It’s a shame that Abraham seems best known for almost killing his son Isaac. If you’ve ever read that story and wondered if God would ever ask you to kill your child, you must read this.
Genesis 1:2 in the NRSV leaves out a comma, and it makes a big difference. For Bible geeks and grammar nerds.
You’ve probably heard Jesus’ saying, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Did you know in the first century, a “yoke” was a metaphor for a rabbi’s way of teaching how to interpret and apply the Torah? Follow the link if you want to explore that a little more.
I didn’t say David’s sin with Bathsheba. To know why, follow the link. This is part three of a series about David’s sins in 2 Samuel 11-12. But we start to see redemption as well. Like the rest of the series, it is published in Inspire, Believe, Grow.
I’m being published in an online publication on Medium. It’s called Inspire, Believe, Grow. Here are links to the first two articles I’ve published there. You would normally have to subscribe to read more than three articles a month, but I’m giving you these links for free.
P.S. It looks like I’m going to be a regular contributor there. So if you like this, stay tuned.
The Mary Sue trope is one of the most dreaded in fiction, sure to alienate readers. Mary Sue characters have ruined Star Wars (Rey) and Star Trek (Michael Burnham). What is a Mary Sue, you ask? The original “Mary Sue” was a parody of a character type that typically showed up in Star Trek fan fiction. Signs of a Mary Sue include:
- Everyone instantly loves her and trusts her, even though they have no reason to.
- She is better than everyone at everything. Training and experience are irrelevant because she’s just awesome.
- Everything she needs comes to her when she needs it.
- The team would be helpless without her.
- She has no flaws or weaknesses whatsoever.
I’m writing a fantasy, but my MC is from the contemporary world (who then travels to the fantasy world). …I was wondering how a relatively normal, modern girl would develop a fighting style … without just instantly being good at it for the sake of the plot. She’s also not combat trained, since I figured that would be a little too convenient. I want her to be a normal girl who has to grind her way through the fighting side of things, and who uses her resourcefulness to balance out her shortcomings when it comes to being untrained.
I had an idea that perhaps she has some sort of talent that she could adapt INTO a fighting style throughout the course of the story. Perhaps she’s trained in some form of fan dancing and gymnastics, as I like the idea of something “feminine” like dancing being incorporated into combat. However, in my research I haven’t been able to find a fan dancing technique that I felt could work. They seemed a little too slow. At the moment, I’m considering baton twirling. The fast movement of the batons seems to fit with how I see my MC wielding her two weapons. …
I guess I’m wondering if you’d buy the logical leap of my protagonist using her baton experience (or fan dancing, whichever I go with) to inspire her combat in the fantasy world.
Don’t make her a Mary Sue, a female character who is instantly good at everything. That’s why everyone hated Rey in the Star Wars sequels. If she has no training in combat, she needs training, pure and simple. As for incorporating dance or gymnastics, I like that idea (not necessarily fan dancing). If she has baton training, she could make that work to her advantage, but again with training and practice.
Have her go through the training and make mistakes. Maybe early on she tries to use her dancing/gymnastics, and her teachers beat her easily. She goes through training in standard combat. As she masters that, she finds ways to incorporate her other skills. I would recommend reading about Arya in Game of Thrones. In the first book she is given a sword teacher from Braavos, a people known for their “dancing style” of swordsmanship.
Mary Sue vs. Strong Female Character
There is a difference between a strong female character and a Mary Sue. It’s fine to have a woman who is strong, tough, and/or exceptionally talented in some ways. Sarah Connor from Terminator 2 and Princess Leia I think are two great examples of that. Arya was a great character in Game of Thrones at first. But as the show went off the rails in the end, so did she.
I gave a hint above on how to avoid making her a Mary Sue. Have her go through training and struggle to master the fighting techniques she needs. Have her lose to her instructors and other students in practice. Give her a reason to persist no matter how hard it gets. Why does she want to master these weapons? The reason has to be compelling enough that she will not quit, even when everyone else thinks she should. As she masters her weapons and starts beating the other students, we’ll feel like she earned it.
If you want to know whether your character is a Mary Sue (or Gary Stu, as it may be), these links will help you identify her and transform her into a character people will root for.
In a Fiction Writing Facebook group, someone was working on a novel based on the story of Naomi in the book of Ruth. If you’re not familiar with the story of Ruth, I’d recommend reading it. It’s only four chapters, and the namesake is an unusual hero in that she is a Moabite, not an Israelite. Not only that, she becomes the great-grandmother of King David. Sorry for the spoiler, but the story has been around for over 2,000 years.
