The "Golden Rule" (a/k.a. Ethics of Reciprocity)
Background. Failure of religions;
Why reciprocity is so important now.
Religious groups differ greatly
in their concepts of deity,
other beliefs, and practices. Many Eastern religion stress philosophy of life over theological concepts; Western religions often do the opposite. Non-theistic ethical and philosophic systems, like Humanism
and Ethical Culture,
also exhibit a wide range of beliefs. However, there is near unanimity of opinion
among almost all religions, ethical systems and philosophies on one topic: that each person should treat others
in a decent manner.
Almost all of these religious and secular groups
have passages in their holy texts, or writings of their leaders, which promote
of Reciprocity. The most commonly known version in North America is the Golden
Rule of Christianity. It is often expressed as "Do onto others as you
would wish them do onto you."
One result of this Ethic is the concept that
every person shares certain inherent human rights, simply because of their
membership in the human species. People are individually very different; they come
in three genders (female, male, intersexual); different sizes, colors, and shapes; three
orientations; various gender identities, different degrees of ability, etc. They follow many religious and economic systems, speak many
languages, and follow many different cultures. But there is a
growing consensus that all humans must be considered equal in importance.
As a minimum, all should enjoy basic human rights. The United Nations
Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is one manifestation of this growing worldwide
A failure of many organized religions:
In our opinion, the greatest failure of many organized religions is their
historical inability to convince their followers that the Ethic of Reciprocity
applies to all humans, not merely to fellow believers like themselves. It is our group's belief
that religions should stress that their members also use their Ethic of
dealing with persons of other religions, other
genders, other cultures, other sexual orientations, other gender identities, etc. Only when this is
accomplished will religiously-related oppression, mass murder and
Crimes against humanity require that the victims first be viewed as subhuman and the as not worthy of life. If the Ethic of Reciprocity is applied to all humans, then no person or group of persons can be seen in this way.
Why the Ethic of Reciprocity is particularly important today:
The survial of the human species may depend upon this Ethic.
There are on the order of 30,000 Christian faith groups in the worlds, and untold numbers of faith groups within other religions. Many teach that they alone have the full truth, and that all other faith groups are in partial or complete error.
In the past and now, this has generated a great deal of religiously based hatred, conflict, and violence. It has triggered extensive oppression due to heresy hunters within religions. It has contributed to wars between religions and between different traditions of a single religion. Today, with the availability of weapons of mass destruction, it is quite possible that future conflicts may increase in intensity to endanger the survival of the human species.
There are only two approaches that we have found to prevent this. One appears impossible, the other merely very difficult:
- Create doubt among believers about the validity of their beliefs. It is unlikely that 9/11, Waco or the attack on the Murrah Building, etc. would have happened if the people involved had even a slight doubt about possessing absolute truth. Unfortunately, one of the features of religion is that many believers tend to tenatiously believe that their beliefs are absolutely true. Thus, creating doubt and skepticism is virtually impossible and is often considered a sin.
- Have faith groups widen the range of the Golden Rule to encompass not only fellow believers but people of all faiths and none. In Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-31, and Luke 10:25-37, Yeshua of Nazareth's (Jesus Christ's) parable of the Good Samaritan shows us that he intended the Golden Rule to apply to other humans. When the Golden Rule is interpreted in this way, human rights -- including religious freedom -- become a priority by all and for all.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- The English text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is
- The text is available in other languages is at: http://www.unhchr.ch/
Copyright © 1995 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2015-FEB-05
Author: B.A. Robinson