Christianity in particular has had a huge influence on people's moral baseline, especially in Western cultures. The Ten Commandments in particular establish a very good moral basis. And I will say that I believe the vast majority of Christian ministers are sincere men and women who are committed to their faith. I've met many good people who are in the church; people who actually live it and don't just talk about it on Sunday (or even Saturday as the case may be). I have a lot of respect for each of them.
It's just too easy for misinterpreted words to take on a life of their own. It's worse when a scripture is deliberately misinterpreted in order to justify someone's actions which have nothing to do with the true message of that scripture, and everything to do with gaining or maintaining control over a person's mind, their money, and/or their will.
Take the Golden Rule for example. I won't go too deeply into the fact that Confucius was the first to dictate the rule, and somehow it still ended up being written in the Bible hundreds of years after Confucius' death as if it was revealed by Jesus for the first time in the Bible. Perhaps Jesus said these words too, but Confucius said them long before Jesus was even born. You can research all of that for yourself by Googling "Confucius and Golden Rule".
The point here is we all think the Biblical Golden Rule says "Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You." Only it may not actually say that. More to my point, I think it doesn't really say that, and I'll show you why along with why it matters. Since I've brought it up, Confucius' version is slightly different. It goes like this: "What you do not wish upon yourself, do not extend it to others." The distinction between the two versions will be important later in this post.
Since the New Testament was originally written in Greek, we'd have to go to the original words that were written and work from there to translate and interpret it to get the true meaning. The original Greek scripture that the passage in Matthew 7:12 is based on is transliterated from Greek: "All things therefore, as many as if desire that should do to you (the men) so also you do to them."
Now let's rearrange these words to fit within an English syntax. "If you desire, as many men that should do to you, so also you do to them." Don't agree with this rendition? OK. Here's another one.
Let's take the very similar scripture found in Luke 6:31 and go through the same process. The original Greek scripture uses these words "kai kathos thelete hina poiosin hymin hoi anthropoi poieite autois homoios" (http://biblos.com/luke/6-31.htm). We can literally translate these words as "and as you desire that (men) should do to you do to them likewise". The same words rearranged for English syntax get us: "and as you desire, men that should do to you, do to them likewise." I think that's a reasonable translation.
The most obvious difference between the two versions of scripture has to do with the first words in each scripture that both deal with desire. I interpret them to mean, "If you want to do this, then do it this way." Our popular version is more of a command than a piece of advice because there is no allowance for personal desire in it - as in "DO unto others just like I told you, and screw whatever else you really want to do...".
You mean I don't get a choice? That arrangement doesn't fly for me, kimosabe. My "do what thou wilt" is offended.
A second, more-to-the-point difference is this: both scriptures use the word "should", as in "men that should do to you". We commonly interpret both scriptures as an admonishment to do to others what they should be doing to you. But is that really the original meaning of the usage of the word "should"? OR could it be more like this archaic usage of the same word: "Should I stumble and fall, wilt thou be there to catch me?"
In other words, is "should" actually being used as an "if" as in the previous sentence? If that's the case, the original scripture could be translated similarly to "And as you desire, if men do to you, do to them likewise."
Aha! That translation is a lot more in line with the Gray Philosophy of "tit-for-tat". Actually, the Gray Philosophy is largely based upon what I'm about to show you.
So now let's look at the Greek work for "should" as it's used in the second scripture (Luke 6:31). The Greek word "poiosin" in interpreted to mean "should do" in this context, but it could also mean "to do". If we use the alternate meaning for poiosin, and then reinterpret the Greek scripture, it would read: "And as you desire, men that do to you, do to them likewise."
Let's look at the practical reasons and also some behavioral reasons why this scripture should be reinterpreted first and then followed. First, the practical reasons:
I watched a documentary that was produced by BBC Horizon ("Nice Guys Finish First" - 1987) dealing with an aspect of game theory where researchers were trying to discover the best way for a person to play a conflict-style game (think "battleship") to perform as well as statistically possible. During the game, opponents were given the opportunity to either fire on their enemy when it was their turn, or to deliberately "miss" their enemies’ position with their ammunition. The other player in turn was given the option to either retaliate and return fire, or to also deliberately miss their opponent's position in response.
After a few plays, it turned out that the most successful approach for both sides to playing the game was a "tit-for-tat" strategy. That meant, if your opponent fired on you, you'd fire on them. Or, if they deliberately missed you, then you'd deliberately miss them. It ended up where each opponent began to sort of "trust" their opponent to immediately do to them whatever they had been doing to the opponent. Over time, neither opponent fired on the other because they didn't want to deal with the immediate consequences they knew would come.
They then ran a computer simulation of that particular approach of the immediate return of "fire" or the immediate return of a "miss", and it turned out that if one opponent uses the immediate "tit-for-tat" strategy, he usually does significantly better in the long run than the one who uses a different attack strategy - no matter what the opposing gamer's strategy was.
I think I'm onto something here.
So let's get into the behavioral reasons for using this sort of immediate "tit-for-tat" approach in social interactions.
Far too many people will do exactly what they think they can get away with. If they think they can take advantage of you, they'll try. If they don't, they don't try. Most of the entire time you're acquainted with these types of people, especially at first, they're constantly sizing you up to see whether they can get over on you somehow, exactly like kids will do. So it's always necessary to train people in how they should treat you upon first meeting them, and it's usually necessary to reinforce it from time to time just to keep relations going smoothly. That approach is only needed for people who operate that way, but since you don't know if they're that way when you first meet them, you have to be smart about it. But I'm not telling you anything about human nature that you don't already know.
What I'm leading up to is that this new interpretation of the Golden Rule is the antidote for all of that "human nature" stuff. The reason that's important is because not only is it a stupid simple rule to follow, but it always works, and works better than any other approach in the long run. It's profoundly interesting to me that Confucius' (or Jesus') "actual" admonition of treating people exactly how they treat you was scientifically and statistically proven to be the best approach to social relations and for defending one's interests. Just immediately reflect exactly what others throw your way. That's it, and you can cut through all of the "social negotiation" crap with some "social ninjutsu".
In short, if they're cool with you, be cool with them. If they start some trouble, send some trouble their way. If they love you, love them back. If they screw you over...well, you get the idea. This way, neither you nor they can easily take advantage of the other, and relations will hopefully evolve into consistent civility, just as in the researcher's "battleship" game. The whole idea reminds me of one of Sun Tzu's quotes that says it's best to "win without fighting". Even if a conflict ensues, the one with the most firepower usually wins, and also teaches his less-well-armed opponent a valuable lesson about who not to mess with.
Now let's apply this same idea to social interaction.
The problem in social interaction arises when only one party is playing by what they "think" is the Golden Rule, being to "do unto others as you want them to do to you". But if the other party is playing by a different set of rules, such as "do unto others and see what happens" or "do unto others and then laugh your monkey ass off", then the "Misinterpreted Golden Rule" player won't last very long in that exchange. However, the "Newly-Interpreted Golden Rule" player would do just fine against that sort of opponent, and could possibly even make a new ally out of a former enemy.
So, should we play by the old Golden Rule and possibly end up a victim, or should we play by the newly interpreted version of the Golden Rule and probably end up more of a sovereign?
I know what I'm gonna do...