Understanding the Golden Rule/Religious and Cultural Origins of the Golden Rule

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Religious and Cultural Origins of the Golden Rule[edit]

Many of us grew up seeing only our homogeneous neighborhoods, experiencing only our local cultures and religious traditions, and learning right and wrong from our families.

If we fast-forward to the 21st century, the change is remarkable. Advances in transportation, communication, and the Internet have shrunk the planet. These, with immigration and multinational companies, have produced an unprecedented mixing of peoples and cultures. Today most neighborhoods are integrated. We all have friends, and even relatives, of diverse races, religions, ethnic groups, or sexual orientations. Diversity has replaced homogeneity.

How can diverse people learn to live together? How can our multicultural world find common values? The answer is that, despite some sharp differences (for example, about arranged marriages), good people from diverse groups tend to have some deep values in common. One shared value is the golden rule. Insofar as we agree on this, and put this agreement into practice, we have a good chance to learn to live together harmoniously. Accordingly, we need to understand, celebrate, and practice this common value.

Is it important that we do so? Indeed, it’s difficult to find anything more important. What most divides the world is hatred, terrorism, and war between religious groups who profess the golden rule. As recently as 2010 this, a Christian pastor was planning a “burn a Qur’an” day. Would he want Muslims to plan a “burn a Bible” day? Yes, good people from diverse groups share some deep values. But less enlightened people from diverse groups share some deep disvalues, like divisiveness and stereotypes. Those who spread division are much the same, whether they be Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or something else.

Earlier sections of this course analyzed GR reasoning but avoided deeper religious and philosophical questions. We eventually need to ask these questions and find answers that make sense to us. GR needs to be part of a larger framework. Indeed, GR fits amazingly well into many different frameworks.

This section of the course discusses what the world’s religions say about GR and about concern for others, which GR deals with in a specific way; philosophies get covered in ch. 12. We begin with Abrahamic religions (embraced by over half the planet) and then turn to non-Abrahamic religions (especially eastern ones). Then we discuss GR interfaith global-ethics movements and raise further issues about GR and world religions.[1]

In studying other religions, we need the right GR attitude:[2] ”Try to understand the other’s faith as you would like your own faith to be understood.” Gensler wants people, when they approach the Christian faith, to:

  • listen carefully, be fair, show respect, and not distort;
  • not generalize from a few bad cases (don’t say that all Christians are evil just because a few are);
  • not compare the best of their faith with the worst of mine;
  • give Christianity the benefit of the doubt (so don’t take a passage like Luke 14:26, “Unless you hate your father and mother you cannot be my disciple,” literally when most Christians don’t take it that way);
  • neither deny nor exaggerate differences between their faith and mine.

Likewise, Gensler tries to understand other faiths fairly.[3]

If you search the Web for ”golden rule religions,” you’ll find many pages listing GRs from various religions. Such pages are becoming more numerous, as people discover that GR is common to most religions. This is wonderful.

Abrahamic religions[edit]

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam trace their origin through Abraham. Such Abrahamic religions accept one supreme personal God who created the world out of love for us and revealed himself and his will through sacred writings.

Abrahamic believers, however they see morality philosophically, add a religious dimension: morality is God’s will for us. We can be moral because God created us in his image and likeness, with the abilities to know right from wrong and to choose between the two. Morality is serious, objective, and part of our personal relationship to God. Right living has religious motives, both higher (unselfish love and gratitude) and lower (punishments and rewards), and pushes us toward our destiny of eternal happiness with God.[4]

Abrahamic believers endorse GR and concern for others. Most try to follow these values. But some (and this includes Jews, Christians, and Muslims) forget these core values and instead spread hatred and division.


Silver case containing a handwritten Torah (Museum of Jewish Art and History, Paris)

Judaism was the original Abrahamic religion. Christianity and Islam build on its ethical ideals and notions about God.[5]

Jews have an identity based on history. They descended from Abraham, were freed from Egyptian slavery, and enjoyed a golden age under King David in the Promised Land. They were captives in Babylon, struggled under the Roman Empire, and scattered into many lands. After centuries of persecution leading to the Holocaust, they created the modern state of Israel.

