Is Pope Francis Right on Golden Rule Government?

Pope Francis argued today for Golden Rule government, a concept investigated, advocated and tested in the philosophical thriller Doing Unto Others: The Golden Rule Revolution, which I released earlier this summer.

In his address to Congress today, Pope Francis argued for the Golden Rule as the correct moral principle against which to create public policy, particularly focusing his remarks on its application to refugees, immigration and protecting life.

We agree on the Golden Rule principle, though in some cases have different perspectives on the correct answers to Golden Rule consideration.

Some will argue that religious principles have no business in the public arena, particularly since the Pope quoted a version of the Golden Rule contained in the Bible’s Book of Matthew. For those unfamiliar with the Golden Rule, he could have just as easily quoted from the Quran, the Torah, or from the scriptures and teaching of Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and dozens of other faiths. He could have pulled Golden Rule quotes from atheists, secular humanists, existentialists and others not tied to a formal religion. It is our most common and agreed principle; shared by nearly all, though far from as frequently followed.

Its implementation is not easy. Properly implementing Golden Rule government requires gaining knowledge of each issue and the implications of various solutions, including exploration of alternatives not yet considered. It requires imaging ourselves in the circumstances of others and how we would want to be treated. It requires, in my view, looking at the long-term effects of the actions we adopt, not simply at the immediate emotional reaction. It requires testing for consistency. Do you react the same way regardless of race, party, gender or other point of differentiation? It also requires, as Professor Harry Gensler points out in Ethics and the Golden Rule, that we act only in a manner we would deem acceptable if we were in any position.

So, for immigration and refugees, the questions to ask are not just the simple ones.

“If I wanted more economic opportunity, would I want the nation of my choice to be compelled to accept me within its borders?” or

“If my nation was encapsulated in violent conflict, would I expect others to take me in to protect me and my family?”

Clearly, I would prefer to have my choice of locations for my safety and economic security. However, the open borders created by such policies have historically led to national disintegration, often with violent conflict along the way. So, we need to dig a bit deeper. A few of the additional questions one could ask and test for consistency/acceptability include:

  1. “How do we accept as many immigrants as we can into our nation of immigrants with the fewest possible negative consequences, and the greatest potential for positive gains among existing citizens and new entrants?”
  2. “If the nation I live in is already struggling with high long-term structural unemployment, would I willingly give my income up so that someone coming here can work or would I expect the current economic situation to factor into the pace of allowed immigration?”
  3. “Before I demand that government take in, house, feed, educate and treat refugees and immigrants, am I willing to accept these individuals for a period of time into my home and take part in their care?”
  4. “If I were planning to move to another country, would I expect to be able to demand that the nation I move to change its culture, language and practices to how I live, or would I expect to adjust to my new host nation?”
  5. “Are there more efficient actions we can take to improve the lives of those considering leaving their home country in order that they don’t feel compelled to abandon their home, if staying in their home country is preferable without dire consequences?”
  6. “Would I open my home to anyone who knocked, regardless of risk to me and my family, or would I want to know who I am inviting in? Should the nation’s borders be any more open than I would be with my home?”
  7. “How many new entrants can a nation accept and assist before reaching a tipping point that threatens the nation’s economic or physical prosperity?”

Regardless of where you stand today on any issue, I urge you to think about whether the Golden Rule provides a better format for consideration of public policy than today’s win-lose battles. I’m a firm believer in fixing our legal immigration system, allowing the number of immigrants allowed in to grow as our economy improves, and working to integrate new immigrants into broader society as quickly as possible. Our current system is badly broken, leading to harms to legal and illegal immigrants, along with existing citizens exposed to unnecessary physical and economic threats. The Golden Rule is a great principle to use in thinking through the right long-term solutions.

For those who haven’t seen the speech, following are the immigration/refugee-related Golden Rule quotes from Pope Francis today:

“Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ (Mt 7:12)”

“This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”



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