Relitigating the Golden Rule

Relitigating the Golden Rule April 29, 2016

A string of links from Twitter led me to a Christianity Today* piece from last summer that seems to be peak CT. The headline and accompanying stock photo may be the most Christianity Today thing I’ve ever seen:


Good Lord that’s awful. The stock photo choice there would’ve made Rudyard Kipling squirm and say, “Don’t you guys think maybe that’s a little too colonial?

That picture appeals to both kinds of CT reader: White Christians who conceive of the poor as dark-skinned children with outstretched hands who should receive optional charity, and white Christians who conceive of the poor as dark-skinned children with outstretched hands who should be turned away lest we create cycles of dependency.

Who are these kids? What’s the original, real-life context here? No hint of that, but by plucking this picture out of that context and framing it as representative of all the poor people who would be helped by saintly white Christians if only those Christians weren’t being persecuted and “endangered” by, like, gay people, the photo is transformed into something else, and we’re all a little bit more racist just for looking at it.

The article makes it clear how we’re supposed to view these stock-photo children: as hostages. These are the kids who will be denied justice unless the white “religious groups you admire” are permitted to help them only on their own terms and only if those terms are allowed to include whatever they wish — denial of baked goods to same-sex couples, a refusal to understand how contraception and conception work, bathroom patrols, etc.

(Wait, did I say “justice”? My mistake. Justice don’t enter into it. This is about “charity” — private, personal, optional largesse. Handouts to those outstretched hands. The poor have no claim, no right, no desert, no entitlement. But “we” can help them if we decide to want to, and that optional option of deciding to help them a little bit is maybe nice.)

But the headline is the real piece of work.

Set aside the unsupported assertion that the religious groups in question are “endangered,” the hideous thing here is the idea that “protecting … religious groups you admire” is the proper goal for public policy. That’s not what it means to be a citizen. Or a neighbor.

The only way the zero-sum sectarian tribalism of that headline could possibly have been redeemed would have been if the article had consisted of a single sentence: Protect religious groups you admire by protecting religious groups you do not admire.

Or, maybe two sentences: “Protect the religious liberty of groups you admire by protecting the religious liberty of groups you do not admire. How else did you think this was supposed to work you myopic, self-absorbed jackwagons?”

The problem here is not the specifics or the mechanics of the legal policies and arguments in this article. The problem is that the whole exercise is an attempt to relitigate the Golden Rule. “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you,” Jesus said, “for this is the law and the prophets.”

The approach here is not that. The approach here is to figure out some way that others can be legally compelled to do to us as we would have them do without our being compelled to do to them as they would have us do.

That’s just … not good.

The politics of “religious liberty” in our pluralistic society have brought us to a very strange place. At the vanguard of those arguing for the Golden Rule we have a bunch of pseudo-Satanists flamboyantly reminding us that turnabout is fair play. The most vocal and visible Christians, on the other hand, seem to be taking their cues from Aleister Crowley, arguing that “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” — at least as far as the law applies to them. This puts me in the uncomfortable and unexpected position of having to side with the Satanists, because that’s the only way to obey what Jesus commanded.

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* Say it with me.

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