Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The REAL Golden Rule

Both the current political debate, especially in the GOP, and events in my own little world have prompted me to think more about religion and human behavior than I ordinarily might. What has been brought to the fore is the disconnect between faith and religion as an institution. Between faith/religion and actual human behavior. In a word, hypocrisy.

Last Sunday, The Monsignor of my parish celebrated his final mass. It was a huge ceremony, complete with priests from all over, the Knights of Columbus in full regalia, Alter servers from way back, every Lector, Eucharistic Minister, usher, etc. who had ever served during Monsignor's 22 year tenure. Our Monsignor was and is a divisive character in the parish, excoriating parents who show up to meetings and mass in his anger at those who do not. He is a very conservative man, who brings his politics to the pulpit. I disagree with him vehemently, and discuss it freely with my son so that he may have a more rounded view.

Following Monsignor's final mass was a catered affair put on by his nephew. It was donated in its entirety. The nephew's catering company provided all food, soft drinks, decorations, wait staff, and serving sets. Monsignor's nephew is as gay as they come. But I know by the sincerity of the event that the nephew was loved and accepted by his uncle--I cannot believe that anyone would have put out so much for someone who mistreats him. It is the only truly Christian, meaning Christ-like, thing I have ever seen of Monsignor.

The golden rule to life, in my opinion, is "Don't be an asshole." It is one by which I try hard to live my life, and being human, it is one of which I run afoul. It is the lowest common denominator of The Ten Commandments. It is a further distillation of George Carlin's version of the commandments. If we want to clean it up a bit for the younger set we can say, "Don't be a jerk."

For those of you thinking, hmm, this sounds an awful lot like "Do unto others..." I'd have to agree. The problem I have with falling back on this version of the Golden Rule is the source. There have been, and continue to be too many wars waged and blood spilled (in and) for the Bible, and the religions that claim it wholly or in part. In order to address all those who have a stake in the Bible or disdain it utterly, we can remove that aspect of the Golden Rule. Too much left open for interpretation.

It is the interpretation where we run into trouble. Interpretation of God's thoughts or words by man is inherently impossible. There are those who believe that God spoke to various and sundry people throughout time, as do I. The problem is that we don't have their journal entries; we lack a primary source. What we do have is an abundance of second and third party documentation. That means, a third party's spin, no matter the Testament. Disagreements abound, even within the Bible.

Even if we assume that all interpretation is accurate and honest, there is the problem applying millennia old interpretation to a modern world. While the reasoning for certain behaviors or restrictions may have been valid two, three or five thousand years ago, too much has changed for full applicability in the present.

If we say, "Don't be an asshole" we can remove God from the equation, and have less to fight over. Most of us can agree on what is good and bad behavior. Most of us can get behind the importance of honesty, respect and fidelity. Coveting is a part of human nature that will probably never be fully eradicated. It is not the coveting that is the problem; it is how one deals with it. Most of us can live with the notion that it is wrong to kill someone. The argument here again is definition and degree based on interpretation of God's will or words.

Since I was raised Catholic, a sect of Christianity, I was taught the belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God, born of the sinless Virgin Mary, walked the face of this earth preaching and healing. That he was crucified, died and rose again on the third day, all of this for the redemption of all mankind. I was also taught that the preaching, healing and redeeming was irrespective of the audience's origin or predilections. That Christ healed equally the Jew, the Gentile, The Samaritan. That he forgave all manner sin committed by all manner of people. How then, can any Christian be any more discerning?

More fundamentally, how can any religion at all presume that it, and only it, is the only true path to God? Is that not the height of hubris? I am educated enough to know that the Nicene Creed is basically a mission statement of the Catholic Church. A credo set down by a bunch of men sitting in a room in Nicea who decided it was politically advantageous and financially prudent to declare Christ divine. It is no different than the mission statement of any other brand: Ours is the best, only toothpaste to prevent cavities, and get you the girl/guy of your dreams. Does that statement by, say, Proctor & Gamble incite anyone to kill anyone who uses a Colgate/Palmolive product? Is it not the same sense of hype or hyperbole? Why is it, then, glommed onto with such fervor? I understand brand loyalty. It boils down to I prefer X, not I'll kill you in the name of X for having the audacity to prefer Y.

If you prefer your religion, fine. I have no issue with that whatsoever. Just, don't be an asshole about it.



Foster Communications said...

Could not agree more! It seems too often religions are less about faith and more about the "cults" these churches become, the hate and intolerance they breed.

And that version of the Golden Rule? Love it.

Maria said...

Yup. You hit it on the head.

It always amazes me that someone can know and love and gay person and still hang on to their belief system that homosexuality is wrong, sick, whatever.

My family is very conservative, very catholic, very republican. My sisters have me, a gay woman who is their blood relative, whom they profess to love deeply. Yet, they all stick to their guns about the beliefs of the catholic church regarding homosexuality.

I don't get it.

The Real Mother Hen said...

I wanted to say something funny, something totally out of line... like "because the Real Mother Hen said so" etc, but I couldn't.

I only found myself nodding at almost every sentence.

The Real Mother Hen said...

In other words, I wanted to be an ass, but your ass is overpowering mine, leaving me with no ass to be.

You are a really good writer RP.
You want to write a book? I will buy.

Kate said...

If Jesus were here on Earth today, he would be appalled - would not recognize what Christianity has done to his teachings. I have become convinced that, if we really want to live as Christ wanted us to, we have to fight for social justice; we have to reach out to to people who are unloved and rejected by society. We have to have to be less judgemental, not more. That's why I've decided to bag religionand stop trying to find a church that's "right for me". Somehow, I don't feel deprived of a moral compass. I'm muddling along somehow. :)

eastcoastdweller said...

It is very interesting to look at the Golden Rule as it appears in the New Testament, and compare it to the original as declared by the Jewish sage Hillel: Do not unto others what you do not wish done to you.

eastcoastdweller said...

One, in essence, states that the end justifies the means. The other does not.