Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Golden Rule in our history

Luke 6:31 says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

As an occasional student of American history, and as the father of two African-American children, I asked myself this morning, “how has The Golden Rule influenced American attitudes towards social justice?” Using my informal 10-minute rule (“if you can’t find it on the Internet in 10 minutes, forget it”), I found:

1)      The first reference to the “do unto others” concept as “golden” was from English physicist  Robert Godfrey in 1674: "Whilst forgetting that Golden Law, do as you would be done by, they make self the center of their actions." He was apparently one of these wonderful 17th century English natural scientists, epitomized by Bacon, who both read the scriptures and studied Creation.

2)      In 1771, the great hymn writer Isaac Watts wrote of “that golden principle of morality of which the Lord Jesus has blessed us.”

3)      In 1791, Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon on slavery and Matthew 7:12 from the New Testament (in which Jesus expresses a variation of the Golden Rule). However, Edwards did not refer to that verse as the "Golden Rule." Rather, he spoke of "the general rule given us in the [Bible] text" and this "divine maxim."

4)      To my brother Dan’s UVM German Professor, Wolfgang Mieder, we owe the preservation of this quote by the great abolitionist, the Moses of black Americans, Frederick Douglas: “Remember George Latimer in bonds as bound with him; keep in view the golden rule - 'All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them.” It is not too much of a stretch to say that the Golden Rule was also the Cardinal Rule of Abolitionism. Abraham Lincoln was once heard to muse, “yes, slavery, this Great National Blessing that no-one seems to want for himself.” I think it is significant that Lincoln’s anti-slavery sentiment was not a result of financial interest (as was at times in the more settled Northeast) but as a result of a trip he took down the Mississippi, where he saw slaves in chains. One wonders today if the slaves in bondage today (political, religious, economic) are hoping a Lincoln in plain working clothes will see them and begin the work of their deliverance.  

5)      By the mid-18th century, writers and thinkers in England and America increasingly used the term, including Dickens, social philosopher John Stuart Mill, and (proving that even the devil can quote scripture) Charles Darwin. One can only wonder how the Golden Rule and Darwinianism could possibly be compatible.

6)      Building on the abolitionist attachment to the Golden Rule, Martin Luther King often said that the fear of the civil rights movement is America’s history of segregation, but the hope of the civil rights movement is America’s ingrained sense of justice and fair play. He saw his job as pushing white America to release the former and embrace the latter. And it did.

7)      Speaking from personal experience, the Golden Rule has had a powerful impact on those struggling on behalf of the powerless, but fully human unborn and terminally ill.

If Jesus had not said AND LIVED those words, and if sixty or so generations of Christians had not done likewise in contemporary fashion, amid the sturm und drang (storm and stress) there would have been no beacon of justice to follow. For this reason, and regardless of their beliefs, all lovers of freedom and justice owe Jesus an incalculable debt.

Source of most of the information above:

No comments:

Post a Comment