Anyway, she first asked for feedback on her beginning. It promised a story where the main character changes her name twice. For those who know the story, they know the significance of the name changes and expect a story of tragic loss with healing and redemption that follows. If they don’t know the story, it might stir their curiosity. Why would she change her name twice? Either way, it’s good hook, and I told her so.
But I did not think the ending she proposed would be satisfying. Here is how she described it.
This is historical biblical fiction. It’s about Naomi’s ten years in the wilderness, and written in first person. The last chapter of Call Me Mara ends with “…it was the beginning of the barley harvest” and I will encourage readers to finish the story of Naomi and Ruth in the Scriptures.
This writer wants to tell the story from Naomi’s point of view. No problem there. But she is proposing ending the story in the middle and then saying, “If you want the rest of the story, go read the Bible.”
Here is how I responded.
If this is the ending, I would feel cheated. Biblical fiction can be a great tool for getting people interested in the Bible, but it is not an excuse for doing our job halfway. You still need to give your reader a complete story. Use your storytelling skills to give them an enjoyable reading experience, and they will be more likely to follow through on your suggestion to read the Bible.
She wasn’t convinced. She said,
I just don’t want to rewrite God’s Words in my own words. Ruth 2 and beyond have already been told and I can’t improve on that. For now, this is where I feel my story ends and the Spirit takes over.
This is the dilemma for writing Biblical Fiction. It’s always “already been told.” Rewriting the Bible sounds daunting, even sacrilegious. But if you want to write Biblical Fiction, you have to make peace with that somehow. Just so you know, here is how the story would end as she proposes it.
“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”
So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.(Ruth 1:20-22)
Ruth and Naomi haven’t even arrived in Bethlehem yet, much less met Boaz, who becomes the kinsman-redeemer who marries Ruth, ensuring a secure future for both women. Again, sorry for the spoiler. Her version would leave all of that out.
It also does not deliver on what she promised. Her intro promises a character who changes her name twice. But if she ends the story there, we only get one name change. We get only the tragedy and miss the healing and redemption that follows. If you promise something to the reader, you need to deliver.
The Rest of the Story
But the rest of the story is in the Bible.
Then why should they read your story at all when they can read the whole thing in the Bible? Fiction when done well does not just tell a story. It gives us a chance to experience it through the character. You are not just told what happened. You feel like you are there as it happens. When you write Biblical Fiction, that is what you are promising the reader, the chance to experience the story—the whole story—with Naomi. Or whoever your character is.
If you want to write Biblical Fiction, don’t use the Bible as an excuse not to do your job. Writing fiction of any kind means creating a good story that moves the reader. I’ve read the Bible several times, but I can still appreciate a work that helps me see it in a way I had never considered. If you give them an enjoyable reading experience, they will be more likely to take your suggestion to read the Bible so they can see where your story came from. Here is how you can do that.
- Be faithful to the source material. One way to look at it is the Biblical story provides you with the bricks. You use mortar to connect them. The mortar includes techniques writers use to draw the reader in, like scene setting, characterization, action, dialog, and plotting.
- You are not rewriting the Bible. You are creating a new way for others to experience it.
- Pick a point of view character that you connect with.
- Fully imagine the character in that situation. What do they see, hear, smell, taste, and feel? What is the weather like? What emotions are they going through? How do they see the world around them? In the end, what kind of transformation do they go through?
- Look for ways you can fill in missing details. The Bible often leaves out the kind of details that make fiction come alive. See that as an invitation, not a restriction.
- Write a heartbreaking work of staggering genius.
If you would like to see some of my recommendations for Biblical Fiction done well, click here. Some of them do not actually follow rule number one. They might take a little more creative license with the story than some would like. But they do it in a way that is believable and makes you feel like you are there.
Another question from my Fiction Writing FB group.
Does this come off as too much of a coincidence in my plot?
My story is a crime thriller and in it, a woman wants police protection because she knows too much about a crime, and after being interviewed at the police station, the main character detective takes her home, and she begs him to protect her, since she is in fear of harm.
He can’t do it and break protocol and is about to leave, and then he gets a call from his superior, giving him the assignment of protecting her.
