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Duty to Warn: Forgetting All About The Golden Rule

October 30th, 2009

Gary G. Kohls, MD

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” asked the Pharisees of Jesus, trying to entrap him into making some statement of blasphemy. Jesus answered: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and prophets.” In his answer, Jesus was being consistent in his commitment to the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

In a scene paralleling this New Testament story, a heathen man approached the influential first century Jewish Rabbi Hillel, and said: “If you can teach me the whole of the Torah while I stand on one foot, you can make me a Jew.”

So Hillel had the man stand on one foot and simply taught him the Golden Rule: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study.”

Jesus lived and preached much more than the Golden Rule, but all his ethical teachings seemed to be grounded in it. Famously, Jesus went one radical step further than any other religious prophet before him had ever gone. He taught, indeed commanded, his followers to love their enemies. Jesus was simply enlarging on what was his understanding of the nature of God, whom he referred to as Abba, Aramaic for “loving parent”.

To Jesus, God was a nonviolent, unconditionally loving parent, perhaps best exemplified by the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, who loved his estranged “enemy son” so much that he forgave his indiscretions and brought him back into the family. Another classic example of the practicality of enemy-love is the parable of the Good Samaritan. Samaritans were traditional “enemies” of Jews, but the story was told as a model for how Christians were to live their lives, stopping to rescue, befriend, feed and heal friends and enemies even if there is considerable risk involved.

So how did the spirit of love, compassion, forgiveness and active, pacifistic nonviolence get corrupted into a religion that has, for the past 1700 years, participated willingly in so much of the most gruesome wars in human history?

The gradual reversal of the nonviolent teachings of Jesus was, for all practical purposes, completed three centuries after Jesus’ crucifixion, with the merger of church and state under the tyrannical, homicidal Roman Emperor Constantine “the Great”, who, as one of his first official acts as emperor, stopped the persecutions of the Christian church by issuing the Edict of Toleration.

And then, within a couple of decades, with the willing help of grateful church leaders, Constantine gradually co-opted the religion in a process that proved be fatal to the original form of Christianity. The church morphed into a state-sponsored and supported institution that did not object to the wars of empire, naturally being appreciative of all the wealth, power, property and prerogative that came with the bargain. To stay in the good graces of the secular rulers, they only had to hold their tongues and submerge their consciences.

Still, even though the church generally had to side with the state in issues of war, torture and persecutions of those groups that were out of favor, there still was Augustine’s Just War Theory that, if applied, should have prevented Christian participation in all wars.

But the Just War Theory was rarely applied in decisions concerning warfare. At an ancient Catholic church Council of Arles, France, it was declared that priests (who, in the first few centuries of Christianity, it must be remembered, were conscientious objectors to all wars and all killing) could not use swords in war, but they could use clubs!

There were also rules of warfare called “The Peace of God” and “The Truce of God” to theoretically limit the actions of Christian warriors.

The Council of Narbonne in 1054, for example, decreed that there should be no attacks on clerics, monks, nuns, women, pilgrims, merchants, peasants, visitors to councils, churches and their surrounding cemeteries and cloisters to a distance of sixty feet; and the lands of the clergy, shepherds and their flocks, agricultural animals, wagons in the fields, and olive trees were also to be protected from Christian plunderers in war.

The “Truce of God” limited the time for military operations.

There was to be no fighting from Advent through Epiphany nor from Septuagesima until the eighth day after Pentecost, and warring was prohibited on Sundays, Fridays, and on any of the holy days on the church calendar.

A rather humorous example of these early Christian church rules of war is this recorded oath made by Robert the Pious, a Christian soldier from the early 1000s CE:

“I will not infringe on the Church in any way. I will not hurt a cleric or a monk if unarmed. I will not steal an ox, cow, pig, sheep, goat, ass, or a mare with colt. I will not attack a villain or vilainesse (sic) or servants of merchants for ransoms. I will not take a mule or a horse male or female or a colt in pasture from any man from the calends of March to the feast of All Saints unless to recover a debt. I will not burn houses or destroy them unless there is a knight inside. I will not root up vines. I will not attack noble ladies traveling without husband nor their maids nor widows or nuns unless it is their fault. From the beginning of Lent to the end of Easter I will not attack an unarmed knight.”

The natural and predictable outcome of all of this corrupted theology led to the tragic “Holy War” Crusades and the “holy murder” Inquisitions, where, for 600 years or more, Jews and heretics were burned at the stake, often as a part of religious celebrations.

And then we had the War Between the States in America where Northern and Southern Christians legally killed each other to the tune of 600,000 in the mid-19th century. And American Christian troops killed Christian and pagan Filipinos at the end of the 19th century in the Spanish-American War.

European Allied Christians killed European Axis Christians in both World Wars to the tune of 70 million people. And the satanic process of legalized murder in the name of honor and duty to God and Country hasn’t let up to this very day, with “Christian” White Houses, backed up by “Christian” Congresses and “Christian” Supreme Courts and “Christian” Pentagons and “Christian” armies and their “Christian” military chaplains all supported by “Christian” voters who are continually being propagandized by well-hidden arms dealers, various gun-runners and the Military/Industrial/Media/Financial complex to believe that the USA is in an endless war with insurgents (AKA ”freedom fighters”) who are patriotically defending their women and children and their nations from the military occupation and the rape and plunder of their resources.

The irony of the situation should be abundantly clear to the open-minded reader. America’s de facto state religion, Christianity, has been co-opted and corrupted, with a few exceptions, and remains so, initially by sinister ancient and now by modern ones. This religion has obviously abandoned the teaching of the Golden Rule, one of the most basic core ethical values of all the major religions: do not do to others what you would not have them do to you.

Jesus, according to the way he lived his life and taught, would have his followers, to not bomb, starve, deprive, poison, kill, torture or lock up anybody if you wouldn’t want to be similarly harmed yourself.

The implications for our nation, our faiths and our churches should be clear. The call to action shouldn’t be hard to figure out.


Dr. Kohls is a retired physician from Duluth, MN who writes about peace, justice, health and religious issues. He is also a founding member of Every Church A Peace Church www.ecapc.org

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