The Golden Rule

Constitution for a Community of Sovereigns

by Philip McPherson Rudisill

April, 1994 (and revised 11/18/2002 and slightly edited 3/16/2017)

 Introduction

As a young man and still very much the scientist, Immanuel Kant once observed that what we call matter was characterized by two mutually conflicting properties: a simultaneous attraction and repulsion. The particles of any material, the wood of a table, for example, mutually attracted and "pulled" each other in the sense that it was not possible to separate them without force, and yet those very same particles also mutually repelled each other such that it was likewise not possible to compress them without force, i.e., the mutual attraction did not result in an utter collapse into a black hole. Without the simultaneous presence of both of these forces, there could be no matter, and we would be faced either with one or more black holes where we now see particular, material objects, or everything would have separated and dissipated into a fine, invisible mist.

This aspect of matter seems to have a certain universality to it. Humans, for example, are not happy unless they are in a society of some sort; and yet they are also not happy unless they are able to retain a sense of their own identity and individuality (and which is limited by a society).

Jesus' Expectation Of His Followers

This tension of the human condition also finds an echo in the call of Jesus for disciples, namely

1. a rejection of external authority and a call for personal autonomy or maturity with regard to the making of decisions, which constitutes a sort of repulsion of others in keeping them at a certain psychological distance, at least with regard to decisioning;

and, at the same time,

2. a call to communalism by including the interest and well being of all as the objective of that (otherwise totally individual) decisioning, i.e., a thorough rejection of any selfishness, and a complete, voluntary adherence to a community orientation as the purpose of one's actions (which, when undertaken by two or more individuals, constitutes a mutual attraction).*

* These two also reflect very well the teaching of Martin Luther with regard to the Freedom of the Christian, i.e., "A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to all."

These two factors, I suggest, constitute the central core of Jesus' "marching orders" to his followers. In other words: as a Christian I am to act entirely of myself, but always only for all (thus equally well for others as for myself). The scriptural support for this thesis is found in several places but most clearly in

a. that very simple and often cited rule of conduct, which has come to be known as the golden rule, namely that we are to treat others as we would want them to treat us (Matt 7.12.a); and in

b. Jesus' equally simple comment about that rule, namely that it, the golden rule, is the law and the prophets (Matt 7.12.b, emphasis added), thus suggesting it encompasses all that God requires of the human.

The justification of this hypothesis is the objective of this essay.

Self Decisioning

The assertion of the thesis of personal autonomy stems from an inspection of the golden rule itself. According to the rule we are not to act toward others as God or Jesus or Paul would have us act, nor as the church or state, nor friends or family nor even the recipient of the proposed action might wish, but rather simply how each of us, individually, will decide for ourselves, respectively.

Community Orientation

But our decisioning is not in any way to be a matter of personal whim. For even though the means of achieving the goal of the golden rule will be a function of personal decisioning, the goal of the rule is given in the rule itself when applied to the human condition and which experience shows to be one of needs. While I am indeed to treat others as I would want them to treat me, the least exposure to human nature and rational reflection on that indicates that I am to treat them with love and respect, i.e., to love them as I love myself. But a society in which each member loves every member in this way, i.e., a society in which each member is considered by every member to be of unlimited value, is a community. Thus the purpose of the golden rule is the establishment and maintenance of community, i.e., whoever accepts the golden rule as the guide of his life, accepts thereby also the establishment of a community, i.e., a society in which each member sincerely seeks to treat all members (including therefore also one's own self) as a thing of inestimable value, and does so per that person's best estimate and judgment.

Apple of God's Eye

When we turn to the comment that Jesus makes about the golden rule (Matthew 7.12.b) we find an extremely curious and even paradoxical assertion. For according to Jesus the golden rule, and hence also the insistence upon personal decisioning directed toward community, is precisely what is required of every human by God, and always has been, for this rule (we learn) is the law and the prophets, i.e., it adequately summarizes all utterances which might properly be prefaced with "Thus saith the Lord." And so the Jewish audience of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is amazed to find that the greatest effort to conform precisely to the will of God means paradoxically that each person is simply to disregard everything that was purported to be of God in the scriptures and tradition, and instead to focus on utilization of, and conformity with, the golden rule. This golden rule, therefore (according to Jesus), serves as the motivational principle of the ideal human in the eyes of God, i.e., God looks for an independent mind which is totally dedicated to community.*

* This is in stark contrast to the ideal human according to the Muslim conception, for the very name, Islam, means "submission", and where accordingly a Muslim is to do as he is told by the prophet of God, and in that way has a good chance (although no guarantee**) that he will be pleasing to God.