But I am wondering if it comes off as too much of a coincidental convenience, that she wants something, he doesn’t give it to her, and then he gets a phone call that compels him to give to her, and thus conveniently answering her prayer in a sense?
Can you show that it is not a coincidence? If the superior orders the MC to do something against protocol, he should smell something fishy. That and the timing being just a little “too perfect” indicates the superior is watching the witness, the MC, or both. Why and how? And why did the superior not assign protection at first only to change his mind a few hours later? Is the superior being pressured by someone else? It sounds like there is something corrupt in the department that could not only explain the coincidence but drive the plot and the MC’s actions.
It turned out all my guesses were wrong. So without knowing the story, I can’t comment any further on this example. But here is a rule of thumb. If the scene unfolds this way for no reason other than you need it to, it’s too much of a coincidence.
Are we in a bear market? I asked that question when Bitcoin (BTC) dipped below $30,000 back in July last year. If so, it would have been the shortest bull market in Bitcoin’s history. It used to be you could tell by the four-year cycle. But according to the four-year cycle, the bull market should have lasted at least into September and maybe November.
Then between August and November, Bitcoin (BTC) rallied to a new all-time high (ATH) of $69,000 on November 10. Maybe the four-year cycle was back. Many experts thought it would go above 100K by the end of December. Instead, it dropped. At times it would rally but still not get anywhere near the high in November. It would drop again, and rally again. The timing, one could argue, followed the four-year cycle.
I wrote a post earlier explaining why I think the four-year cycle may be dead. If it’s not dead, it certainly does not look like anything in the past. That being said, from November on is when we would expect a bear market. It could also be because traditional markets are down, inflation, supply-chain issues, the war in Ukraine, and all of that together seems to be pointing to a recession.
I came into crypto in a bull market. Now, whatever the cause(s), it looks like I’m going through my first bear market. Strategies have to change. What do you do with your crypto in a bear market? Everyone’s situation is different, so I can’t tell you what to do. I’ll let you know what I’m doing.
Keep in mind, though, I am not a financial advisor. Everything in this article is for information or entertainment purposes only. Always do your own research.
The Bull Is in Hibernation
I’m going to skip over discussion of how the economy in general is struggling. We all know the reasons. It’s not just affecting the United States but the entire world. That obviously makes people less willing to invest in anything, so we should not be surprised at the recent downturns in traditional markets, Bitcoin, and Altcoins. Every market is affected. But there are some factors unique to Bitcoin that are affecting it on top of the general state of the economy. That is what I will focus on.
Opinions from experts vary on when the bear market started. If you believe the four-year cycle, it started on November 11. For me (in my amateur opinion), the moment I switched from “maybe” to “definitely” bear market was the recent crash of LUNA and UST. It totally wrecked some people.
But before I get into that, when people experience an extreme financial loss, their minds can go to a dark place. I don’t want to use the S-word, because some algorithms don’t like it, but it has happened with every stock market crash. If you are thinking of harming yourself, please talk to someone. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. No matter how bad it looks, money can be replaced. Your life cannot. Don’t confuse your net worth with your self-worth.
I don’t mean to make anyone feel worse than they already do. But there are important lessons we can learn from this experience. I’ll talk about my experience with the Luna crash, and then get into lessons for moving forward. I think the most important lesson is you are not your money. You are not your investments. You are not your portfolio. You are a child of God, a unique human being. Don’t ever forget that.
The Fall of LUNA and UST
Terra Luna (LUNA), a recent top ten cryptocurrency, crashed. Its stablecoin, US Terra (UST), crashed with it. And when I say crashed, I mean they both went to nearly zero. Tens of billions of dollars in market capitalization just vanished in a few days. Quite a few people lost money from both LUNA and UST, because they worked in tandem. The fate of one was directly tied to the other. Some of my YouTubers are saying it was market manipulation. I can’t confirm that, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Now that big money is buying crypto, manipulation is always possible. There’s another reason never to invest more than you can afford to lose.
Some people invested way too much in it, and it wrecked their portfolios. Some even lost their life savings. In a way it is understandable. Stablecoins are supposed to be the safe play, and it was possible just a month ago to get 20% interest on UST. So naturally people thought this was a safe investment with a guaranteed return of 20%. Who wouldn’t take that?
But if your portfolio got wrecked, or you lost your life savings, that means you put much more into LUNA and/or UST than you should have. But don’t despair. Whatever you lost can be replaced. You can come back stronger if you take the lessons of this experience to heart.
