Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Jesus - a failed philosopher

One of the most well-known (if not the single most well-known) of Christ's sayings is what can be found in Luke 6:31. Christ is there attributed with saying "Do to others as you would have them do to you."

I've heard countless folks (theist and atheist alike) exclaim what a great philosophy that is, how revolutionary it is and how ahead of its time it is. Even Richard Dawkins has considered Jesus to be way ahead of his time philosophically and morally (see The God Delusion). The (false, of course) credit given to Jesus for bringing us The Golden Rule is what some Christians claim makes Christianity unique amongst the world's religions; "unlike them", Christianity is "all about love".

The above moral principle ("do unto others...") is often referred to as a variation of The Golden Rule. Note that Christ was by no means alone in proposing The Golden Rule. A quick search of the internet will show that versions of it appeared in many other cultures, some before Christ's day. Indeed, a negative version of it ("don't do to others what you don't want done to yourself") was uttered by Hillel the Elder. When challenged by a Gentile to explain the Torah while the Gentile is standing on one foot, Hilel said the following: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn" (see
Wiki). And this was before Christ's birth.

Whilst we don't know whether Christ's version (if he existed and uttered it at all) of the Golden Rule was in fact copied from Hillel the Elder (Christ, the man, may well have been a follower of some of the latter's school of thought), it is interesting that nobody seems to bother to even give half a thought to what the saying means. I admit I never thought about it myself, until recently reading Godless (a book written by Dan Barker, a former preacher of many years, turned atheist). It seems that, being brought up with it, we don't even stop and think about it.

So, what does it really mean? Well, it means what it says. You should treat others the way you yourself want to be treated. But does that make sense? What are the consequences or benefits of this rule? Would you really want me to do to you what I like having done to myself? Would you (or anyone who gives it half a thought) want someone's subjective preference to be the criterion by which he is to treat everyone around them? I, for one, happen to like to crack silly jokes. I like teasing people and I like being teased. It was early in my professional career that I found that I can't treat people the way I want to be treated. I can't be as direct and as open and forward with them as I like others being with myself. Barker gives an interesting (and much better, athough possibly only hypothetical) example himself. He proposes a husband and wife. The husband likes being hugged while the wife likes hugging (huggee/hugger scenario). If the husband is to listen to Christ's commandment, he would have to hug his wife because he wants to be hugged. This is despite the fact that he doesn't want to hug! His wife, in turn, would end up being hugged even though she prefers to be the hugger! We end up with two unhappy (though actually 100% compatible when it comes to hugging!) people by merely following Christ's rule.

If we're talking about loving one another (and this is what Christ is talking about in the relevant chapter), I suggest that a much more meaningful (and workable) expression of love is to do to others what they want you to do to them as opposed to what you would like them to do to you. That principle makes a hundredfold more sense than the subjective, self-centered caricature that Jesus allegedly came up with. It would mean that people's wishes would actually be respected as opposed to being contingent on the preferences of someone else; someone who gets to arbitrarily choose what it is that he should do to you only because he likes it done to himself!

It would seem that even as a purely human philosopher and moralist, Christ has failed to rise to a truly impressive standard. After all, it doesn't take a genius to see the obvious and glaring flaw in the philosophy. And this is a failure for a man. Now imagine a perfect and divine being making that blooper.

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