Old Testament Reading:
New Testament Reading:
This morning I have a modest agenda. I seek to weave no web
either metaphysics or of rhetoric. I seek only to share a
thoughts, a few notes, which occurred to me
as I considered a text from the Gospel of Thomas, the simple imperative
do what you hate." It has many possible meanings,
ramifications. Let's consider a few of them.
First, what does the saying mean? The answer is, of course,
anything you want it to. Or to be a bit more sober, at
means anything you think it does. We might ask after the
intent of the evangelist, or of Jesus, but that is also
amount to your guess.
Many commentators think that what we have here is an
version of the Golden Rule familiar from Confucianism, from
sayings of Rabbi Hillel, and from the New Testament,
others as you would have them do unto you." A form of
sounds a good bit like Thomas' occurs, as you have just
the Old Testament book of Tobit. Let's suppose for the
that this is indeed the meaning of the
That means the saying is subject to the same objections that
Walter Kaufman and others have aimed at the Golden Rule, namely
it breaks down at the point when others do not want to be
the way we wish people would treat us. Then for you to treat
the way you want to be treated becomes patronizing,
"All right," you say, "I'll treat them the way
they ought to want
to be treated, the
way I myself want to be treated."
How arrogant! Are you the model for all humanity?
But let's lay that headache aside for some other Sunday.
restrict ourselves to the bare idea that the Golden Rule at
implies we ought to treat people with respect and not do
violence. That we should give them a break and believe the
of them until we hear proof to the contrary. That if we can
some favor to the other, we will do it. I doubt that by
following such a policy you would go far wrong or get anybody very
If the Thomas saying forms a parallel with the Golden Rule
an antithetical parallel: it does not say to do what you
done to you, but rather to avoid doing to others what you
they can omit doing to you. But the point is the same. If
hate it when people are inconsiderate or obnoxious, when
oblivious to your interests, then make it a point not to be
same kind of person.
Now why would you take pains, as Jesus asks you to do, to
somebody's world better for them? Is it because you hope
will return the favor? Is your motive that you can perhaps
increase the reciprocity of such behaviour and thus make the
world the kind of place you'd prefer to live in? If so, I
criticize you. I don't condemn enlightened self-interest.
certainly finds it often enough in the sayings attributed to
But I suspect you're being a bit over-optimistic. I think
still going to find that you live in a world which few
interested in making better for you. You may never see any return on your efforts to bring a little sunshine to the
others. The New Testament warns you that the more righteous
seek to be, the more flack you may get!
So if you want to live the Golden Rule, it had better be for
sake of the other, not for yourself. And this is truly a
neglected marvel. The command of the Golden Rule presupposes
powerful thing about you. It says that you are a creator, a
co-creator of the world of another. You are something of a god
the other, and the other, insofar he determines your world,
thing of a god to you!
Will you be a good and benign creator? You see the terrors
well as the wonders of the larger world God created. Some of
pains and plagues are so terrible that you wonder if the
is perhaps the very Devil. Well, here is your chance to do
better, if you think you know so well how to run the
Whatever threatens to turn your life into a living Hell,
it to others! Do not do what you hate! Your creatures,
whose lives you share in shaping, will be grateful, or at
they should. They may be as ungrateful, though, as you may
So the Thomas text may be a parallel to the Golden Rule; it
be the Golden Rule in different dress. But, as some interpreters
point out, there is not actually anything in the saying
"others." Maybe it means something else.
I think it does. I see in it, for one thing, an intriguing
between avoiding certain behavior and hating it. You
shun what you hate. You don't seek out food to eat that is
distasteful to you. You try to spend time with those you love,
you steer clear of those you hate. And so you will only turn
from sin, from ill-advised behavior, once
you come to hate it.
Have you ever been so disgusted with another person's
so shocked by the extremity of their behaviors, even of
quirks, that you vowed silently, "I'll
never do that,
Unless you had seen the sad spectacle you saw you might
have come to the point of resolution. You would not have
yourself a determined enemy, an implacable foe, of whatever
behavior it was. The behavior must come to the point of
hateful to you before you can oppose
yourself to it.
It is a powerful experience to see in someone else a more
exaggerated version of yourself. You see some trait, some
that repels you, but you cannot help but recognize there
tendencies writ large. You suddenly realize that you are
given the chance to see yourself as others see you--or as
may eventually see you if you don't change. This is the gift
Marley gave to Scrooge, to see what would become of him on
You see such a person and say, "There but for the grace
of God go
I!" And then the uneasy feeling begins to dawn, and you
"There go I!" And you feel ashamed of your milder
behavior, embarrassed as if you had been caught red-handed
at it. Your behavior has become hateful to you and you begin to
This is what happens when sometimes a person sees a life
by alcohol and vows, "I'll never take a drop!"
That may be an
extreme reaction if you yourself
are in no danger of alcoholism. But if you are, take a lesson. And chances are, if you are
danger of becoming an alcoholic, it may be the disgusting
spectacle of your own loathsome, hateful behavior that does the
trick. You may have to reach the point of despising
your actions, before you can be
sufficiently motivated to change.