My Experience with LUNA
I dipped my toes into LUNA and UST. I bought LUNA at about $52. Within two weeks it was up to $92. When it reached $104, I should have sold half of it to make back my investment. Then what happened to the other half wouldn’t have hurt. Of course, if I knew what was coming I would have sold all of it.
But I not only held, I bought more, because when you see it going up like that and everyone in the crypto community is high on the project, you think it will keep going up. There was a certain minimum I wanted to have for my portfolio, and I had it. Yay!
On May 9 LUNA started crashing, from a price of $64 to now less than a penny.
It was a top 10 crypto in market capitalization. Now, I don’t know where it is in the rankings, and I don’t care. UST was put out by the same organization, Terra Luna Labs. I tried that, too.
My Experience with UST
I wanted to take advantage of the 20% return on UST, but I had to do some research to find out where and how to do it. UST is a stablecoin backed by LUNA. In case you don’t know, stablecoins are cryptocurrencies that are designed to keep their value at $1.00. They may fluctuate a fraction of a penny, or even a penny or two. But if it’s working properly, the price will always come back to $1.00. It should have been a safe play.
When I first saw LUNA and UST dropping, I did not realize how bad it was. I saw UST at $0.89, obviously much lower than it should have been.
This has been known to happen occasionally with other stablecoins, but with them it was temporary. I bought a little, figuring when it got back to a dollar, I could make some profit. But a little more research showed me just how much trouble they were in, so I sold at $0.70. Even though it was a loss of 20%, it was the right move, because UST is now trading at less than a dime.
I wasn’t able to sell my LUNA. Every time I tried, the order would not go through. That can happen in a crash, because in order to sell you need a buyer. Who wants to buy something that is dying a quick death? Keep that in mind when you do your risk evaluation.
Many crypto experts are doing autopsies on it. To listen to them now, it should have been obvious this crash was coming. However, only a handful of experts predicted this would happen. Let this be an object lesson that investment always carries some risk, so NEVER INVEST MORE THAN YOU CAN AFFORD TO LOSE.
And the problem is bigger than LUNA and UST. In the same time LUNA dropped to zero, the whole crypto market lost over $300 billion, with Bitcoin dropping 15% from before the crash.
A Little Hope
Do Kwon, the founder, is trying to fix LUNA and UST and bring it back, and he seems to want to find some way to help investors who got wrecked. That means there is still a chance people can recoup their losses and even make a profit if they are patient. But I don’t have the same confidence in him that I did before the crash. Whatever he comes up with, I will probably stay away from. But if he offers a way to reimburse some of my losses, I’ll take that. There is talk of a “new LUNA” that will include an airdrop to those held the “old LUNA” before the crash, so maybe we can still recover something.
There is one more issue I need to address. LUNA and UST may not recover, but the crypto market almost certainly will. It has survived much worse than this. What concerns me more is bad regulation that could come in the wake of this. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is calling for sweeping federal regulation of stablecoins. SEC Chairman Gary Ginsler wants to call almost every crypto a security, so he can regulate it. He has already said stablecoins are securities, which makes no sense. And of course he is in the spotlight with the SEC’s lawsuit against Ripple Labs, the creators of the XRP cryptocurrency. The uncertainty around what’s coming makes me nervous.
I am not an anarchist. I don’t mind regulation. Like most people in the crypto community, I just want clarity, fairness, and common sense. Given the track records of Yellen, Congress, and especially Ginsler, I don’t have much confidence that is what we’ll get.
An Ounce of Prevention
Before investing in anything, here are a few rules to remember.
First, recognize that is a risky game to begin with. Before you invest in anything, ask yourself, am I okay if this goes to zero? With each Altcoin, the chance of going to zero varies. I think Bitcoin has been around long enough that the chance of it going to zero is virtually nil. But even with Bitcoin I ask myself that before I buy. If the answer is no, that means I’m investing more than I can afford to lose. Either spend less or move on to something else.
Second, you can protect yourself by taking profit, meaning when you have a chance to sell at a decent profit, take it. Between September 2020 and April 2021, I was able to let my Altcoins double in value, then sell half. That way I recovered my investment, and whatever I could gain after that was gravy. That is pretty easy in a bull market. But in a bear market, you may need to think in terms of 10, 20, or 30% profit.
Third, use stop-losses. If you don’t know what that means, it means you need to educate yourself before you even think about investing.