Central to Judaism is the Torah (“Law”), or the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy — all ascribed to Moses). Jewish scriptures also have prophetic books (like Isaiah and Amos) and other writings (like Proverbs and Psalms). Also important is the Talmud, where rabbis comment on the Torah through stories, proverbs, and sermons.

Rabbis found 613 commandments in the Torah. The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5) list our most important duties:[6]

Duties to God

1. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of slavery in Egypt. You shall not have other gods before me.
2. You shall not make or worship idols.
3. You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain.
4. Keep holy the Sabbath.

Duties to family

5. Honor your father and mother.
6. You shall not commit adultery.
10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.

Duties to everyone

6. You shall not kill.
8. You shall not steal.
9. You shall not bear false witness.

Non-Jews were seen as bound by only seven commandments: to set up a just legal system and not to blaspheme, worship idols, commit adultery, murder, steal, or eat a living animal’s flesh; Gentiles following these seven Noahide Laws (laws binding on Noah’s descendants) were considered just.[7]

The prophets, who boldly denounced injustice, show another side of Jewish morality. Isaiah 1:11.7 criticizes those who follow rituals while ignoring the needs of orphans and widows. Similarly, Amos 2:5f proclaims that God will punish his people for their injustices, for selling the just man for silver and the poor man for a pair of shoes.

The golden rule appears in a Talmudic story about Rabbi Hillel (c. 30 BC.–10 AD). A Gentile came to Rabbi Shammai, stood on one foot, and promised to convert to Judaism if the rabbi taught him the whole Torah while he stood on one foot. Shammai got angry and sent the Gentile away. But Hillel, when asked the same thing, responded with GR: “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to another. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. Go and learn.”[8] Hillel gives GR as summarizing the Torah, which, with 613 commandments, needed a summary. Some Jews call GR “the Torah on one foot.”

A more recent rabbi[9] says that this is the best known rabbinic story and familiar in Jewish circles. He sees Hillel’s s reply as brilliant. Hillel first expresses the Torah’s spirit, its central thesis, in a neat and inspiring epigram. Yes, everything in Judaism goes toward this GR goal. But this goal needs concrete means to promote it, which the Torah provides.

Hillel gives a negative GR (ch. 10): ”What you want not done to yourself, don’t do to others.” This also had occurred a century earlier in a Jewish book not part of the official Jewish Bible, Tobit 4:16: ”See that you never do to another what you would hate to have done to yourself.”[10]

The official Jewish Bible has GR-like passages. King David once fell in love with Bathsheba and indirectly brought about her husband’s death (2 Samuel 12:1.13). Prophet Nathan confronted the king about his wrongdoing by telling him a story where someone else did something similar. When David responded “That man did wrong!” Nathan exclaimed “You’ve condemned yourself!” Then David (who saw that the actions were relevantly similar) realized his error.[11] This story hints at another GR saying: “Don’t do what you blame others for doing.” (More precisely: “Don’t combine doing A with believing that it would be wrong for another to do A in similar circumstances.”)

Another GR-like passage is Exodus 23:9 (and Deuteronomy 10:19): ”Do not oppress a foreigner, for you well know how it feels to be a foreigner, since you were foreigners yourselves in the land of Egypt.” This suggests:

  • that we can better imagine ourselves in another’s place if we reflect on our similar experiences (as when we were foreigners);
  • that in deciding how to act toward another, we should imagine the same thing being done to us (so we imagine ourselves as foreigners being oppressed);
  • that we shouldn’t oppress a foreigner without consenting to the idea of our being oppressed in the same situation.

