The Golden Rule: A Human and Religious Rule

Matthew 7:12

The Golden Rule in World Religions

Many people, either implicitly or explicitly or in both respects, believe in some form of the Golden Rule. In other words, what you do not wish to be done to yourself, do not do to others. There are several variations of the rule in world religions. For example, Jesus of Nazareth, the founder of Christianity, teaches, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12, NIV). Similarly, the rule is found in the Greek and Latin editions of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Bibles. For instance, “What you yourself hate, do not do to anyone” (Tobit 4:15, The Orthodox Study Bible).

The Golden Rule is a teaching of Judaism. For instance, Rabbi Hillel, gives a short summary of the entire Law of Moses, saying, “What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbour; that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it” (Shabbat, 31a). Hate, then, whether it be from a Christian, Jew, Muslim or member of any religion, is wrong.

In Islam, a variation of the Golden Rule is “No one of you shall become a true believer until he desires for his brother what he desires for himself” (Hadith 13). The right desires of a Muslim should be attributed to other Muslims. It would, then, be morally wrong and inconsistent to desire what is right for oneself, while desiring what is wrong for others.

The Golden Rule is found in Confucianism and Hinduism. For example, in the Analects of Confucius, he says, “What you don’t like done to yourself, don’t do to others” (15:24). Similarly, according to the Mahabharata, “This is the sum of all true righteousness: deal with others as you would yourself be dealt by. Do nothing to your neighbor which you would not have him do to you” (Book 13, 113).

The Golden Rule in the Natural Moral Law

However, the Golden Rule is not merely a religious precept; it is also common sense, which is rooted in basic human rationality, issuing from human nature or “the natural moral law.” For example, why does a person who lies to others object, when they lie to him or her? The reason is that person, deep inside, really believes in the Golden Rule, acknowledging it most clearly when others lie to him or her. Since nobody really wants to be lied to, then why lie to others?

Think for moment about how reasonable and just the Golden Rule is: Since a person usually does not want to be insulted, then he or she should not insult others. Similarly, since someone does not want to be hatred for his or her religion, then he or she should not hate others for their religion. Likewise, if a human being does not want to be murdered, then he or she should not murder.

Second Person Plural Applications of the Golden Rule

The Golden Rule is the basis for respect, kindness and decency in human relationships and, in general, a just society. In the second person plural, treat others respectfully, for you want to be treated with respect. Be kind to others, because you would want the same kindness to be shown to you. Love others, willing their good, for you would want them to love you. Morally, the Golden Rule is reducible love or, in the words of the Torah, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, NIV).

Therefore, the next time you may be inclined or tempted to hurt others, either in word or deed or in bother respects, ask yourself: Would you want to be treated that way? Probably not! And if not, then don’t hurt them.