enough to fight to help me let go of what is not good for me, even if I am unwilling to let it go and truly believe it is good for me.”
P.S. After giving this talk and writing it down, I remembered that Chris already wrote on the subject in this blog. But that was in May… so you don’t remember anymore, do you?
Posted on June 27, 2012, in morality, Scripture and tagged biscotti, cake, chocolate, dysfunction, emotional, emotionalism, emotions, ethics, excuse, feelings, god, golden, happiness, happy, immoral, indulge, kidness, love, morality, morals, rule. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.