Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Platinum Rule (III)

First part of this series here. Second part here.

What would the historical Jesus have thought about the Platinum Rule? It should be noted that the Golden Rule is less misguided in a communal (group-oriented) society like that of ancient Palestine, where people were less concerned about catering to individual needs like we are today. "Treat others how you want to be treated" was Jesus' way of telling groups of people to put themselves in the shoes of other groups of people. "Give to those who beg from you" (Mt 7:9/Lk 6:30); etc., meaning the haves should treat the have-nots the same way they themselves would want to be treated if their situations were reversed. That's a tall enough order in Jesus' society. In our individualist world the Platinum Rule simply improves upon the Golden Rule by honoring its actual intent. One could say that it even one-ups, or outdoes, the Golden Rule.

In this light Mitch Hadley's observations become interesting:
"I get uncomfortable with someone who tries to trump Christ. It's really kind of a zero-sum game, like trying to outdo your Boss. One can imagine Jesus slapping His head, thinking to Himself, 'The Platinum Rule! Why didn't I think of that?' And Alessandra, like all ambitious people, should fear the consequences of this game of oneupsmanship. Because when this Boss calls you to His office, it's a one-way trip. And being dismissed from His presence is eternal."
Oh really? Though Jesus excelled at one-upping rivals like the Pharisees, he seems also to have thrived on being one-upped in turn by certain outcasts and low-lives. In Mk 7:24-30/Mt 15:21-28 he gets burned by a Canaanite woman, and salvation comes to the heathen nations because of it! John Pilch has discussed the account, where Jesus ignores this woman and then calls her a dog when she persists in harassing him, but she shamelessly embraces the insult and one-ups him in a clever rejoinder: "Lord, even the dogs get to eat scraps." Jesus actually concedes defeat: "For saying this you may go your way; your daughter is healed."(Mark)/ "Great is your faith! Your daughter is healed."(Matthew) In other words, "Touché, woman; you dish out what you take, so God grants your favor" (Pilch). This stands as the pivotal account in the gospels by which grace came to the pagan nations, and it all happened (so Mark and Matthew believe) on account of a shameless hussy who gave as good as she got, and gratified Jesus because of it. Who knows, perhaps Jesus would have been equally gratified to see his own Rule being "outdone" by the heathens of corporate America.

It wouldn't surprise me in the least. I hasten to add, however, that I seriously doubt Jesus would have gone so far as to say that grace came to corporate America (of all places) just because some managers were putting the Platinum Rule into practice. :) The point is that Christians like Hadley could learn from the example of the shameless hussy, and perhaps dare to one-up their savior more often.

UPDATE (3 years later): As it turns out, the historical Jesus probably did not teach the Golden Rule.

8 Comments:

Blogger Christopher Heard said...

Loren, the comment from Mitch Hadley that you quote in this post ("The Platinum Rule (III)") implies a Jesus--or, rather, an ascended, cosmic Christ--who has such a fragile ego that he can accept nothing but affirmation. I personally think that view of Jesus/Christ(/God?) is more insulting to God than proposing alternate ethical formulations that can be seen to be consistent with, and even heuristically "superior" to, biblical phrasings of closely-related concepts.

As big a fan of Jesus as I am, for at least the last ten years I've suspected that the Johannine Jesus suffers from (or is constrained authorially by) a bit of a restricted imagination. "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." Oh really? What about to lay down one's life for a stranger? Or an enemy?

2/19/2006  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Thanks for this, Chris. I agree with both of your points -- completely.

2/19/2006  
Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

I think your quibbles about the Golden Rule are rooted in an unhistorical reading of the text.

You assume that each of us has different tastes with respect to how s/he wants to be treated. But it depends on what kinds of issue we're discussing.

Perhaps you owe me an enormous debt that you cannot possibly pay. Wouldn't it be safe for me to assume that you want me to forgive the debt, because that's how I would feel in your place?

Similarly with other examples. We all want to be treated with respect. We all want to be told how beautiful our newborn child is. We all appreciate a visit when we're sick in the hospital, or a shoulder to cry on when a loved one dies.

OK, maybe you like your coffee black while I like two sugars and two creams. In other words, we disagree on the relatively superficial matters; but we're of one mind on the "big" matters of life.

And I think Jesus was concerned with the big, universal concerns of the human heart. That's why your reading of the text is unhistorical. You're imagining that he was speaking to issues that were of no concern to him.

Whereas I'm imagining that he had in mind the kinds of issues that we see him exemplifying in his ministry.

Thus the rule you tout is better only with respect to lesser values. It's a brass rule, not a platinum rule.

2/22/2006  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

I think your quibbles about the Golden Rule are rooted in an unhistorical reading of the text.

