With all that is happening today is the Golden Rule subversive?

The year is 1841, the date, August 23. On the pier in Kingstown in Ireland stands a group of Loreto nuns waving off seven young women in their 20s, dressed in the habit of the Loreto Sisters and accompanied by five postulants. These 12 are embarking on a journey destined for Calcutta, India. Their journey will end on December 30 as ‘The Scotia’ sails up the Hooghly River into the Bay of Bengal.  For most, it is a final parting from family, home and country. 

What inspired such madness?  Where was the source of such courage and faith?  What sustained them in the years that followed?  The arrival in a very different culture where they were welcomed as ‘Priestesses’, the death of some of their members in the first years, the setting up of schools and orphanages, journeys up rivers to places not accessible by road surely called on a source deep within them.  When some died of cholera others were ready to come out and replace them.  (From Mary Ward International, Ireland)

Recently I spotted a question on a church noticeboard as I was driving down the Pacific Highway:  With all that is happening today is the Golden Rule subversive?  It set me thinking about human nature, our ability to empathise and be compassionate, even self-sacrificing for the well-being of another, and how that all might be faring in the world today.  That beautiful and powerfully poignant passage above, from our own Loreto tradition, surely speaks of hearts imbued with love for others and self-sacrifice.  But have the norms of twenty-first century behaviour really become so self-focussed that an ethical teaching centred on the good of others has indeed become a threat to the established order?  So I offer some thoughts and questions in response to that rather provocative and challenging statement on the church board.

The Golden Rule, in its various forms, is found in all the great Religious Traditions and was first expressed by Confucius way back in the sixth century BCE.  In essence what Confucius said is this:  ‘What is hateful to you do not impose on another’.  This is the story:  Zigong, a disciple of Confucius, asked:  “Is there any one word that could guide a person throughout life”?  The Master replied: “How about shu (reciprocity): never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself”.  In Christianity the Golden Rule is at the heart of the teachings of Jesus – ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’ – and together with Jesus’ love commandment – ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ – it guides us in all our dealings with one another.  In Islam it is expressed thus: ‘No one is a believer until what he wishes for his brother is the same as he wishes for himself’.  And in Judaism we have this wonderful story of someone who approached the great Jewish scholar, Hillel, who was an older contemporary of Jesus, and said to him that he would become a believer if Hillel could recite the whole of the Torah while standing on one leg.  In reply Hillel said to him:  “What is hateful to you do not do to another.  This is the Torah, the rest is commentary, now go and study it”.  In the Hindu traditions it appears as, ‘This is the sum of duty; do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you’, and in Buddhism we find, ‘Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful’.  In Taoism the Golden Rule is expressed as, ‘Regard your neighbour’s gain as your own gain and your neighbour’s loss as your own loss’.  

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Ms Kerry McCullough

Spirituality and Liturgy Co-ordinator