Today is the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time. In today’s readings we have the famous Golden Rule:
“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your being,
with all your strength,
and with all your mind,
and your neighbor as yourself.”
This statement is the bedrock of Christian thought and morality. As easy as it is to say, it is incredibly difficult to follow. While Christianity may have the most extremely form of the positive Golden Rule, it is far from unique in promoting the Golden Rule. Every major ancient culture including the Babylonians, Egyptians, Indians, Chinese, Greeks and Romans had a form of the Golden Rule. Moreover, all major world religions, including Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, Janism, Native American spirituality and even the New Atheists have a form of the Golden Rule. There is a universality to its acceptance as a model of ethical behavior (ignoring quasi-popular philosophies such as Ayn Rand’s objectivism who people may aspouse to but never propose implementing to its logical conclusion).
This in and of itself is striking. It is likely that over 99% of the humans who lived in the last 5,000 years adhered to some form of the Golden Rule. Despite attempts for an explanation, I do not believe there is convincing basis in evolutionary biology why I should be nice to my neighbor or treat her the way I want to be treated (see Patrick Kerns’ rebuttal in the comments below for an opposing view). In a “survival of the fittest” world without any objective morality, I should solely look out for my self-interest without regard to how it affects others. It is a perplexing question.
In today’s reflection, we answer this conundrum by turning to an outstanding podcast by Fr. Robert Barron of Word on Fire ministries (Fr. Barron’s weekly homilies are a rich source of the Christian faith and I encourage you to visit there often). Fr. Barron cites C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity which used the universality of the Golden Rule as evidence for the existence of God. Lewis calls the Golden Rule the “Law of Human Nature” and asserts that everyone knows it almost instinctively.
Lewis then makes a second observation. While people everywhere have a notion that they should behave in these ways, they do not do so themselves. He says, “They know the Law of Human Nature; they break it. These two facts, are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe in which we live.”
Lewis reasons that just as the laws of physics or mathematics are real, this Law of Human Nature must also be real. It must have been created as part of a universal truth, and not by societal convention. In other words, the Law of Human Nature is embedded in the ontological nature of reality.
Lewis says, “I find that I do not exist on my own, that I am under a law. Something that is directing the universe, and appears in me as a law urging me to do right and making me feel responsible and uncomfortable when I do wrong.” Other cultures have treated this Law of Human Nature as a real but impersonal force. Greeks used the term logos and the Chinese used to the term tao to reflect this eternal order or path to eternal order.
Lewis reasons from a monotheistic perspective that there must be a “perfect goodness” behind the universe that is interested in what we do. “I think we have to assume,” he says, “it is more like a mind than it is like anything else we know.” Perhaps that is because it has rules. To Lewis, that perfect goodness, the Law of Human Nature, that Being, is what we call God.
What makes Christianity unique among monotheistic religions (all other world religions) is the belief that God (logos, tao, Law of Human Nature, perfect goodness) so loved creation in general and humanity in particular that God became human to enter into a more intimate relationship with humanity in general and each person in particular. Our very being is hard-wired to seek out our creator (and hence the universality of the Golden Rule).
That is why a rich prayer and spiritual life is so enriching (love God with all your heart, being, strength and mind). Moreover, when we spread that love to others (love your neighbor as yourself), we are connecting us with our Creator, our fellow humans and our truest selves in sharing this divine order. Lord, this week help me to love you and all of my neighbors more deeply.