** The only certitude of a paradise for the Muslim is a sincere intention to be called to die a martyr.

Objections To The Sufficiency Of The Golden Rule

At first glance this certainly seems a most unlikely inference, i.e., that the implementation of the golden rule by humans has essentially been the only intention of God throughout history. We can easily identify four objections to this that are serious and call for a response in order for this thesis to warrant support. These objections are:

1. individual autonomy in decisioning would result in sheer chaos (as opposed to the orderly and coherent issuance of commands by a supreme commander/overlord),

2. the use of the golden rule as an axiom of scriptural interpretation could not possibly account for the diversity of the scriptures and hence would threaten scriptural cohesion,

3. no human can seriously be expected to live in conformity with the golden rule, and finally

4. on occasion Jesus did in fact enjoin compliance with some detail of the law.

If any of these objections were valid, we could conclude that Jesus did not mean his comment literally, but rather spoke hyperbolically, a common form of Semitic expression of his time. We will now examine these objections.

Answering The Objections

Chaos

Regarding the argument from chaos, we need first to recognize that there are only two determinates of action under the rule, namely an understanding as to what is harmful and helpful, and an understanding as to the scope of the rule, i.e., who is to be a beneficiary. What is considered to be harmful or helpful is a function of experience and this, when formalized, is called science. Thus as any science develops, the actions directed toward a common goal, e.g., doing good to all people, will merge and unite. Those physicians uniformly dedicated to the health of a patient, for example, may try different treatments until knowledge of any given malady is perfected, whereupon they will prescribe as one. And it is the same with any goal-directed action: if you unify the goals and if you unify knowledge of the means, then you necessarily also unify the actions.

Regarding the scope of the rule, two people with identical knowledge may treat a third person differently depending on whether they see him as a member of their respective group or not. Jews looking upon Samaritans as outsiders will treat them differently than they will a "neighbor" Jew or a member of family. Once the scope of "insider" has been expanded to include all persons (as indicated by Jesus in Luke 10:25-37), then differences in behavior in this regard will cease also.

This consideration is rational and not dependent upon any given experience, and so Jesus would have realized that any chaos that might arise from different people applying the golden rule would be temporary, and destined to vanish upon the acceptance of his own openness, both with regard to a commitment to truth,* and with regard to his embrace of all persons as neighbors.

 * and the consequent, inevitable completion of science, much like a dropped ball which continues bouncing for a while but which is destined to rest.

Inadequacy in Depicting the Diversity of Law and Prophets

The next objection to the seriousness of Jesus' comment about the golden rule has to do with its alleged role as an axiom of scriptural interpretation, indeed as the first and greatest, a so-called Moral Axiom, namely that this (rule) is the law and the prophet; which, it may be claimed, is simply inane in that it would be impossible and even absurd to suppose that the diversity of that portion of the Bible which is known as the law and the prophets could be derived from that rule, e.g., the destruction of the first born of Egypt or of all life of Jericho and the sending of lying spirits (1 Kings 22:19-22).

But the objection to the Moral Axiom of Jesus is itself based on a literal axiom which leads to such absurdities (like the sky dome of Genesis 1:6-8) that even a staunch biblicist like John Calvin was forced to subjugate the language of the scriptures to the clear pronouncements of the developing sciences. For indeed no rational (consistent) thinker with exposure to science can accept the literal axiom.

* This axiom of Calvin is articulated with reference to Genesis 1:16 in his Commentaries and asserts that Moses wrote in a "popular" style that which otherwise is difficult for uneducated people to understand.

While it is unlikely that Jesus saw the world (and the scriptures) with the eyes of Calvin's budding scientific age, there can be no question about his outright rejection of certain, prima facie assertions of the scriptures. We see this clearly in Jesus' rebuke of Moses for putting words into God's mouth with regard to divorce (Mark 10:2-9). And Jesus' unquestionable and conscious violation of the scriptural dictum against work on the Sabbath (John 5:16 & 18) indicates a clear refusal to accept as the requirements of God everything that is literally ascribed to him as scriptural.

