“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
It would seem that Humpty Dumpty was cracked even before he fell off the wall, and it’s no wonder he couldn’t get it together again. Words contain meaning – Humpty, politicians, and con-men notwithstanding. Words mean what they say – even if we pretend they don’t.
Some specific words I have in mind are from that profound, highly regarded, religious teaching, the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Hundreds of religions besides Christianity, from ancient times until today, have attested to the truth and value of this directive. However, in my opinion, too many self-described religious folks don’t seem to understand the directive or follow it.
We often hear that America was founded on Christian principles. Well, Jesus said that the Golden rule summed up the Law and the Prophets, but our founders didn’t seem too concerned with doing unto others as they would have others do unto them. In the Land of the Free, slavery was an accepted institution and Native Americans were mistreated and oppressed. Men without property were not allowed to vote; women could neither vote nor inherit property. Slaves and Native Americans were not allowed to vote.
Isn’t it obvious, then, that some of our country’s founding principles fail to meet the Golden Rule? What slaveholder would wish to be held as a slave? What white, propertied man who kept so many others from voting would wish to be kept from voting?
In more recent times how many enforcers of Jim Crow would wish to be kept from voting, kept out of public swimming pools, forced to use the back door of restaurants, and to sit in restricted sections of public areas and on busses? How many white segregationists would have been pleased if the “separate but equal” school facilities and curricula were reversed and imposed on them?
Until a 1967 Supreme Court case it was illegal in many states for blacks and whites to marry one another. Until recently it was illegal for men or women to marry someone of their own gender. Imagine the reaction if a majority outlawed white-white and man-woman marriage? The Golden Rule is not “Do unto others as you would like to do unto them” – which brings us back to Humpty Dumpty and words that mean what they say.
The majority of Americans claim to be religious, and their religions admonish them to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Now, you may have to stop and think about this for a while, but what that means is: your behavior toward others shows how you want others to treat you. If you harass women entering an abortion clinic, you want women to harass you going into church. If a Christian burns a Koran, he wants a Muslim to burn a Bible. If a husband beats his wife, he wants her to beat him (depending on relative size and martial arts training, she might need to employ a ball bat).
Okay, okay. You say that’s not what it means. Well, yes it is, Humpty. You just don’t want it to mean that. It’s much nicer to see ourselves as religiously pious and observant without really having to follow the rules (Golden and otherwise). How nice to treat others any nasty, unfair, self-serving way we want – while forgetting what Jesus said – and then to bring Jesus back as soon as we need him to tell the people we just beat up how they must be nice to us – “King’s X,” “No touchbacks,” etc.
Yes sir, nice, but no cigar. If you are religious and recognize the Golden Rule, then you are responsible, and the words apply to you. If you treat people with love and acceptance; that’s how you want to be treated by others. If you treat people hatefully, discriminate against them, and misuse them, then you are begging to be treated the same way – the same way you have done unto them.
In the final analysis, may we all get what we deserve.
This article originally appeared on The Pickaway News Journal