Friday, July 21, 2017
A different "Golden Rule"
Some of you know that my office has a window facing into a hallway. That allows me to put up posters that can be read by passers-by. For several years, I've had two posters mounted. One is "The Green Rule"; as explained on its website: "Selected from many of the world’s great religious texts and spiritual teachings, the Green Rules were chosen to demonstrate that each religion and spiritual philosophy has a long-standing tradition of ecological stewardship." The other is "The Golden Rule", a poster showing the symbols of most of the world's major religious traditions, along with their version of "The Golden Rule" -- all some variation of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Luke 6.31 // Matthew 7.12).
The "Golden Rule", at least as stated above, is a restatement by Jesus and his followers of a verse in the Hebrew Bible book of Leviticus (19.18): 'You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord". Indeed, Jesus is recorded as pairing this verse with a portion of the Shema, a major Jewish "confession of faith" (Deuteronomy 6.4-9), when asked by one of his interlocutors, "Which is the greatest commandment?": “This is the most important: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these" (Mark 12.29-31 // Matthew 22.37-39).
But, the apparent universality of this "rule" speaks, certainly, to some underlying -- either learned, or innate -- moral conviction. And, I imagine, many of us were raised (religiously or not) on its underlying assumption: that another person's well-being is to be considered equally as valuable as our own. The fact that most of us find it difficult to live up to the ideal does not lessen its importance or validity; it is a goal, after all. Something towards which to strive!
I was surprised, then, the other day, to be shaken out of my complacency about this "golden rule" . . . or maybe just forced to reconsider its (at least for Christians) roots. I was listening to an interview (and at this point, I can't remember, or find, exactly with whom) that made reference to the verse from Leviticus ("love your neighbor as yourself"). The interviewee pointed out that an alternate rabbinic reading to the oft-assumed "love your neighbor [in the same way] as you [might] love yourself" was to see your neighbor as yourself. Or to love your neighbor as if s/he was yourself.
This may be playing with words, and it may only be ME that finds the thought provocative. But the idea that I consider my neighbor's ideas/concerns/values as part of who I am has caused me no end of puzzlement. That neighbor with whom I disagree -- SHE's part of who I am? How do HER "bizarre" set of values intersect with MINE? The kid down the street with the VERY NOISY car -- HE's part of who I am? How does HIS insensitivity reflect (or resemble) MINE?
To take the other person -- the neighbor -- into the center of who I am. That's a bigger challenge than a "simple" moral injunction. But it certainly suggests a deeper grounding for "loving thy neighbor."