But I can think of another way to apply the saying. Do you
feel that your faith requires of you some sacrifice, and
are unwilling to make it? Traditionally we have been told
the very reluctance, the very repugnance we feel at such
is a golden opportunity for sacrifice, sanctification. If
hand offends your conscience, cut it off, cast it forth. If
love your Isaac too much take him to the altar on Moriah.
greater the unwillingness you must overcome to make the
sacrifice, the greater the merit in making it. So we are told.
But I think it is different. I think that such a sacrifice
what you love can only make you sooner or later hate the God,
faith, that called for the sacrifice. Such a sacrifice is a
service under duress, and the obedience shown in the act is an
ward conformity such as one might render to a tyrant one
not afford to affront.
The heart is no closer, but is in fact driven farther, from
god that demands such sacrifices of love. Make them and you
sooner or later discover that you hate him. So I am advising
do not make such a sacrifice. Do not do
what you hate.
Ask yourself whether to follow the path of sanctification
has marked out you must suppress and deny your authentic
you must, then stay your foot from the
path! Do not do what
hate! Do not become a self-betraying Judas in your attempt
Your sacrifices will mean nothing until you
can see why
should make them, till you can come to the
point of wishing and willing to jettison what at length appears to
just to another, to be a
Whatever you do against your conscience, against your
against your secret heart, cannot be a centered act, and
the only service God will accept. He it is who must be
with all one's heart, soul, mind, and strength. If you are
doing some supposed religious duty with a whole heart, you
not serving God at all. It must be a centered act of the
person, as Tillich said.
Must you turn the other cheek? Not as long as doing so seems
you a betrayal of honor and self-respect. Should you divest
yourself of your possessions? Not as long as you still
them. Should you undertake to believe the items in the
Creed? Not as long as they seem to you a fantasy, their
acceptance a sacrifice of your intellect. Do not do what you hate!
Don't misunderstand me: the day may come when
you will not
the prospect of any of these things. When you feel you have
matured and gladly slough off childish things. You may
the point where all that you once gloried in you count as
for the sake of the impassible riches of knowing your Lord.
that day you will gladly make what no longer seems remotely
like a sacrifice. You will rejoice to make it. Make it then.
now, do not do what you hate.
Is not our saying still something of a paradox? Isn't it
that one should have occasion to frame
such an imperative at all?
After all, who would do what he or she hated? I have just
the commonplace that we quite naturally avoid doing what we
This saying almost sounds like it assumes that we are to be
compulsively driven to do what we would rather not do.
isn't it? Absurd, and yet all too common. Who ever said
behavior made any sense? Not me.
Of course, this is just the situation described so
the soliloquy of Romans chapter 7: "I am carnal, sold
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I
but I do the very thing that I hate" (Romans 7:14b-15).
sound familiar? Is that not in fact a verbatim transcript of
own thoughts on many occasions? Sorry, I
don't mean to get nosey.
Not to do what one hates--perhaps much easier said than
I have had precious little success in these matters, but I
share an idea or two as to how one might break the
least start filing away at them.
I think of Socrates here. He thought that even the most
self-destructive behavior is what we think is good for us. We
don't realize, not deep down anyway, that
it is not good for us.
But even if we know it, we still do it, because as Gurdjieff
knew, we are all like Legion, the manifold demoniac. We have
splinter-selves in a constant state of civil war. We will
get anywhere until we can persuade the factions to form a
front as the Communists and the Kuomintang made against the
We love our vices even as another "we" hates them.
Is there any way to rally the forces? Here are a couple of ideas.
First, you might try to learn to think of your actions not
isolated moments (this drink, this slice, this bet, this
ever), but rather as a link in the whole chain, culminating
the result that you hate. Come to see every excess as a
toward the dissipation you hate, the
danger you fear. That
what you are doing in the moment you yield to temptation.
drinking a glassful of lost job, of disappointed spouse.
throw the poison glass away! Keep the end in view and you
come to hate the individual steps to that end. And you will
do what you hate.
Second, you might try to place yourself within a support
therapy group, a peer-pressure group. Alcoholics Anonymous
Rational Recovery, whatever it takes. Other faces and voices
will remind you of how hateful what you are doing really is.
will not let you forget, who will not be so readily fooled
are by your pathetic rationalizations. A part of you, as Socrates said, believes that this hateful
is good. You need to make it hard for yourself to take that
voice, that part of yourself and its belief, seriously.
I speak occasionally of the discipline called the Sociology
Knowledge. It has some very revealing things to say. And one
them is that it is easier to believe something when you are
crowd of believers. It is harder to maintain a belief if you
surrounded by people who don't believe it. It becomes
by majority vote. That is exactly why you need to get in a
that believes that your self-destructive behavior is bad.
need to breathe in an atmosphere that makes your hateful desires
appear in their true, hateful colors. That's why it's easier
to sin if you go to church. It's easier to maintain your
integrity. It's easier not to do what you hate.