Leviticus 19:18 is the most important GR-like passage: ”Love your neighbor as yourself.” Many rabbis saw this as the Torah’s central norm. For us, it raises two key questions. First, what is its scope? Does it mean ”Love your fellow Jews as yourself”? Or does it mean ”Love everyone as yourself”? The universal reading fits better with what the Torah says about how to treat non-Jews. We just mentioned Exodus 23:9, about not oppressing foreigners. Leviticus (19:33–5 & 24:22) says we are to do foreigners no wrong, treat them as natives, love them as ourselves, and have the same law for them as for natives. Deuteronomy (10:19 & 24:14.22) says we are to love foreigners, be open to hiring them, give them just wages, and let them have after-harvest crop portions. All of this supports the universal ”Love everyone as yourself” reading.[12]

A second question is how “Love your neighbor as yourself” relates to GR (“Do unto others”). There are two plausible views here.[13] The equivalence view claims that both say the same thing. One might argue for this as follows:

”Love your neighbor as yourself” is equivalent to “Take your self-love as the model of how to treat others.”

”Take your self-love as the model of how to treat others” is equivalent to “Treat others only as you’re willing to be treated in the same situation.” (How else could we make sense of using self-love as a model?)

∴ ”Love your neighbor as yourself” is equivalent to “Treat others only as you’re willing to be treated in the same situation.”

GR would then spell out the meaning of ”Love your neighbor as yourself.”

In contrast, the complementarity view sees GR and the love norm as different. GR is about procedure; when combined with knowledge and imagination, it gives a way to help us decide how to act. ”Love your neighbor” is about motivation; it means ”Act to do good and not harm to your neighbor —and this for the sake of your neighbor.” Both ideas work well together:

Love-your-neighbor provides the highest motivation for following GR. We might follow GR from lower motives (like self-interest or conformity) or higher motives (like genuine love for others). If we follow GR from love, we follow it because we care about others for their own sake. This brings us closer to moral perfection. Love provides GR with the highest motivation.

GR gives a procedure to operationalize love-your-neighbor. Suppose we want to love others; how do we apply this love? GR (with Kita) shows how to translate love into action. If we love our children in the GR way, for example, we’ll try to know them (including their needs and desires) and imagine ourselves in their place. And we’ll treat them only in ways we’re willing to be treated ourselves by a parent in the same situation.

So love provides a motivation (caring for others for their own sake) and GR provides a procedure to translate this into action.

The equivalence and complementarity views both seem sensible and consistent with the Bible. Gensler knows of no objective way to decide between them. He does, however, prefer the complementarity view, which he sees as giving a richer way to think about how the two norms connect.[14]


Christianity builds on Judaism. Distinctive to Christianity is the belief in Jesus Christ (c. 4 BC.–27 AD) as the Son of God. And so we now turn to Jesus’s teachings, focusing on gospel passages that connect with GR.[15]

Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch

Jesus’s inaugural Sermon on the Mount, which is still the best introduction to Christianity, is Matthew ch. 5–7. It starts with beatitudes: blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, promoters of justice, peacemakers, the merciful, and so on—for all will be rewarded. Then there are radical demands. Have, not just pure outer behavior about anger and lust, but also pure inner dispositions. Love neighbors and enemies: do good to those who hate you. Care about divine, not human, approval and rewards. Pray to our Father, free yourself from worries, trust God. Don’t be judgmental; evaluate yourselves by the same standards that you evaluate others. As you treat others, so will God treat you. And so treat others as you want to be treated (GR), for this sums up the Law and the prophets (the Jewish scriptures). Finally, put these teachings into practice.

GR is the sermon’s punch line, the summary idea: “Therefore, treat others as you want to be treated, for this sums up the Law and the prophets”.[16] GR connects with other parts of the sermon:

  • Jesus rejects “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”[17]—and thus also rejects the vengeful ”Treat others as they treat you” rival of GR.
  • “Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you”[18] makes clear the universal scope of love and GR.
  • “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name”[19]: praying together to a common father, we recognize that we’re all brothers and sisters—and so should treat others as brothers and sisters.[20]
  • “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”[21]: we can’t sincerely pray this unless we forgive others as we ourselves want to be forgiven (a GR about forgiveness).
  • “Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye but not the beam in your own eye?”[22]: this suggests a related GR form, that we aren’t to do what we complain about when others do it. (More precisely: “Don’t act to do A while believing that it’s wrong for others to do A in similar circumstances.”)

