Occasionally I hear someone say that if everyone would operate according to the Golden Rule, the world would certainly be a better place, even utopian; but it is never going to happen. Men are said to be too corrupt and prone to evil behaviors, by nature. I understand this type thinking because I tend that way myself. However, I think such reasoning needs some soul searching evaluation.
If I really think that a vastly better world, here and now, is at least theoretically possible, what would/could I personally do to move in the direction of making that happen. Maybe I could devise a legal system which punishes people for ill treating their neighbors. That is a common approach to societal behavior modification and control. Of course, we have a long history in which to measure the effectiveness of that idea. In fact, that history leads directly to where we are as a society. If where we are is not where we want to be, then there is no reason to re-consider laws and punishments as the road to utopia.
Perhaps, I could become a persuasive orator , one capable of convincing others that proper behavior in accordance with the Golden Rule is best for them. If I take the religious approach here and include a threat of divine punishment, I end up right back where we are, again. The church has been preaching divine wrath and pending retribution for two millennia, leading to what we would not call utopian.
What else is there? I could conceivably commit myself to practicing the Golden Rule and lead by example. It might be tempting to say that I am already there, but am I? To some extent we have probably been conditioned by upbringing and the influence of societal mores to act with a level of propriety within a limited circle, those with whom I have a relatively close relationship.
The real challenge lies in defining how the Golden Rule applies for me in relationship to outsiders. Who do I need to be concerned with in trying to live the ultimate commandment? How does this divine principle mesh with my desire for personal security and the sanctity of private property. Can I insist on isolating myself for security reasons and freely accumulating material wealth within the framework of divinely enjoined love? These are troubling but necessary questions for any who look to and claim allegiance to Jesus.
What one concludes about Jesus' summation of the law and its purpose becomes the essential element of one's religious belief and practice as a so called Christian. The issue of right ritualism, right doctrine, and right church are basically irrelevant in the context of the greatest commandment. Some may try to insist that loving God requires all of the above, but Matthew 25 puts that contention to rest. As you treat one another, you so treat God. That is the real message.
The Golden Rule seems no great stretch at first glance, but it is actually dramatically outside the bounds of normal thinking. I may think that I am already largely in compliance, but until I draw the largest possible circle around my neighborhood, I probably don't fully appreciate the true scope of potential transformation and my role in it It's in embracing this larger scope that the Golden Rule presents its greatest challenge and its ultimate power.
There is a great irony in Christianity's insistence on the essential role of human government and organized religion in maintaining an ethical society, while simultaneous rejecting the primary ethical instruction of Christ as totally impractical. No matter how much our mind wants to reject the Rule in its broadest sense, we should never grow comfortable, personally or collectively, with that common reaction. The unbelievable has a way of becoming the truth, after all.