Fourth, NEVER INVEST MORE THAN YOU CAN AFFORD TO LOSE.
Fifth, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Professionals tell you to diversify your portfolio, and that goes for crypto, too. Putting all your money into one or two Altcoins is like putting it all into lottery tickets.
Help! My Crypto Is Down!
Even if you take those steps, at some point your crypto will go down in value. You have three choices:
- Sell at a loss.
- Hold until the market goes up again.
- Trade for a better crypto.
Let’s talk about each of them.
Sell at a Loss
Sometimes that is your best option. For Bitcoin, I think holding is usually the right move, unless you need to pay some bills (not financial advice). But with Altcoins, you need to be ready to sell. I learned the hard way “hodling” is for Bitcoin, not Altcoins (with maybe a few exceptions). From now on, I’m taking profits when I can. And if that Altcoin turns out to be a Sh*tcoin, go ahead and take the loss.
It was no fun selling my UST at a 20% loss, but it was absolutely the right move, especially considering it’s trading at less than a dime now. I would gladly have sold my LUNA at any price, but now it’s totally worthless.
Professional investors have this already built into their strategy. When they take a chance on a risky investment, they put in a stop-loss. That means you can set it up where if the price drops, say, 20%, it will sell automatically. That will keep you from getting wrecked.
Selling at a loss is no fun, but sometimes it is better to cut your losses than stay in a sinking ship.
Hold until the Market Goes up Again
There are nearly 20,000 Altcoins listed on coinmarketcap.com. Many if not most will not survive the bear market. The few that do, however, will gain more than BTC, simply because they are smaller and have more room to grow. Knowing that makes people sometimes hang on to losing Altcoins longer than they should. Myself included.
I am holding (or “hodling”) my Bitcoin no matter what happens. Except if the price goes above 100K, I might sell a small percentage, because you always need cash. I believe Bitcoin has the fundamentals to survive the bear market and take off again in the next bull market. That is also true of a few Altcoins. There are a few I’m holding on to, even though my investments currently are in the red. If I need the cash, I might sell to pay bills and wait to re-invest when I’m better situated financially. This bear market is likely to last for a while, so if it’s a good project, you will get another chance.
It’s okay to sell your Altcoins, whether to take profit or cut your losses. But if your research tells you the project is solid and a good long-term investment, it’s okay to hold too.
Trade for a Better Crypto (or Other Investment)
Everything in the crypto market went south between May and July of last year. It caught me by surprise. According to the four-year cycle, we should have still been in a bull market. I had small investments in probably twenty different Altcoins. Bitcoin dipped hard in May because of FUD from Elon Musk, and my Altcoins dipped shortly after. I was looking at selling everything at a loss.
With most of them, instead of selling I traded them for Bitcoin. All those investments had lost value relative to the dollar. But Bitcoin rose and fell in tandem with them, so their value relative to Bitcoin was still roughly the same. It didn’t feel like a loss because of that, and because when Bitcoin pumped again, I recovered those losses. Well, I would have if I had sold. More on that in another post.
That looks like the situation we’re in now as well. There is always some risk. But in a bear market, I’ll take my chances with Bitcoin over any Altcoin. It has been around for thirteen years, longer than any other crypto. It has seen multiple bull markets, bear markets, and black swan events, and it is still here. Even when it dumps, it dumps less than Altcoins. It is the most secure network anyone has ever built. No one who has ever bought and held for at least four years has lost money. How many investments can say that? In fact, I am almost to the point where I’ll take my chances with Bitcoin over any other investment period.
So if your Altcoins have lost their shine, I always think trading for Bitcoin is a good move (Again, not financial advice).
Moving from Risk-on to Risk-off
Also in a bear market, you need to be more conservative with your investments in general. Professional traders and investors use the terms risk-on and risk-off. Risk-on refers to assets that are new, speculative, and could bring either great gains or big losses. In other words, risky. Risk-off refers to assets that have been time-tested, are less volatile, and likely to bring smaller gains but also smaller losses if the market goes down. Ask your financial advisor what that means in practical terms.
In a bull market, you can make great profits with risk-on investments. But in a bear market, the professionals will move their money out of risk-on investments and into either risk-off or cash. More traditional investors are selling their Bitcoin than they have in recent months, because they consider it a risk-on investment. Personally, I would call BTC a risk-off investment (for reasons stated above), but I’m not a professional. Talk to a financial advisor about it first and do your own research.
