“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” – Jesus, Matthew 7:12
I’m a mathematician by trade, and absolutely love the prospect of reducing complex systems into clean summary statements. That said, I’ve never pulled off anything so audacious as the Golden Rule. Fourteen words and one comma in this translation … “this is the Law and the Prophets.” Have you ever read the Law and the Prophets? It’s a heck of a lot of precepts, concepts, explanations … a lot of words. Jesus brings it down to 14.
Interesting thing about the Golden Rule – there is no third person involved.
The rule is about you and the person you’re dealing with at the time. It does not explicitly address how a third party should get involved in the situation. Even God doesn’t insert Himself into the equation, other than to say that this prescription for equality amongst men is fundamental to His Law and the words He gave the prophets.
What does this have to do with politics?
First, we are a nation of, by, and for the people – and our government is established accordingly. There is no room here to de-humanize the government. Anything the government does is something you are doing to your fellow citizens.
Furthermore, if the thing you are doing to your fellow citizen is to command them to behave a certain way toward one another, then you have abrogated the Golden Rule. What need do we have of such rules for personal behavior when my neighbors will will tell me all that I must do anyway?
Your commands toward your fellow citizens may well be valid. We should help the needy, help the sick, help the poor, and all the rest – but the Golden Rule cannot in anyway serve as a basis for such laws. It’s none of your business (even if you’re right). You cannot insert yourself into my moral decisions; not using the Golden Rule as your text, anyway.
Government benevolence, government sanctioning (or not) of sexual relations or marriage relations, government laws involving substance abuse – these all deal with morality and relationships that don’t involve me or you. The rich should bless the poor – but I shouldn’t command them to do so. Unmarried people should not engage in sex – but I shouldn’t use the arm of the government to enforce it. People of the same gender do not represent a valid marriage in the Christian tradition – but I assure you that their “marriage” doesn’t involve me, so I’m in no mind to prevent it.
Remember this the next time we’re discussing tax policy, medicare, medicaid, welfare, gay marriage, or any other government intervention into personal, moral behavior for the good of the whole. None of us gets to make judgments about government policy on these issues from safely above the fray. We are not in the place of God, declaring with our omnipotence how this or that person should behave – and mandating that it be so.
The Golden Rule allows, and demands, that I place myself in the other person’s position in order to inform or moderate my behavior. It does not give me permission to feel compassion for the other person and then demand that you behave in a certain way towards them.