The historicity behind Jesus' words wasn't my focus, though I acknowledged Jesus' positive intentions behind the Golden Rule. But regardless of his motives -- I seriously doubt he was concerned with the "big, universal issues of the human heart", as you claim -- people rely on the Golden Rule (without even realizing it) far too indiscriminately.

You assume that each of us has different tastes with respect to how s/he wants to be treated. But it depends on what kinds of issue we're discussing.

That is precisely why the Platinum Rule is more advantageous. With the Platinum Rule, it does not depend on the issue at hand.

Perhaps you owe me an enormous debt that you cannot possibly pay. Wouldn't it be safe for me to assume that you want me to forgive the debt, because that's how I would feel in your place?

There are many people who resent such actions, perhaps because they're proud, perhaps because in the long run it puts them under the power of the person acting so generously. Some people insist on paying back their debts (or as much as they can), no matter how large, and they really want to. Others are different; and some don't need their arms twisted at all to be let off the hook.

Similarly with other examples. We all want to be treated with respect. We all want to be told how beautiful our newborn child is. We all appreciate a visit when we're sick in the hospital, or a shoulder to cry on when a loved one dies.

Nearly all of us want to be treated with respect, but that's vague; people want to be respected in different ways. We do not all appreciate hospital visits; you evidently know different people than I do. There are people who certainly do not want shoulders to cry on when grieving. I'm afraid that you could well benefit from the Platinum Rule. :)

OK, maybe you like your coffee black while I like two sugars and two creams.In other words, we disagree on the relatively superficial matters; but we're of one mind on the "big" matters of life..

We're most certainly not, and thank goodness for it.

2/22/2006  
Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

I still think you're engaging in an unhistorical analysis. It's easy for an affluent westerner to talk about being too proud to accept charity. But put yourself in the shoes of the people to whom Jesus was ministering. They were familiar with crushing poverty and the kind of debt that could get you or one of your children sold into slavery. Do you honestly think they would refuse the forgiveness of such a debt? I think it's reasonable to assume that they would want their debt forgiven, just as I would.

As for respect, you say that I was too vague. Perhaps it's easier to speak in negative terms, of not expressing contempt. If I pass you on the sidewalk, I would prefer that you not spit in my face or strike me across the face. Isn't it reasonable for me to assume that you would also prefer not to be treated that way?

"Respect" isn't truly universal insofar as it may be expressed differently from one culture to another. But within a culture, it is generally agreed what sort of behaviours constitute respect and what don't. It is absurd — even perverse — to argue that, while I prefer to be treated with respect, someone else might prefer to be treated with contempt.

Even with respect to hospital visits, I cannot grant your point. OK, some people are lousy visitors and I'd rather they stayed away. But does anyone — any person of sound mind — want to die abandoned and alone? Of course not! Again, I insist that it is reasonable to assume that they would desire human contact in a time of profound distress, just as I would. All palliative care is based on that principle.

Such things are universally welcomed, whether you are willing to admit it or not. Thus the Golden Rule is perfectly sound, and doesn't need to be superceded.

2/22/2006  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

I still think you're engaging in an unhistorical analysis

You haven't understood my series very well, which isn't about the historical meaning behind the Golden Rule (which I do understand), but about how the Golden Rule permeates peoples' thinking today too much, and that it's flawed in principle, regardless of best intentions or historical origin.

As for the rather extreme examples you're now relying on -- someone now dying in a hospital, as opposed to just being in a hospital -- naturally most people want to be treated the same in such cases. The point is that the Platinum Rule covers these cases as much as the Golden Rule. It doesn't mean that people generally want to be treated the same way others do, just because you light on these particular examples.

2/23/2006  
Anonymous Joe said...

Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would want done unto you." (Mt 7:12/Lk 6:31)

Do you want to be treated in a way that is suitable with your personality? Do unto others also in the same way, don't treat everyone the same way, respect others unique personality as also we are better to be treated as our personality.

That is Golden Rule, hopefully I have clarified the meaning of Golden Rule for you :)

But if you like Platinum Rule, it is also good, as what you want to do is doing good to people.

Yes, Jesus is not the origin of Golden Rule. It is there in almost all religion: http://www.unification.net/ws/theme015.htm

3/13/2014  
Anonymous Joe said...

One good explanation about the Golden Rule: http://www.harryhiker.com/goldrule.htm

I like when he wrote: "To apply the golden rule adequately, we need knowledge and imagination."

Golden Rule is not a "rule" that we should understand only literally, or simplistically. As Harry wrote, to apply the golden rule adequately, we need knowledge and imagination. Read the link.

3/13/2014  

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