Who wins at the Golden Rule?

November 23, 2020 · Print This Article

Who’s your favourite philosopher?

Philosophy fascinates me. I have a favourite philosopher, but I’ll hold on to that until the end of the blog. Like most of us, I don’t have the time to crack something like Plato’s The Republic on a Sunday afternoon to look into the ideas of these great thinkers. So I’ve found a short-cut.

It’s called The School of Life. Their YouTube channel is full of short videos dealing with the big questions of life. And with this, a great collection of bite-size philosophy videos from Socrates to Spinoza. If you want a condensed journey through the ideas of some of the great philosophers, then I recommend it. This weekend, I caught up on Immanuel Kant, an 18th century German philosopher.

Kant wanted to know how humans could be good and kind outside of the dogmas and precepts of traditional religions. Eventually he came up with what he called the Categorical Imperative. What’s that, you may ask? It was Kant’s stab at the Golden Rule with a Kantian rationality infused. He stated, “Act according to the maxim that you would wish all other rational people to follow, as if it were a universal law”. No doubt there’s a difference but Kant’s attempt was a rebranding of a long lineage of the Golden Rule; a desire for a universal rule that could govern behaviour without prescriptive statues. Almost every religion has them.

So does any religion have any more merit than the other if, essentially, they are all asking us to do the same thing?

Maybe the oldest reference to the rule makes that religion better in some way? If that is the case, then Hinduism may have pipped everyone to the post as its holy writings (13th Century) state, “Do not to others what ye do not wish done to yourself…This is the whole Dharma, heed it well”. Or maybe a more positive version boasts greater merit with Jainism’s (6th century BC) version as, “In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, regard all creatures as you would regard your own self”. Or could it be the most popularised version wins the top religion prize with Western civilisation popularising the biblical version, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

For me, the fact that all religions have this rule in their sacred texts is a good thing. It makes the world a better place…or at least it should. But that doesn’t make every religion the same or every expression of the principle equally valid. Preaching a principle is one thing; living it is another. And for me, this is where the difference emerges and where my favourite philosopher comes in.

Now it may not be strictly true to call Jesus a philosopher, although he spoke about the big questions of life and the metaphysical all the time. But the reason I say he is my favourite philosopher is because he lived this principle of doing to others as you would have them do to you, day in and day out. Recorded in the gospels – the historic, eye-witness accounts of his life and ministry – we find a man driven by this love and attitude to the point that he was willing to even forgive those that put him to death.

This is where Christianity as a religion and a vehicle for expressing this rule differs from the rest. Because its founder did not just teach it; he lived it.[i]

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

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