Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Golden Rule

[image source]

Karen Armstrong (History of God, among other brilliant books) was on Charlie Rose last night pushing her newest book, The Great Transformation : The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions. The book looks at the Axial Age as the origin of all the world's major religious traditions. Karl Jaspers named the period from 800 BCE to 200 BCE the Axial Age because during this one period, all of the major religious traditions flowered.

From Wikipedia:
The word axial in the phrase Axial Age means pivotal. The name comes from the German word Achse, which means both "axis" and "pivot". Due to a mistranslation, the term axial has become standard.

The term axial or pivotal is appropriate as ancient Greek philosophy which grounds the politics of the West and additionally via the Platonic strain is with the Bible one of the legs on which Christian theology stands flourished during this era. Rome which, of course, has had a large impact on the West took the Greece of this era as a model. Buddhism which had and has a large impact on world history was founded by Siddhartha Guatama who lived during this period. Confucianism, too, arose during this era. Confucianism was the dominant Chinese worldview until the advent of Communism and arguably still is.

Hinduism also flourishied at his time, as well as the beginning of Taosim and Jainism. The origin of the monotheistic tradition also stems from this period.

Armstrong's new book traces the development of all of this, and I'm guessing she looks at what conditions may have contributed to this flowering of faith.

One thing she mentioned in the interview was that all of these religions developed in reaction to a perceived violence in the given culture. Each of these traditions was a reaction against a violent world, and each religion has at its core one simple teaching.

She used this story:

A pagan approached a Rabbi and said, "I will convert to your religion if you can state the entire teachings of your faith while standing on one foot." The Rabbi stood on one foot and said, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary."
The Golden Rule. It's that simple, says Armstrong.

She argues that this is the core teaching of all the world's major religions, no matter how differently it might be stated by each one.

What do you think?

Del.Icio.Us Tags: , , , ,
Technorati Tags: , , , ,


Darius said...

I think the Golden Rule = love; and that love is one of a small number of genuinely spiritual experiences that have nothing to do with believing things contrary to experience and reason; and which, if enough of us become aware of them in time, will allow our species to be more than a flash in the pan.

Otherwise something better will arise. The earth and sun have a long, long future, with or without us.

Steve said...

Bill, I wish I had seen that program last night. Armstrong's a very articulate and interesting woman. Is Charlie Rose back to hosting his show, or does he still have guest hosts filling in for him?


william harryman said...


No he's not back yet, it was a guest host -- a pastor in this case who asked very good questions. It actually airs here the day after if shows everywhere else, at 1 pm, during my break from the gym. Strange time since it's in the middle of kid's stuff, but it works for me.

Yeah, Karen Armstrong is brilliant, funny, and humble. I love hearing her talk. I'd love to hear her and Elaine Pagels discuss biblical history or anything else they want to talk about. They have different angles, but they are both the best in their fields.


william harryman said...

Hi Darius,

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

I agree completely, with everything you said.

I stopped by your blog. Looks good. Are writing from a Christian viewpoint?


Anonymous said...

The only problem with the Golden Rule is that it is only as effective as the worldview of the person practicing it; by which I mean, it has different interpretations depending on worldview.
For example, the Golden Rule fully justifies the crusades to a blue-level/mythic membership Christian. Logic is: "Since all non-Christians are going to Hell, if I were not a Christian, I would want others to try to convert me to Christianity by any means necessary." A more advanced worldview see the folly in this and says "I would not want others to try to change my faith, especially through violence; therefore I will not do it to others," but less developed worldvies just aren't capable of that kind of pluralistic thinking. Therefore the Golden Rule can be twisted, as almost anything can, to endorse all sorts of violence and heinious acts.

william harryman said...

Bill, I think you are spot on in how you're looking at this.

This reverts to something Kai mentioned in comments on another post -- that there may be a developmental line related to the ability to take another's point of view, but particularly the view of an other who is weaker or less accepted in some way.

Clearly, the lower memes lack this ability for the most part. SDi would see this as a second tier skill, but it could be a line, and if it is, it could be available to lower level memes.

Or it could be a state, thereby making it available to everyone, at least as a passing experience.

If everyone has access to gross, sublte, and causal states, as Wilber argues, then maybe this is trait of the subtle or causal state?

Don't know, just thinking out loud.


Umguy said...

Reading Armstrong I've sometimes thought the birth of the golden rule was tied to the shift from red to blue on the spiral. A kind of beginning creed to the first universal (instead of ethnically tied) faiths. But I'm not sure that completely holds up.

william harryman said...

Interesting observation. Certainly, all the religions that began in the axial age were on that Red-Blue cultural cusp. They all have some form of divine order with rewards/punishments for how one lives one's life -- which would support the Blue need to contain Red ego drives.

The Golden Rule seems to be the foundation of everything that comes after in terms of rules for good conduct. I'm not sure enough of the timeline (not yet having read the new book) to say for sure, though.

If you get to the book before I do, please drop me a note about what you think.


Umguy said...

Will do.