The genius of our Constitution for all its failings — and it’s got some serious failings (it gave all the political power to white men and we’re still dealing with slavery ffs) — is its establishment of the Rule Of Law as its organizing principle. The bottom line for law-making isn’t the whim of some Donald-Trump-like king, it’s a mutually agreed-upon set of rules that go to great lengths to spell out what we can — and cannot — do to each other.
Put another way, the Rule Of Law describes what we can and cannot “do unto each other”.
Do something unto your neighbor that you legally shouldn’t (like, say, murder her?) — the Law will do unto you. The Law — striving for fairness (and wanting to give each of us the chance to do the right thing) — doesn’t look to see what’s in our hearts unless we violate the Rule Of Law. And then it wants to know “why?”
In asking “why” we broke the Rule Of Law, the Law wants to prescribe a cure — not just for the crime itself but for the motivation. Did you kill someone deliberately or accidentally? That’s an important distinction. And if you killed someone deliberately, was violating their rights part of your goal — because violating someone else’s rights is as bad as stealing from their house. You took something of theirs that was theirs. In other words — killing someone is one crime and killing them because of who they are — a thing they have the right to be — is another crime.
You didn’t just kill them, you killed their right to be them.
The overwhelming majority of us want the Rule Of Law standing between us. Our problem isn’t with the Rule Of Law after all, it’s with its unequal application. Like integrity, the Rule Of Law is an all or nothing proposition. You can walk around with 99% of your integrity intact, but eventually that 1% will catch up to you. It won’t say 1%. Corruption grows with coronavirus ferocity. Just like a virus, corruption reproduces inside of us; it needs to infect our cells so completely that we spew its darkness, infecting others.
And a lot of that infection goes on undetected. It’s the most dangerous part of the iceberg, lurking under the surface.
The majority of us want others to do unto us as we do unto them. We want to be treated fairly because we want everyone to be treated fairly and we want everyone to be treated fairly because we want to be treated fairly.
As I often say here, devout atheist though I am, I consider myself a big Fan Of Jesus. He is not the church that Paul built out of the idea of Jesus — the idea of Jesus as Messiah as opposed to Jesus as Teacher with a simple but profound message (Do Unto Others). Even a simple atheist like myself can manage to Do Unto Others without hurting ourselves — or compromising ourselves.
The moral outrage we all feel now like our skin was on fire is our “Do Unto Other” way of thinking colliding with hypocrisy. The people clutching onto power have always preached “Do Unto Others” without every practicing it themselves. Actually, they practice their own perverse offshoot — “Do unto others before they can do unto you”.
One place where the Rule Of Law differs slightly with Jesus is in its approach to “turning the other cheek”. The Rule Of Law says that if someone violated the Rule Of Law at your expense, you don’t have to turn the other cheek. You don’t get to seek revenge on them but you do get to instruct them — by pointing out in great detail what they did wrong — what that will cost them in time and heartache and financial loss — and how they might get better (so as not to do it again). Being human, we haven’t gotten everything about the Rule Of Law right.
As we know — we still haven’t gotten anywehre close to applying it equally.
But, as Jesus would have us do — we strive to be better. No one — Jesus included — ever said doing unto others was easy.