The result of the application of Jesus' moral axiom to the scriptures is an unexpected unity such that the work of God can begin to be seen as a clear straight line of universal love where all deviations from this are the contribution of Moses and others acting in accordance with their particular understanding of this love (where the Jew is understood to be the only neighbor, for example) or else in pursuit of sheer non-moral, political and other ends.*

*Such a use of Jesus' axiom in factoring history into the work of God and the work of humans is reminiscent of Isaac Newton's ingenious resolution of the orbit of the moon around the earth into two straight lines, one the path of the moon flying past the earth and the other its path in falling directly down onto the earth, such that visibly we have the appearance of an orbit around the earth.

 Human Incapacity

It is here that we may encounter the strongest objection to the thesis of the seriously intended universality of the golden rule, and it is here regarding the capacity of the human to comply with the demands of the golden rule that Jesus' makes his greatest contribution to the promotion of the moral life, namely his three-fold doctrine of hearts which itself constitutes the heart of the gospel:

1. The Nature of the Heart.

It is the heart alone (as the commitment to a principle of action) which can be called clean or unclean, holy or unholy, or good or evil. Thus it is not even a motive to an action which could warrant the appellation of good or righteous, but only the commitment to the golden rule as the supreme principle of all of a person's possible actions. (This, of course, also means the elimination of all the trappings of national origin and the logic of Judaic separatism.)

2. The Destiny of the Heart.

According to a moral physics, as it were (which is presumably based on the gregarious nature of the human), all persons will ultimately find themselves eternally associated solely with others of a like heart and spirit, i.e., those with the loving heart with others of that heart, those with the selfish heart with others of that heart (the former company called heaven, the latter hell). Thus I am destined to dwell among others who treat and consider all others (hence then also myself) in precisely the same way that I am willing to treat others now, i.e., by virtue of the same principle of action = heart.

3. The Alteration of the Heart.

The selfish and universally natural human heart can no more be changed at will than can the insistent, human need for companionship. And yet such a change is necessary if a person is ever able to find salvation, i.e., personal ease in the presence of God and the community of kindred, loving hearts. Thus salvation calls for a miracle; but such a miracle is possible and indeed will take place if a person truly wishes it (Matthew 19:21-26). In an act of pure grace and in total disregard of the just deserts of any individual, and signifying an amazing and unconditioned love for humans, God empowers each individual to make a commitment to, and thereby to become fitted for, the Community/Kingdom; and to remain true to that commitment in the face of all temptations to the contrary.*

* The central teaching of Wesleyan sanctification theory is that by means of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a committed Christian, i.e., one who seeks to give rather than so much to receive, the incredible discovery will be made that such a life will be more desirable and enjoyable than the former, selfish course of life.**

** An almost iconic contrast in the two frames of mind can be discerned in the family of Francis of Assisi. Francis' father always asked, "what is the least that I have to give?" while his son always asked, "what is the most that I can give?" They demonstrated different Anschauungs or views of existence. The father saw himself in the hands of a demanding God who issued rules for behavior and rewarded people in accordance with their compliance with these rules (and it made perfect sense to comply, for in that way many benefits were to be obtained or "purchased"), while Francis saw himself in the hands of a giving God who was full of pity about the fear of humans, and who wanted to give them all that he had, the most precious gift being the heart and spirit of his son, Jesus (and it made perfect sense to want that heart above all, for that made one fit to live with God).

And thus we learn that while no one is able in his own power to comply with the golden rule, Jesus asserts that the power adequate to that purpose would be provided miraculously by God to all who sincerely desire it (Luke 11:13). See also: Awakening Atonement.

Obey the Specifics!

