Once more with feeling: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
I used to think the problem with our culture wars was that people just needed to be reminded of this sage wisdom found in the words of Jesus and the teachings of most world religions. Surely a little reminder about the Golden Rule would do the trick.
Wrong. Sadly, it seems America’s cultural divide has reached such a bitter impasse that the Golden Rule no longer applies. We’ve short-circuited it by jumping to the conclusion that “others” are not like us enough for the Golden Rule to apply.
That shouldn’t be shocking because it’s how “good Christians” explained away racial prejudice for generations. They believed people of color were not “human” in the same way white people are “human.” Many – but not all – of us see the error in that today, although the damage done continues to ripple through the ages.
“This derailment of the Golden Rule is exasperating because once you’ve jumped the track, it’s hard to get back on.”
This derailment of the Golden Rule is exasperating because once you’ve jumped the track, it’s hard to get back on. I didn’t want to believe this was true, but now I must admit it is.
When evangelical Christians want to reserve the right to refuse service to people they don’t like at their businesses, you would think they might be moved to compassion by imagining themselves on the other side of the sales counter. I’ve made that argument before: What if you were the one ordering a wedding cake or needing a public restroom or wanting to pray in public or requiring medication or seeking a job? How would you feel if you were the minority and got shut out?
Seems to me that’s a pretty good argument. If I can discriminate against you today, I should be afraid of you discriminating against me tomorrow, right? To which the answer is the Golden Rule.
But if I think I am inherently superior to you and not of the same species or class or caste, it’s easier to jump right over that barrier. I can discriminate against you because we do not operate on the same plane of human existence. I am superior to you.
This is the only logical conclusion I can draw after years of hoping and praying that we might find a way to get along despite our differences. How else to interpret the meanness of bills currently proposed in the state legislature where I live in Texas and similar bills in other state legislatures, not to mention the U.S. Congress?
Why else do things like transgender bathroom bills and military bans continue to get traction? Why else do protections for gay and lesbian employees get removed or blocked? Why else do adoption agencies deny children to parents who are not the “right kind” of Christians in their view? Why else do Christians want to protect their right to “sincerely held religious belief” but not anyone else’s right to the same? Why else do legislators keep filing bills that would create special exemptions for certain kinds of Christians but no one else?
“Now there are forces . . . trying to roll back equality and opportunity for those we see as ‘other.’”
The only answer I can see is the belief that we are not, in fact, the same humanity.
American society is founded on the doctrine that “all men [people] are created equal.” This is an ideal our country never has been able to live up to; we have fallen short time and again. But until recently, we’ve been slowly adjusting in the right direction. We have moved forward on equality for women, persons of color, gays and lesbians and religious minorities – although being nowhere near the full realization of our founding creed. However imperfectly, we were trying.
Now there are forces at play pushing us backward, trying to roll back equality and opportunity for those we see as “other.” If you don’t believe this is happening, just listen to the rhetoric coming from national and state politicians – echoed by prominent religious leaders – about people who are not like them. Or the need to “protect” themselves and their religion from people who are not like them.
Perhaps this is the natural outcome predicted by Newton’s Third Law of Motion: To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Perhaps it was inevitable that motion to live into our founding creed of being created equal would meet with resistance in time.
If so, now is the time to prove Newton’s law works both ways. We need an equal and opposite reaction to discrimination and exclusion. If you won’t listen to Jesus and the prophets, at least listen to Newton.