A friend of mine once remarked that a certain paster at the Anaheim Vineyard is a very “responsible” man. I agreed, and thought nothing of it at the time, but later I became puzzled. I want to become more and more “responsible” as time goes on and the process of maturation continues, so I asked myself: Wwhat exactly does it means to call someone responsible? That is, what is true of a “responsible” person that is not true of someone who is more “irresponsible”?

We observe that responsibility, as a word, is a compound of “respond” and “ability,”  which could result in a clever definition of this church leader as one with the ability to respond to his congregations needs, to his fellow men in conversation, etc.

While clever, this is unsatisfactory. So what is it? When I observe the man, I consistantly notice how pleasant he is to be around. His company is enjoyable, it seems, because he is such  a loving man. He does to others what he would want them to do to him. That is, he loves us, his friends and parishoners, as he loves himself. Now here is the clue.

A politician, a pastor, a leader of some kind who finds himself neglecting and in some way slighting those whom he is leading is breaking the great ethical rule of treating others as we want to be treated. Who enjoys being neglected, abused, or slighted?  

Perhaps, then, what sets apart great leaders and the “highly responsible” is not as much their administrative abilities or motivational talent or eloquence, but the self-identification with those over whom they have authority. The responsible man, perhaps, is the one whose internal dialogue, in the quiet of the night, just before bed, consists of a deep conviction that he is not a leader over a church body or a body politic as much as he is the head of the body, inseparably attached and identified with it.

Perhaps as this paster drives to and fro throughout his week, in his mind he affirms, “I am the Anaheim Vineyard congregation, and they are me. We are parts of one body.”  So self-identified, obedience to that highest rule of conduct becomes rolled up into the irresistable force of self-love. 

For what person hurts her own body? Even those who indulge in self-mutiliation, such as one of my friends from high school, will tell you that they do bodily harm for the overall emotional or psychological benefit (or perceived benefit). So no one willingly and knowingly harms themselves.

“Do to others what you would have them do to you,” might not be an admonition as much as an expression of metaphysical fact. If so, then the irresponsible man is the one who is unaware of this truth, and the responsible, aware.

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Posted by Keith E. Buhler

3 Comments

  1. “Do to others what you would have them do to you” is not an expression of metaphysical fact, because the large majority of us do not self-identify with all the others of the world.

    Further, I think it rather muddling to so identify with others that the above statement can be translated to mean, “Do for yourself what you would do for yourself.” Mentally obscuring the very real difference between self and others is a dangerous move, simply because there is a real difference between the two. The time will come when what is best for self is in conflict with what is best for the others. A complete self-identification (to the point of a single metaphysical reality) will make the differentiation necessary in those situations with two bests (self’s and others’) impossible, thus hindering the best from being realized for both parties.

    Further, due to the nature of man, the time will also come when what is perceived to best for self (and the self-identifed others) is actually not. At this time, the responsible man will maintain his responsibility only by acting in such a way as to fulfill the obligations and duties imposed upon him by the others whom he has care of. Those duties and obligations will not be met even if he thinks that he is acting in best self-interest. His desire to love others as himself is not enough to make him actually responsible.

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  2. Tex,

    A welcome criticism. I am in the middle of thinking this through, so your points are helpful.

    Let me see if I can clarify to satisfy some of your well-put responses.

    You said, “…the large majority of us do not self-identify with all the others of the world.”

    First of all, I am not talking about self-identity with “all others in the world,” but rather a discrete group of people over whom authority is held. Maybe it’s a family, a church community, a school district, maybe it’s a whole state or an entire nation, but the “heads” of these groups are, obviously, of a very limited number.

    Perhaps without a “leader/follower” relationship this conviction (that whatever I do to them I do to myself) does not apply. Let’s stick with that hypothesis for now.

    You said, “…the large majority of us do not self-identify…”

    But I think you would agree that recognition of a truth isn’t necessary for it to be a truth. If it is true that the identity of one person is tied up with the identify of another, in any sense, then this reality depends not on the person’s explicit or conscious acceptance of the reality. So the question remains…

    You said, “the above statement can be translated to mean, “Do for yourself what you would do for yourself.”

    This is not quite the gist. A better translation would be, “What you do to others WILL be done to yourself.”

    What you do to others simply IS done to you, immediately, and without exception, since your identity is wrapped up in them. This is different from the majority opinion in that even people who think that “the golden rule” is golden may often find themselves doing something rude, or viscious or fraudalant and feel the naughty feeling of “getting away with it.” Like Kant, I am very disturbed by this feeling, in myself and others. Whether this is the right way to quell that feeling, I don’t know, but I am eager to find it, wherever it is.

    If this does turn out to be an accurate assesment of the relationships between those in authority and those under them, then there would be no such thing as “getting away with it,” for “it” would necessarily jump out of your hands as you are trying to get away.

    You said, “The time will come when what is best for self is in conflict with what is best for the others.”
    Can you give me an example of this? Kant assumes the same in the Grounding, but I am not sure yet. In fact, if my hypothesis is right, then it is in principle impossible for that proposition to be true. But the hypothesis is the very principle in question… So let’s inquire. Can you give me an example of the conflict of interest between self and others?

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  3. Thanks for the thought-provoking thread…it’s great to have you posting again.

    Example: The pastor has become tired, worn out, and no longer spends a lot of time studying Scripture or seeking to improve his pastoral skills. It would be best for the church if he resigned. However, the pastor has no marketable job skills that will earn him the same income he made as a pastor and he has a family to provide for. If resigned he would be working longer hours, perhaps have to work weekends and no longer be able to attend church, and have less time for Bible study or family than if he kept the job. It would be in his best interest to keep the job for the financial security, family health, and opportunity to be connected to a church and continue to grow spiritually (even if at a slow rate).

    Well, it’s just an example. I don’t think this conversation will be best pursued if we tear into the example too much, unless there is something obviously flawed about it.

    You said, “What you do to others simply IS done to you, immediately, and without exception.”

    I disagree. If I hit you, you have a black eye and I do not. You feel betrayed, offended, angry. It’s not necessary that I feel the same way. It may be argued that I hurt myself in some way by severing our relationship, however, it is debatable if that is such a great personal loss (considering the fact that I thought it a good idea to knock your socks off).

    You said, “the identity of one person is tied up with the identify of another.”

    How does one’s identity become tied up with the identity of another? By taking a position of leadership? Perhaps, but not in the metaphysical way necessry to carry your point forward. To be able to say, “I am Vineyard Church; I am the congregation,” and to mean actual identity does not seem to be something that comes about (or could come about) with conscious endeavor and acceptance of that reality. We simply do not become identical to other people by mere role change. Identity seems to be closely related to our minds and how we view and understand ourselves. This must be so because the only sense in which some one person can be identified with another is in this mental sense, since the empirical fact that there are two bodies, two minds, and two wills continues to stare us in the face.

    Perhaps I misunderstand you: What do you mean by identity? How can someone identify with someone in a metaphysical manner?

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