But traditional investors moving away from BTC is another indication we have entered a bear market, so you may want to consider stocking up on more traditional investments for now. We are likely in for a rough few months. Crypto Jebb saw a bear flag formation on the charts that could mean BTC is going down to $20,000. You don’t have to know what that means.
Just know that it’s possible. In the past, BTC has dropped as much as 85% from previous highs during bear markets. We saw a high of $69,000 November. A drop of 85% would take it to $10,350. All of that to say even though the price has stabilized for now, we may not have seen the bottom yet. Add to that the challenges of inflation, the supply chain issues, whales possibly manipulating the markets, the war in Ukraine, regulatory uncertainty, and a natural bear market on top of that means, well, I don’t know what it means, but it won’t be good most likely. If nothing else, I think we can still count on another bull market after the next BTC halving, which is estimated to take place in May, 2024.
But just as bull markets present opportunities that don’t exist in bear markets, bear markets present opportunities that don’t exist in bull markets.
The Silver Lining
The silver lining of any bear market is that if you can identify good long-term investments, now is a time to buy the dip. Back in October and the beginning of November, people were saying, “I wish Bitcoin would dip, so I could buy some.” What do you think this is? Bitcoin is settled at about $30,000 for now. That is over 50% off from the previous high of $69,000. If that’s not a dip, what is? But remember, only buy if you are not going to need the money any time soon. It could be a while before the bull market returns.
But what if it goes down further?
Buy it again. (Not financial advice). As Warren Buffett says, “Be fearful when others are greedy. Be greedy when others are fearful.” In other words, sell when most people are buying. Buy when most people are selling. Of course, that only applies to long-term investments. If you think BTC is a good long-term investment, now is a great time to accumulate.
My preferred strategy for buying is dollar cost averaging (DCA). This is like if your employer offers a 401K. The best way to invest is to have it deducted from your paycheck automatically. That way, you don’t miss it. DCA works the same way. You set up with an exchange to buy automatically on a regular schedule. Some weeks it is lower, some weeks it is higher, but on average I am getting a good price.
I started with $10/week of Bitcoin. Even on a tight budget, you can probably work that out. I don’t know your situation, but there is probably something you can sacrifice to get started purchasing something for your future. Coinbase and Gemini are two exchanges that let you set up recurring buys (same as DCA). Their transaction fees are pretty high, though.
There is a service called Deltabadger that will allow you to avoid most transaction fees on your DCA. You can go on their website to see which exchanges you can work with. I use Coinbase Pro, but there are several others. If you sign up with this link, you will save 10% off your first purchase. And you don’t have to pay at all until you buy $1200 worth.
If you want a more detailed account of what happened with LUNA and UST, you can watch this.
Thanks for reading. I hope this was helpful. How are you feeling right now? Are you hodling or selling? Which projects do you think will survive the bear market? Which ones won’t? Let me know what you think in the comments.
Hillel was a great rabbi of ancient Judaism. Scholars believe he lived sometime between 110 BC and 10 AD. He founded a school, and his name was well-known to Jews then and even today. One story says a Gentile came to Hillel and said he would convert to Judaism if he could teach him the entire Torah while he stood on one foot. Hillel said, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another. That is the entire Torah; the rest is its interpretation. Go study” (Talmud, Shabbat 31a).
Can’t you see him stand on one foot, and a few seconds later, he’s like, “What just happened?” For Hillel, this is a mike drop moment, because he’s won a convert. Then eight days later, a moyle shows up to the Gentile’s house and says, “I’m here to perform your circumcision.”
Poor guy just had no idea who he was messing with when he challenged Hillel.
Don’t Do Bad = Do Good?
If you’re familiar with Hillel’s teachings, it’s obvious Jesus learned a thing or two from him. It may have influenced him when he said this: “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you. This is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
You probably heard this called the Golden Rule. Some people might say Jesus stole this from Hillel, but they are not exactly the same. One is stated negatively, and the other positively. One says, “Don’t do anything bad,” and the other says, “Only do good.” To not do bad, you can just stay at home watching TV. You’re not doing anything hateful to anybody. But to do good, you have to, you know, do something. It requires you to be active, not passive. Unless we’re in a pandemic. Then, staying home and not spreading it is doing good.
