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Every person who ever lived has unique problems, so how can there be general advice that is applicable to all people at every moment of their lives? Jesus nailed it with,  “All things whatsoever that ye would that men should do unto you, do even so unto them. For this is the law and the prophets.” There are many Golden Rules at Wikipedia, but this King James Version (KJV) is the most sophisticated. The sticking point for many people on this version is the word should, and in most modern translations it is replaced with the word would. Using the word would removes the moral imperative implied by should, and modern Americans don’t like being told what to do. The Muslims, who do consider Jesus one of their prophets, feel they should obey their God and his prophets, and therefore are eager to submit to His teachings.

Jesus by using the word should gives a specific direction to his followers that is specific to their immediate need at the existing moment of time. His teaching isn’t just doing what you would like others to do to you, or alternatively not doing to others what you don’t want them to do to you, but doing to them in this moment what they should be doing to you. What is that? To help you live and live more abundantly; and what would that be? It is impossible to know what that would be, because it changes every moment of every person’s life, but what is needed and potentially knowable to you in this moment is what you should be doing to your companions in the existing situation.

This starts sounding like Kant’s categorical imperative, “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” I’ve had trouble with this phrasing of what might be a good idea, because it requires the person to somehow intuit what all people in all situations would find an acceptable form of conduct, and then act. To consider and to know what all situations would be for all people in all situations is impossible, and thus the categorical imperative is inoperable. With Jesus’ King James Version the implication is immediate and applicable to the present situation instead of generalized to all situations like Kant’s. At every moment of one’s life one can consider how one’s interlocutors should treat you in this situation, and the suggestion is to treat them with that attitude in mind.

Treat others not as you would like them to treat you, but as they should treat you.

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