Occasionally Jesus did in fact enjoin compliance with some aspect of the law (Matthew 23:23). An analysis of the Sermon on the Mount itself, wherein the golden rule is identified as the Law of Laws, provides the solution to this challenge. First Jesus asserts that "the law" will be valid until the end of time; then curiously goes on to deprecate entirely the attempts of the Pharisees to conform perfectly with the law; and then paradoxically proceeds to show the inadequacies of the very law that he has just informed us is to endure forever, namely that it does not by far reach his own requirements (whereby we are forced to assume that the given, written law is merely a shadow or image of a greater law); and then finally presents the golden rule as that (greater) law; at which point and whereby then all of his otherwise confusing assertions in the sermon fall into place and constitute a perfect unity. Hence any admonition for compliance with a specific component of the law on the part of Jesus can be taken as a personal derivation by him from the golden rule and asserted in that sense, e.g., honoring one's parents. Thus his admonition for compliance with some component is not original (as though the provision in question were important on its own) but entirely derivative (exemplifying the golden rule in the specific situation); and thus foreshadowing Paul's Romans 14 and the requirement that each person (including therefore also even Jesus) must first derive a behavior from the rule in order for the admonition to be binding and its contrary shunned. First the commitment to love, then the personal derivation of the loving action, and then the implementation of the action. (Regarding Matthew 23:23 then, we see Jesus saying: if being a Pharisee means certain tokens and gestures and you want to be a Pharisee, then by all means do them, but above all love!)

Conclusion

There seems little reason to think that Jesus would not have meant the golden rule to be the supreme guide for the life of each and every human, and indeed independently of all the rules, regulations, ordinances, statues, laws and requirements promulgated by Moses, the prophets and even the church and state. It is precisely what Jesus taught and it is precisely what he himself complied with and, therefore, it is precisely what he is calling each person to do in taking up his cross daily to follow him.

 

Three Corollaries

I suggest that the first two of the following three corollaries follow upon reflections upon the logic of this essay, and the third from this logic when applied to the institution of marriage.

1. The golden rule (which incidentally is a vernacular expression of Kant's moral law applied to humans) renders both the scriptures and the church dispensable as authenticators of conduct (thereby completing the Lutherian revolution, at least with regard to the determination of behavior), though not as a means to cooperation and mutual encouragement.

2. The growing application of the golden rule results in a voluntary comunalism among all Christians.

3. Given that the married state constitutes a committed, communal unit where talents are held in common and contributions are made entirely in accordance with ability, and resources expended entirely in accordance with need, a promotion of family (or marriage) values means a promotion of communalism.

 

Appendix

At first glance this essay's emphasis on the golden rule seems to diminish the importance of what Jesus referred to as the greatest commandment: to love God with one's total being. But to love God means to comply with his commandments gladly; but his commandments are summarized in the second greatest commandment (the golden rule); thus we are not only to act with love toward others, we are to do so cheerfully.*

* I would suspect that all worship is to reflect a spontaneous recognition of the love of God for me and for all and will come naturally of itself with its own innate authentication, if you will. Such a spontaneity, since it is contrary to human nature as manifested in a fallen (separated-from-God) state would constitute an act of God's grace and is a promise of the Wesleyan concept of God's work in and for the individual, i.e., as Christians we are to look for, and joyfully anticipate, the heart of Christ in place of our own fearful hearts of pride and intrigue. And since this conveyance is contrary to human nature, we are to look upon it as miraculous and as the certification of the truth of the gospel message.**

** Wesley stated in his letter to Dr. Conyers Middleton (II, 383-84): "What Christianity (considered as a doctrine) promised is accomplished in my soul. And Christianity, considered as an inward principle, is the completion of all those promises. It is holiness and happiness, the image of God impressed on a created spirit, a fountain of peace and love springing up into everlasting life. And this I conceive to be the strongest evidence of the truth of Christianity. I do not undervalue traditional evidence. Let it have its place and its due honour. It is highly serviceable in its kind and in its degree. And yet I cannot set it on a level with this. It is generally supposed that traditional evidence is weakened by length of time, as it must necessarily pass through so many hands in a continued succession of ages. But no length of time can possibly affect the strength of this internal evidence. It is equally strong, equally new, through the course of seventeen hundred years. It passes now, even as it has done from the beginning, directly from God into the believing soul. Do you suppose time will ever dry up this stream? Oh no! It shall never be cut off." Emphasis added.

Observation:

It is surely not insignificant that the golden rule, applied by two persons in forming a community with Jesus in spirit, e.g., a marriage, produces an exact, albeit human, likeness of the Holy Trinity according to the most fundamental conception of the latter, i.e., an absolute community of absolute sovereigns, and where all is held in common and where there are three verisons of one and the same spirit, i.e., each member of the community along with Jesus himself.

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