Who first invented the golden rule?

| August 18, 2006 | 12 Replies

Answer:  Not Jesus.

This post is dedicated to the many people who have claimed to me, without any evidence or research, that the Golden Rule was invented by Jesus, as indicated by the “Do unto others” passage of the New Testament.  As though this principle hasn’t been extolled by all the world’s major religions!  As though this rule wasn’t used by many religions hundreds of years before the purported birth of Jesus. So for you guys who keep getting this wrong, PLEASE listen up:

The golden rule has been adopted by every major world religion.

For more information, see here and here and here and here and here . 

Note: You can order a versions-of-the-golden-rule poster here

A site called Palatine Hill lists some of the oldest formulations of the Golden Rule in reverse chronological order:

  • Ancient Egypt.- circa 2000 BCE “Do for one who may do for you, That you may cause him thus to do.” – The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant 109-110,
  • Hebrew Bible – circa 700 BCE “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the LORD.”
  • Zoroastrianism.- circa 600 BCE “That nature only is good when it shall not do unto another whatever is not good for its own self.” – Dadistan-i-Dinik 94:5,
  • Buddhism.- circa 500 BCE “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” – Udana-Varga 5:18,
  • Confucianism.- circa 500 BCE “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” Analects of Confucius 15:24,
  • Socrates.- circa 400 BCE “Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others.”

The list goes on and on.  Although many philosophers would object, I would add Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative to the mix.  I would also add a version I learned from a neighbor when I was a kid “If you smack me, I’ll smack you back.” Or maybe that’s the Inverse Golden Rule or Obverse Golden Rule. 

What’s truly interesting is that all decent people (not just believers in God) adopt a rule like the Golden Rule.  Thus, there really doesn’t seem to be a religious basis for the rule.  At bottom, it is a call for empathy.  The more I consider morality, the more I think that it is empathy that is the basis for all workable moral systems.  No matter what else a supposed moral system is about, if it’s not founded on widespread empathy (not just empathy toward the small circle of one’s own friends and family), it’s not really about morality. 

Anyway, I’m trying to follow the golden rule by posting this information.  I appreciated others posting this similar information for my own benefit, so now I’m posting it.  Adios.

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Category: Culture, Good and Evil, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. On loving one’s enemies : Dangerous Intersection | April 30, 2012
  1. John says:

    Actually I would agree with you about Kant. His Univeral Imperative is pretty much the same notion.

    Thanks for posting this, the timing is bizzare though as I just posted something about ethics mentioning similar things in my blog yesterday.

  2. Delysid says:

    Aye aye, the categorical imperative is the same thing! It's simply deductive logic…or a more fancy modern version! ;)

  3. HJ says:

    Even though Jesus didn't "invent" the golden rule, he still did state a version of it. Many world religions use it still today and over all it is a good moral in my opinion. But why do we need morals without someone to account to? in Christianity, we have good morals because we love God but in an atheistic view, they are empty morals. Just throwin that out there.

    • Jose says:

      Actually, secular people do good for the sake of doing good. While Christians do good to make their sky daddy happy and avoid the fire of “hell” even though it’s made up. So in essence christian morality is no more to the point than a slave being called a good worker.

  4. Tony Coyle says:

    HJ said

    why do we need morals without someone to account to? in Christianity, we have good morals because we love God but in an atheistic view, they are empty morals. Just throwin that out there.

    Nice straw man!

    If you read the post for comprehension (along with the other linked material), you'll likely see that the common foundation for our morals are our sense of empathy – the triggering of mirror neurons that inflict pain on ourselves when we sense pain in the other, or joy on ourselves when we sense joy.

    The empathic foundation for morals is also grounded anthropologically in our tribalism. Family/tribe is familiar – so one has a rich 'model' of those related people which enables a richer, deeper empathy. The other, non-tribe, have at most a passing resemblance – so one does not invest much in an internal model, and needs to 'work' to have empathy.

    This is why most 'simple' morals are based upon tribal values, and why we find those easiest to adopt.

    More complex morals are founded upon an extension of our commonality (extending the tribe), so that we can engage similar empathic responses for the other.

    We see some people, and their moral codes, take this further (buddhists, for instance).

    Many, retain a strict divide (the Nazi 'aryan' mythos is founded up[on a strong us/them divide between the aryan and the other – engaging strong empathy response for aryans, and weak empathy response for non-aryans).

    So, HJ – when you claim that 'atheistic' morals are empty, you are merely spouting garbage. Morals are a formalization of our empathy. Superior morals, extend and embrace everyone into our 'tribe' – not just those who are 'saved' and not just those who 'look like us'.

    In my opinion, 'atheistic' morals are the only real morals that exist – everything else is still insufferably tribal (especially any that require obeisance to an authoritarian god).

    Just throwin' that out there.

  5. Brynn Jacobs says:

    HJ-

    So if you didn't love God, you would run wild– killing, murdering, raping whomever you chose? That's the implication in what you are saying, and it's terrifying.

    For me, as an atheist, it's much easier to believe that most people are basically good, and that the world becomes a better place for all if we treat each other the way we would like to be treated.

  6. paul jay says:

    Jesus had ideas similar to Gandhi and MLK, they echoed Buddhist and Islamic wisdom. ‘Turn the other cheek’ is Jesus’ interpretation of the golden rule. Ron Paul, with whom I disagree on everything, presents this in the context of of a presidential contest. A first, and I admire him for it.

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