Thursday, August 23, 2007

A brief history of The Golden Rule, and a suggested modern application of it.

I chose this depiction of Jesus from many available on the 'Net because it makes him look darker than the usual drawing where he is depicted as a Scandinavian shampoo model. Since he was in his early 30s when he died and an observant Jew, he would never have trimmed his beard, so he would likely look more like a member of ZZ Top that he would look like Max Von Sydow, Jeffrey Hunter or even Jim Caviezel. Guitarist Kim Thayil from Soundgarden at around the time they recorded Superunknown is probably a better lookalike to Jesus than most pictures drawn since the Middle Ages.

Among the most quoted things Jesus ever said was the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This is important enough that it shows up four times in the Gospels, twice in Luke (6:31 and 10:27) and twice in Matthew (7:12, 22:39).

I show this picture of the Torah because I want to discuss Rabbi Hillel, born in 50 B.C and died in 10 A.D, so about a lifetime before Jesus, kind of like Galileo is to Newton. I don't show a picture of Hillel because the Jews take more seriously the commandment about no graven images, which most Christian sects ignore completely.

Hillel also made a statement very similar to the Golden Rule. Legend has it an impatient and impudent young man asked the rabbi to explain the Torah while standing on one foot. "That is easy," said Hillel, standing on one foot. "What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. All the rest is commentary. Now go read the commentary." This apocryphal story ends with the young man so impressed that he becomes a Talmudic scholar.

This is not the first recorded citation of this statement in history. Both the Indian text the Mahabharata and the teachings of Confucius have the double negative statement of The Golden Rule some five hundred years earlier. Whether Hillel or Jesus would have seen either of these texts in debatable. That Jesus would have heard of Hillel is much more likely.

I am of the opinion that the Hillel statement is better advice than the Jesus statement. George Bernard Shaw wrote it this way. "Do not do unto others as you would they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same." While Shaw was being clever, which is what he did for a living and did it very well, he also sometimes threw in some wisdom with his wit, and this is certainly one of those times.

I bring this all up to recommend a starting point for civility in the modern polarized discussion of issues. There is a lot of rudeness thrown around, and I certainly do some of the throwing myself. But I have a rule that I do my best to follow, and would like to see put forward as the absolute minimum level of civility, with penalties to any who break the rule.

Don't wish people dead.

I know that bloggers and commenters on liberal blogs sometimes break this rule, and I ask them to stop doing it and to reject such past statements. I have a much harder time recalling of a major left wing writer wishing people dead. The so-called major right-wing pundits have a lot of instances of this. He Who Must Not Be Named on Fox Noise (AKA Papa Bear for those who watch Stephen Colbert) decided that a terrorist attack on San Francisco would be okay because the City Council made a ruling about military recruitment he didn't like. Ann Coulter has done it so often, it's easier to say it's her hobby rather than cite all the examples. Michael Savage, a very psychologically disturbed individual, lost a TV gig for telling a caller to "get AIDS and die". Michael has a problem with teh gays.

I think the penalty of losing your job on any reputable new outlet is reasonable for extreme situations. I think time in the penalty box, like a several week suspension without pay, would be a good warning to those who do this that it is not a good idea. Since I hope this would be followed by reputable news outlets, I don't hold out hope that Fox Noise Channel will do it, and I think right wing talk radio will only do it if it becomes an FCC regulation or there are large campaigns threatening boycotts of their sponsors.

I ask people to follow this rule not only for their own spiritual health, but as reminder that you never know who is reading or listening to what you say. We now think of "terrorist" as a person from a far away country with a hard to pronounce name, but it wasn't so long ago that most successful terrorists in America were from America and had good old American names like Kaczynzki, McVeigh and Rudolph.

Just sayin'.


Anonymous said...

Good Post and you can add Imus to the list.

FranIAm said...

I have been struggling for the past hour to write a post about why I am a Catholic. I do this about every 4th day or so and as a regular reader you know I have not done it.

So when I decided to go read other people's blogs, my heart leapt when I saw the picture of Jesus.

What an outstanding post you have written. Truly outstanding.

I think Hillel's words make more sense, but then you know I do follow the other One.

At the end of the day it is about living in a way that gives life and does not take or hurt it. Period.

The rest is commentary.

Thank you and peace to you.

Splotchy said...

That's a nice post.

If I may add something I regretted saying about someone, that I would recommend people not say -- "He deserves every bad thing that happens to him."

dguzman said...

Well said, and thoughtfully supported, Matty Boy. Shalom.

Oh my gosh, I just noticed my word verification is WTCIA. I'm more than a little concerned....

Matty Boy said...

Thanks, Splotchy. My father, when asked how he is doing, has the stock answer "Better than I deserve." We should all be thankful we don't get what we deserve.

Jess Wundrun said...

Besides you the only other common place that speaks of the rabbi Hillel is my Dr. Bronner's soap bottle.

For some reason, I've always felt that the worst thing you could say about someone is "there but for the grace of god go I".

I mean, why should I assume that god cares more for me than that guy? And what freakin' arrogance to think you have it together better than anyone. You are usually only a moment away from a train wreck of some kind or another.

One of the statements that led me on the path of atheism.

Life is random, unaccountable and rude. Makes me believe we should cling to each other and take care of each other more rather than less, eh?

Revolution Network said...

This was a good write, thank you. Personally, I too found that following a very deep personal experience (Associated with the OIF War & and infamous Jessica Lynch situation I was involved in) that in my motive to find a more divine answer to life and humanity's challenges I too got to this area of thought. In my research I was shocked that the very vehicles (religions) that we all use to get closer to one another and the divine source that the outcome for 1000's of years has been separation and war, rather than peace and togetherness. I was compelled to reverse engineer our past choices of separation and war through our convictions, and challenged myself to find our similarities rather than our differences. Here is the most profound writing on my finding, which I shall leave for you to decide upon its validity and true power. Here is that writing from 2003 -