Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"Do unto others...."

In The Political Teachings of Jesus, Tod Lindberg describes what Jesus says about how people should treat one another. The implications of his teaching favor political freedom and democracy, it would seem. Christopher Levenick reviews the book this morning:
.... Mr. Lindberg believes that Jesus' teachings deserve our attention whether or not they have the force of divine law. They offer, he says, a "coherent account of how to live in the world." More important, they propose a "revolution in the idea of freedom," a revolution that gradually came to shape the mind-set that continues to define modern politics and social relations.

The revolutionary idea finds its most powerful expression in the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The familiarity and brevity of the Golden Rule sometimes obscure its radical implications. Unlike the Ten Commandments or various secular codes, it does not list a series of prohibited acts. Instead, it provides a way to think about how to behave toward one's fellow man.

The Golden Rule is implicitly egalitarian: If we are obliged to treat others as we wish to be treated, we must regard them as basically like ourselves and equally deserving of fair dealing. All politics thus proceed from the assumption of the dignity of all persons; within this social framework there is no greater transgression than abusing one's power over someone else.

By this standard, social and political relations are more than a zero-sum game wherein one person's gain comes at another's loss. The Golden Rule proposes that, to the contrary, by identifying ourselves with one another, we arrive at moral virtue and mutual betterment. We become, as Mr. Lindberg writes, "a community of goodwill."

To be sure, the Golden Rule was not without precedent. Similar formulations can be found, among other places, in the Mahabharata, the ancient Indian epic, and Confucius's Analects. The rule in each of these texts, though, is stated negatively: In essence, do not do unto others what one would not like done to oneself. Jesus' positive wording, Mr. Lindberg says, allows for a greater "range of possibility for mutually beneficial interaction." Jesus does not merely forbid injustice; he proposes a principle applicable to our every act and constrained only by the limits of our imagination.
Lamb of God, Social Philosopher - WSJ.com

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