The Golden Rule? Or Gilding the Lily?

Fellow Patheos blogger and philospher, Francis Beckwith on President Obama’s misunderstanding of the one, while attempting to do the other in regards to marriage. Here’s a taste,

The President, Jesus, and the Golden Rule
By Francis J. Beckwith

President Barack Obama just announced his support for same-sex “marriage” in an interview with ABC reporterRobin Roberts. In explaining his reasoning, the president offered this theological reflection:

[Y]ou know… we [the First Lady and I] are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a as a dad and a husband and hopefully the better I’ll be as president.

I admire the president for unashamedly invoking the authority and instruction of Christ in revealing to us his internal deliberations on this matter. In an age in which many in our culture-shaping institutions reflexively, and unreflectively, dismiss the deliverances of theology as sub-rational, the president’s forthrightness is refreshing and welcome.

But it seems to me that his appeal to Christ’s Golden Rule, however appropriate, audacious, and praiseworthy, does not succeed in justifying his change of mind. The Golden Rule – “do to others whatever you would have them do to you” (Mt. 7:12) – is not a quid pro quo for preference satisfaction reciprocity. Otherwise, it would mean that if one were a masochist, for example, then one should inflict pain on others.

When Christ offered the Golden Rule as part of his Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7:27), he knew his listeners would understand it the same way they understood the other parts of that homily, including this question: “Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread?” (Mt. 7:9a).

If the Golden Rule were just about a mutual self-interest pact to protect everyone’s preferences, then a good response to Christ’s question would have been, “But Jesus, what if my son did ask for a stone because he preferred to eat the stone rather than the bread?”

This would be a foolish question because the Golden Rule is not about merely protecting your neighbor’s preferences, but rather, advancing your neighbor’s good. The president, ironically, must rely on this latter, and ancient, understanding in order to make sense of the appeal he makes to his responsibilities as a “dad” and “husband.” For the received meanings of these terms are embedded in an inherited moral tradition that he did not invent, but now rejects.

Go read the rest for Beckwith’s thoughts on the Golden Rule and how it applies to same-sex marriage. Then ponder the wisdom of learning objective truth at the feet of our political leaders, er, theologians, er, gods. Thanks, but I think I’ll stick with Christ and His Church. Otherwise, you get the following modification all too often: “He who has the gold (or the power), makes the rules.”

 

  • Maggie Goff

    I read that last week on the “Catholic Thing.” He lays it all out so logically. Very, very useful.

  • Tom

    Given Obama’s predilection of saying one thing and doing the exact opposite, I expect that he will start rounding up the LGBT community and sending them to Gitmo soon.


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