God will do to us as we do to others:

  • “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”[23].
  • “If you forgive others, then God will forgive you; but if you don’t forgive others, then God won’t forgive you”[24].
  • “Judge (condemn) not, that you may not be judged; for God will judge you by the same measure that you judge others”[25].
  • Many other verses deal with rewards and punishments[26].

So in the afterlife we’ll receive the same treatment that we’ve given others.[27] When Mt 7:12 says “Therefore, treat others as you want to be treated,” the “therefore” hints at an ends—means argument: if you want a certain treatment yourself, then, to get this, you must treat others that way too.

It may disappoint that Jesus appeals to self-interest (reward and punishment) instead of something higher (like unselfish love for God and neighbor). But the gospels have to appeal to a wide range of people and thus provide lower motives as well as higher ones. Jesus sneaks in ”Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”[28] and in other places there are higher motives, like being grateful to God who has first loved us and modeling ourselves after the self-giving love for us of Jesus on the cross.

Here are three further points from Matthew’s gospel. (1) Jesus often uses consistency arguments when disputing with opponents, for example about Sabbath regulations (Matthew 12:1.8, 10.3; 15:1.9; and 23:23f). Since GR is a consistency principle, this roots GR more firmly into how Jesus argued.

(2) The good or evil that we’ve done to others counts in the last judgment as having been done to Jesus: whatever you did to even the least person in the world, you did to me[29]. This hints at a GR variation, where we imagine someone we care about on the receiving end of the action. Here we’re to treat others as if they were Jesus.

(3) Jesus was asked to give the Torah’s greatest commandment[30]. He gave Deuteronomy 6:5, to love the Lord our God with our whole heart and soul and strength. He added, from Leviticus 19:18, to love our neighbors as ourselves. So the most important things in life are to love God and love our neighbor. He added that these sum up the Law and the prophets. He had previously given GR as summarizing the Law and the prophets.[31] So how do the two love norms relate to GR? Augustine claimed that they’re derivable from GR: since we want both God and neighbor to love us, by GR we’re to love both God and neighbor.[32]

Luke’s gospel has a teaching similar to Matthew’s, but arranged and worded differently. Luke 6:17.49 presents Jesus’s inaugural sermon as being shorter and on a plain (not a mountain); but it has the same essentials: beatitudes, love your enemies, God will treat us as we treat others, GR[33], and an exhortation to put these ideas into practice. Luke also has Jesus give the two love norms[34]. But now there’s a follow-up example, a story about the Good Samaritan helping a Jew who had been beaten, robbed, and left to die. The point is much like “Love your enemies”: our neighbor is everyone, even a member of a group that we’ve been taught to hate.

John’s gospel, while not mentioning GR, talks much about love. Jesus gives a new commandment that’s more demanding than GR: that we love one another as Jesus loves us; there’s no greater love than to lay down your life for another, as Jesus did for us[35].

Gensler now answers three questions that some Christians might raise.

(Q1) As a Christian, I enjoy what you say about Jesus. But I must protest the nice things you say about other religions, which are from the devil, and their followers, who follow Satan.

If you hold that view, you need to study the gospels more. Jesus lived in an interfaith environment and often praised those of other faiths. Those outside the Judeo-Christian tradition portrayed positively in the gospels include the Wise Men from the East (perhaps Hindus) who visited the infant Jesus[36], the Roman Centurion whose servant Jesus cured [37], the demented Gentile who lived among the pig-raisers[38], the Ninivites who reformed their lives after Jonah confronted them[39], the queen of the South who visited Solomon[40], the Canaanite woman[41], Pilate’s wife[42], the Roman Centurion at Jesus’s death[43], the Gentile widow that Elias visited[44], Naaman the Syrian leper who was cured[45], the Good Samaritan who helps a stranger[46], and the Samaritan leper who was cured and gave thanks[47]. All are praised or presented positively; they’re not called “followers of Satan.” Remember too that Jesus taught us to be non-judgmental[48] and to love everyone, even enemies[49].

(Q2) As Christians, don’t we see moral knowledge as coming only from the Bible—and thus as impossible for non-believers or those of other faiths?

