NOTE: This comes as a sequel to The Old Lie.
Although each major religion tries to prove its own unique charm and dignity and relevance and truth, all of them build on two basic rules:
- Recognize an over-arching entity.
- Treat others as you want them to treat you.
Or, more formally:
- “I am the Lord thy God.”
- The Golden Rule.
Set aside “Lord thy God” for now; if such a Being exists, has powers and motives beyond our ken, and has dominion over us, we can do little more than guess at what is going on.
Look instead at Golden Rule.
The first corollary to GR has to be a warning against harming another person. Killing, for instance: that would qualify as harm. So if you do not want to be killed yourself, you ought not to kill others.
There remains, however, one complication. As is often the case with complications, it centers on interpretation, on the meaning of words. Here, it is the meaning of one word: “others.”
Liberal (with a small “l”) reading suggests it means people in general, everyone on the planet, everyone in the universe, should we ever find and interact with extra-terrestrial beings.
Still, in some quarters, the “others” whom one must treat as oneself are more tightly defined. They are members of the same
- ethnic group
… well, you get the idea. The “others” may be clear in your mind, but may not be exactly the same as your neighbor’s “others.”
For that matter, who is your neighbor?
The point I’m getting at is this: We are a moral people, by our own definition and standards. We therefore would not harm — would not kill is what I mean — others without good reason. Without justification. A contentious subject, one about which I’ve written at excruciating length elsewhere.
How then can a sane and thoughtful person condone drone attacks, unwarranted invasions, bombing of civilians, or any of the thousand other crimes we commit in the name of national security? National pride. National arrogance.
Are we ourselves the only “others,” the only ones who deserve to be treated well by the rest of the world? And if that is that case, what of those outsiders, those others who are not “others?” If we do not recognize them, why ought they to recognize us? Are they now justified in trying to kill us, just as we try to kill them?
Despite advancing years, I often do not sleep well at night.