I’ve noticed this decline in violence in my reading. Jared Diamond says in Guns, Germs, and Steel, “In traditional [hunter-gatherer] New Guinea society, if a New Guinean happened to encounter an unfamiliar New Guinean while both were away from their respective villages, the two engaged in a long discussion of their relatives, in an attempt to establish some relationship and hence some reason why the two should not attempt to kill each other.” Now, if civility doesn’t arbitrate a dispute the police will.
The Hebrew Bible, a book recounting the history of a nomadic tribe transitioning to agriculture, features human sacrifice, slavery, and execution by stoning to death. The New Testament pastoral society still had stonings, with the Romans having added crucifixion. As Pinker says, The Bible is one long celebration of violence.” Given this violent society, how remarkable is it that the Bible tells us to practice compassion to all. The Prophet Micah said what is required is to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” The Rabbi Jesus showed a despised Samaritan as an example of how to be a neighbor. Jesus told us to practice the Golden Rule, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Karen Armstrong spoke about the Golden Rule and compassion during the Ware lecture at the 2011 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I quote from her lecture: “Each one of the major faiths, I discovered, has at its core the ethic of compassion. Every single one of them has developed its own version of the Golden Rule, never to treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself, and has said that this is the test of spirituality; that it is this which takes us beyond the prism of ego and selfishness and greed, that enables us to enter into our best selves and into the presence of what some have called God, others Nirvana, Brahmin or Dao.
“The first person, as far as I know, to enunciate the golden rule was Confucius some 500 years before Christ. Never treat others, says Confucius, as you would not like to be treated yourself.
“My favorite Golden Rule story belongs to Hillel, the great Pharisee, who was an older contemporary of Jesus. And it said that a pagan came to Hillel one day and promised to convert to Judaism on condition that Hillel could recite the whole of Jewish teaching while he stood on one leg. And Hillel stood on one leg and said that which is hateful to you do not to your fellow man. That is the Torah, and everything else is only commentary. Go and study it.”
Armstrong says we see formulations of the Golden Rule in all three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. “Love the stranger, love the foreign, says Leviticus. Love your enemies, said Jesus. Reach out to all tribes and nations, says the prophet Muhammad.” Our own second Unitarian Universalist principle affirms and promotes justice, equity and compassion in human relations.