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Introduction to morality & ethics

Introduction to the ethic of reciprocity
(a.k.a. the Golden Rule)

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The Ethic of Reciprocity: a common factor in most moral codes:

Religious groups differ greatly in their concepts of deity, morality, and in other beliefs and practices. So do followers of non-theistic ethical and philosophic systems. But there has been a near unanimity of opinion that each person has a responsibility to treat others as she or he would wish to be treated. Almost all religious and ethical groups have passages in their holy texts, or writings of their leaders, which promote this Ethic of Reciprocity. The most commonly known version in North America is the Golden Rule of Judeo-Christianity.

One result of the Ethic is the concept that every person shares certain inherent human rights, simply because of their membership in the human race. People are individually very different; they come in two main genders, all sizes and shapes, many races, many levels of ability, and three sexual orientations. They follow many religious and economic systems. But there is a growing consensus that all humans should be considered equally important, simply because they are human. All should enjoy basic human rights. Some have included the access to potable water, food, health care, etc. as rights.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is one manifestation of this growing worldwide respect for human rights. 1,2

Religions that teach the existence of one or more Gods or Goddesses generally attribute their Ethic of Reciprocity to their deity or deities, or to the accumulated tradition of their faith group. Non-theistic religions and ethical systems generally base their Ethic of Reciprocity on the teachings of their founder, or derive them from rational grounds.

A sampling of reciprocity passages from religious texts or the writings of philosophers are:

bullet Christianity
bullet "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." Matthew 7:12 
bullet "...and don't do what you hate...", Gospel of Thomas 6 The Gospel of Thomas is one of about 40 gospels that were widely accepted among early Christians, but which never made it into the Christian Scriptures (New Testament).
bullet "Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself" Fourth Hadith of an-Nawawi 13
bullet "...thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.", Leviticus 19:18 
bullet What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary." Talmud, Shabbat 31a
bullet A'in [i.e. as long as] it harm no one, do what thou wilt." The Wiccan Rede. 3
bulletSocrates: (Greek philosopher from the 5th century BCE)
bullet "Do not do to others that which would anger you if others did it to you."
bulletSeneca: (Roman philosopher from the 1st century BCE)
bullet "Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your superiors," Epistle 47:11
bulletHumanism: Humanist Manifesto II, Ethics section. (1973)
bullet "...critical intelligence, infused by a sense of human caring, is the best method that humanity has for resolving problems. Reason should be balanced with compassion and empathy and the whole person fulfilled." 4

However, diversity exists even with the Ethic of Reciprocity. At least two groups believe that one should not extend kindness to all people. It should be given only to those who deserve it, or only to fellow Caucasians.

bulletChurch of Satan: A.S. LaVey, founder of The Church of Satan, The Nine Satanic Statements.
bullet "4. Satan represents kindness to those who deserve it instead of love wasted on ingrates!"
bullet "5. Satan represents vengeance instead of turning the other cheek." 5
bullet Creativity Movement, formerly called the World Church of the Creator:
bullet "What is good for the White Race is the highest virtue; what is bad for the White Race is the ultimate sin."

So, there is no universal agreement on even the most fundamental aspect of morality: how one should treat others.

More information and examples from many additional religions and philosophies are shown elsewhere on this website.

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Related essays on this web site:

bullet The Golden Rule and other Ethics of Reciprocity
bullet "Hot" religious controversies menu
bullet Bible passages that appear immoral by today's standards.
bullet What the Bible says about human slavery
bullet Genocide menu

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  1. The English text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is at:
  2. The UDHR text is available in other languages at:
  3. We included Wicca here for two reasons: About one in four of our visitors is a Wiccan. Also, Wicca's ethic of reciprocity is rather special. It includes the responsibility of avoiding actions which harm oneself. BAR
  4. "Humanist Manifesto II," at:
  5. Anton S. LaVey, "The Satanic Bible," Avon Books (1969). Page 25. Read reviews or order this book

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Site navigation: Home page > Morality > Introduction > here

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Copyright © 2001 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-SEP-9
Latest update: 2010-OCT-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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