Religion and the values of the Golden Rule

In opening the fifth and final section of his book on the Golden Rule, John Goodman emphasises that religion is worthless without the values of equity, justice and mercy which the Golden Rule represents.

He argues that while the Golden Rule is not the whole of religion it is a vital part. A zeal for disputing and contending about religious opinions, without commitment to Golden Rule values, is only a kind of knight errantry, mere display and pageantry, unprofitable, doing no honour to God or to the zealots’ own reputations. It is like Solomon’s expeditions to collect apes and peacocks.

Devotion without honesty is hypocrisy or at best bigotry. ‘To make the most glorious Profession, and to espouse the precisest Sect and Party, without an equal regard to this’ [i.e. honesty], give grounds for accusing the zealot of pride and deception (p. 77).

Christianity, Goodman says, is the religion to which such a zealot can make the least claim. It values faith, justice and mercy above tithing (Matthew 23:23) and ritual sacrifice (9:13), equates pure religion with visiting ‘the Fatherless and Widow in their Affliction’ (James 1:27), and is especially remarkable (as Ammianus Marcellinus observed) for encouraging justice and gentleness.

John Goodman, The Golden Rule (1688), pp. 75-78.

Ammianus Marcellinus: Goodman quotes from that author’s Res Gestae 22.11.5, nihil nisi iustum suadet et lene, but with the readings nil and leve.  The phrase occurs in discussion of George, bishop of Alexandria, who ‘forgot his profession’ and was an unworthy martyr. Cf. Averil Cameron and Alan Cameron, ‘Christianity and Tradition in the Historiography of the Late Empire’, Classical Quarterly N.S. 14, 1964, 316-328; E.D. Hunt, ‘Christians and Christianity in Ammianus Marcellinus’, Classical Quarterly N.S. 35, 1985, 186-200; Jason P. Davies, Rome’s Religious History: Livy, Tacitus and Ammianus on Their Gods, Cambridge – New York, Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 245.


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