“DO AS you would be done by” (the maxim quoted if not invented by Charles Kingsley in his “Water Babies”) is an important principle to which most of us would doubtless subscribe.
(The alternative - “Be done by as you did” - is far less attractive.) But in a complex world, the practical application of the principle is not always simple.
Those having a faith wish to be left in peace, to worship freely, to bring up their children in their own tradition, at least until adulthood, and to accept into their community those from other faiths, and of none, who voluntarily wish to join it. If we believe that such rights are those which one is entitled to expect in any free society, then how does our conscience answer when it comes to our own religion? Christianity has a mixed record here. The persecuted minority of the early church obtained many privileges after the conversion of Constantine and, with the Roman Empire officially Christian, it was in many instances pay-back time for the beliefs associated with previous persecution of the church. In subsequent centuries, it is undoubtedly the case that the Christian faith was sometimes spread through war and coercion.
But if Christianity’s record here is mixed, the same can be said of most other faiths at various times in human history. Christians frequently claim, not without some justification, that theirs is the most persecuted faith in the world today – something which makes it challenging at least for them to obey the New Testament injunction to turn the other cheek when faced with oppression.
Nevertheless, in a world where so many conflicts have a basis in religious differences and in an era when humanity has now acquired the technology to destroy itself several times over, those of all faiths and of none have an interest in promoting tolerance of others’ beliefs. “Do as you would be done by” has a particular and pressing relevance today.
St Alphege Church, Solihull