I’m not knocking Hillel’s way of saying it. It is likely a distillation of commandments like, “Do not kill; do not steal; do not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Is it hateful to you if someone steals from you or lies about you (especially in court) or kills you? Then don’t do it to another. If you manage to get through life without doing anything harmful to anyone, you have done very well.
But in my view, you really can’t say anyone stole this idea, because it shows up in every major religion. Some express it negatively, and some express it positively, but all of them have this concept of treating others the way you want to be treated.
Many Religions, One Golden Rule
Hinduism: This is the sum of duty: Do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you (Mahabharata 5:1517).
Buddhism: Do not offend others, as you would not want to be offended (Udana Varga 5.18).
Taoism: The successes of your neighbor and their losses will be to you as if they were your own (T’ai Shan Kan Ying P’ien 13:18).
Confucianism: Is there any rule that one should follow all of one’s life? Yes. The rule of the Gentle Goodness: That which we do not wish to be done to us, we do not do to others (Analects 15:24).
Islam: None of you shall be true believers unless you wish for your brother the same that you wish for yourself (An-Nawawi’s Forty Hadith 13).
Sikhism: I am a stranger to no one, and no one is a stranger to me. I am a friend to all (Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1299).
Baha’i: Lay not on any soul a load that you would not wish to be laid on you, and desire not for anyone the things you would not desire for yourself (Baha’ullah, Gleanings 66:8).
Zoroastrianism: Do not unto others whatever is injurious to yourself (Shayast na-Shayast 13:29).
Jainism: One should treat all creatures in the world as one would like to be treated (Mahavira, Sutrakritanga 1.11.33).
Unitarian Universalism: [We affirm and promote] the inherent worth and dignity of every person (First Principle; cf. Second through Fourth Principles).
Stoicism: “Treat your inferior as you would wish your superior to treat you” (Seneca, Letter 47).
Native American: We are as much alive as we keep the earth alive (Chief Dan George).
One Rule to Follow
I want you to notice not just that this idea appears in every religion but how important they say it is. Confucius said it is the one rule you should always follow. The Hadith says you are not a true believer unless you follow this rule. The Mahabharata says it is the sum of duty. Hillel said it is the entire Torah, and Jesus said it is the Law and the Prophets.
You might be thinking it can’t really be that simple. All of these religious texts have a lot more commands than just “treat others the way you want to be treated.” But do they assign the same importance to the other commands as this one? Hillel said, this is the Torah. Everything else is interpretation. In other words, everything else in the sacred texts is there to teach you how to treat others the way we want to be treated.
Why do we need to be taught? This rule is as simple as it gets. Yes, it’s simple but not easy. If everyone followed that rule, we wouldn’t need 99% of the rules and laws we have, religious or secular. But as Paul said, laws increased because transgressions increased. Do not kill. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Do not commit adultery. Do not covet what is your neighbor’s. Do not take a bribe. Do not commit fraud. Do not take away food, clothing, shelter, water, medical care, or any basic necessity someone needs to live. If we all just treated everyone else the way we want to be treated, we wouldn’t need any of those laws, because we wouldn’t do those things.
But people’s selfish desires compete with the Golden Rule. So every society and every religion creates more laws to identify transgressions. But it all starts with the Golden Rule. Every major religion or philosophy has recognized that is the one rule everyone needs to follow, regardless of religion, nationality, race, or politics.
Can We Start Over?
Huston Smith, a renowned scholar of world religions, once said, “If we take the world’s enduring religions at their best, we discover the distilled wisdom of the human race.”
Is this not the distilled wisdom of the human race? The Golden Rule? The rule of Gentle Goodness? The sum of duty? The entire Torah and the prophets? The one rule that makes you a true believer? Treat others the way you want to be treated. You don’t even have to be part of any religion to do that. What if instead of arguing about which religion is right or wrong, we started with that?
Think about how all these different people—Buddha, Mohamed, Hillel, Moses, Zoroaster, Confucius, Jesus, and others, separated by thousands of miles and thousands of years, most of whom did not know of each other—dedicated their lives to finding the best way for humans to live, and all came to the same conclusion. They may not have agreed on everything, but they did agree on this: Treat others the way you want to be treated.
What if we all worked on getting that right first? Then and only then will we talk about what makes us different. I don’t know about you, but that is the kind of world I would like to live in.
Now at the risk of contradicting myself, I believe Jesus did something with this rule that no one else did, at least as far as I can tell. That will be my next post.