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Ethics of Reciprocity (a.k.a."Golden Rule")

Exceptions to the Golden Rule

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Religious groups from Asatru to Zoroastrianism as well as non-theistic ethical and philosophic systems, like Humanism and Ethical Culture, differ greatly in their concepts of deity, other beliefs, and practices. However, all of the major world religions and philosophic systems have an Ethic of Reciprocity. In Christianity and Judaism, this is called "The Golden Rule." It is often expressed as "Do onto others as you would wish them do onto you."

However, the Ethic of Reciprocity is not universal. In some cases it is contraindicated.

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Religions with a very different version of an "Ethic of Reciprocity:"

We have found two very different, unrelated religions which have one common feature: their rules of behavior are very different than the Ethics of Reciprocity taught by major world religions. They do not teach that one should treat others as one would wish to be treated.

bulletSatanism: Anton Szandor LaVey is the founder of the Church of Satan. He taught that a Satanist should respond with kindness to those who deserve it, and respond with vengeance to those who attack. That is, a Satanist should react to the treatment given by others by responding to them in the same way:

LaVey wrote two main lists of rules summarizing his expected behavior by members:
bulletThe 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.!" 1
bulletThe Nine Satanic Sins:
bullet"3. Solipsism—Can be very dangerous for Satanists. Projecting your reactions, responses and sensibilities onto someone who is probably far less attuned than you are. It is the mistake of expecting people to give you the same consideration, courtesy and respect that you naturally give them. They won’t. Instead, Satanists must strive to apply the dictum of 'Do unto others as they do unto you.' It’s work for most of us and requires constant vigilance lest you slip into a comfortable illusion of everyone being like you...." 7

bulletThe Creativity Movement: This group was formerly called the "World Church of the Creator"®   (W.C.O.T.C.) until it lost a trademark infringement suit. Unlike Satanists, they teach a virulent form of racism. They hate non-whites, Jews, and homosexuals. One of their beliefs is that: "What is good for the White Race is the highest virtue; what is bad for the White Race is the ultimate sin." Their religion is based mainly upon love of the white race and hatred of everyone else, who they refer to as members of the "mud races." There have been a number of mass murders which have allegedly been perpetrated by members of the Creativity Movement. 3

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When the Golden Rule does not necessarily apply:

Any rule must be applied carefully, and with full knowledge of the likely consequences. Many of the "golden rules" imply that there is some absolute and universal standard to what is beneficial and what is harmful. Consider a comment by George Bernard Shaw in 1903:
"Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same."

Author and freethinker Ali Sina comments:

"A much more accurate definition of the Golden Rule is: Treat others with the same consideration and respect that you wish to be treated. It does not mean do to others exactly what you like to be done to you. For example, if you like peanut butter, it does not mean you should feed it to someone who is allergic to it, which can kill him. It does not mean you should take your wife who likes concerts, to a basketball game because you like basketball or invite your Hindu friend to a barbeque because you are a meat lover when you know he is vegetarian." 4

A lot of harm has been done historically, in the name of helping other people. Some examples:

bullet Many individuals involved in the torture and murder of Witches during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance felt that their mission was to help the Witches, and to defend the rest of society. The Witches were tortured until they gave the interrogators what they wanted: a confession in which they renounced their beliefs. They were then executed before they recanted. The church felt that they might then attain Heaven. If they retained their beliefs in Witchcraft, it was believed that they would inevitably be sent to Hell for endless torture. Thus, any amount of torture was justified. It only lasted a few days and saved the Witch from an eternity of similar treatment in Hell.
bulletIn past centuries Christian missionaries, both Protestant and Catholic, invested enormous effort to convert North America's Native population to Christianity. The missionaries generally discounted Native Spirituality as worthless. Many thought that unless a person accepts their European version of Christianity, they would spend eternity in Hell. But the results were not as anticipated. Some suicidologists believe that the extremely high suicide rate among native people in North America is a direct result of the destruction of their aboriginal faith and other aspects of their society by Christian groups.
bulletWelfare and other social programs that were originally designed to help the poor, can sometimes backfire and entrap the very people they intended to help into a lifetime of dependency that extends to involve their children.
bulletMany states have passed laws that require teen age women to notify their parents or obtain permission from their parents before they are allowed to have an abortion. The legislators reasoned that when a young woman is pregnant, that she needs all the support that her family can give her. But many teens try to circumvent these laws. They may be afraid of the family disturbance that the news might cause; they may fear physical abuse; they may be concerned about the effect that the news might have on a parent who is in fragile health. For whatever reason, many seek illegal abortions. A few die from infection.

Before applying the Golden Rule, we should take care that we are really helping people, and not harming them. This often requires more wisdom than is readily available.

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Passages in Holy Books that violate the Ethic of Reciprocity:

Unfortunately, many religious texts contain other passages that contradict their own Ethics of Reciprocity. Most often, these texts expect believers to treat other believers with kindness and decency. But Holy Books do not necessarily extend this treatment to believers in other religions. Consider:

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  1. A.S. LaVey, "The Nine Satanic Statements," in The Satanic Bible, Avon Books (1969), Page 25.
  2. Anton Szandor LaVey, "The Nine Satanic Sins," 1987, at:
  3. Rev. Matt Hale, "The World to Come," The Struggle, Issue XXVIII. Online at:
  4. Ali Sina, "The Golden Rule and Islam,", 2005-APR-28, at:

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Copyright ©1995 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2015-JUN-09
Author: B.A. Robinson
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