No, this view clashes with Christianity, for three reasons. (1) The early parts of the Bible talk about people who knew right from wrong, even though the Bible wasn’t yet written. (2) Most of the good people outside the Jewish faith who were praised by Jesus (Q1) had moral knowledge without getting it from the Bible. (3) Paul speaks about Gentiles who lack the biblical law but have the moral law written on their hearts[50]. So the Bible teaches that it isn’t the only source of moral knowledge.

(Q3) Is GR part of Christianity’s ”natural law” tradition?

Yes, many Christian thinkers over many centuries have seen GR as the central norm of the ”natural law” that’s built into our reason and accessible to people of every religion and culture (see the ch. 5 chronology).


Muhammad (570–632), Islam’s founder, was born in what is now Saudi Arabia. In his travels, he learned about Judaism, Christianity, and polytheism. In Mecca in 610, the Angel Gabriel purportedly began revealing the Qur’an to him and missioned him to convert his people from immorality and paganism. In 622, he traveled north to Medina to escape persecution. His influence grew, partly through military conquest, and Arabia became Muslim.[51]

The Kaaba, in Mecca, Hejaz region, today's Saudi Arabia, is the center of Islam. Muslims from all over the world gather there to pray in unity.

Islam” means ”submission to God’s will.” The one supreme God revealed himself through Muhammad (the last and greatest prophet), Jesus (who was a prophet but not God), and the Jewish prophets. The Qur’an is the highest revelation; also important are the Hadiths (sayings or actions of Muhammad or his companions), which clarify the Qur’an. Based on these, Muslims forbid killing, adultery, stealing, lying, and disrespecting parents. We are to help those in need, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, and pardon anyone who injures us. Pure intention is emphasized. In waging war, permitted only to defend ourselves or protect oppressed Muslims, we must minimize force, treat prisoners humanely, not show anger, and not injure innocent civilians.

While the Qur’an lacks the phrase ”Love your neighbor as yourself,” it says this in different words: “Show kindness and do good to parents, relatives, and orphans—to the near neighbor and the distant neighbor who is a stranger—to the companion by your side and the traveler that you meet”[52]. And it has a GR-like saying: “Woe to those who cheat: they demand a fair measure from others but they do not give it themselves”[53]. The Islamic GR occurs in three Hadiths, which attribute it to Muhammad: “None of you is a true believer unless he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself”[54].

Does ”brother” in the Islamic GR refer just to “brother Muslims,” or does it also include ”brother humans” (as Saeed 2010[55] argues)? There are reasons for preferring the universal “brother humans”:

  • Common Word[56], expressing a wide consensus by Muslim leaders, claims that Christianity and Islam agree on GR and love-your-neighbor and understand them the same way —which would include a universal GR.
  • As mentioned earlier, the Qur’an gives duties toward non-Muslims.
  • Ibn Arabi (1165.1240, quoted by Neusner & Chilton 2008:[57] 107) saw GR as applying to all creatures: “All the commandments are summed up in this, that whatever you would like the True One to do to you, that do to His creatures.”

Based on these, and on Gensler's principle to give other faiths the benefit of the doubt, Gensler takes the Islamic GR to apply to our treatment of everyone.

Imam Ali (c. 600.60), Muhammad’s relative and an important leader, said:

What you prefer for yourself, prefer for others; what you find objectionable for yourself, treat as such for others. Don’t wrong anyone, just as you would not like to be wronged; do good to others just as you would like others to do good to you; that which you consider immoral for others, consider immoral for yourself. (Nahj al-Balaghah, Wasiyya to al-Hasan b. `Ali, #31, quoted in Chenai 2008[58]: 215)

Shuja Sh. Ali (a Muslim seminarian in Qom, Iran) sent Gensler this quote.

Today there’s turmoil about values in the Muslim world. Should Islam adapt better to the modern world and Western values? Many conservative Muslims say no. They see the West as godless and decadent. They want to preserve a union of church and state that enforces Islamic law and forbids giving up Islam. Most conservative Muslims are peaceful. But a few extremists resort to terrorism, as in the attack on the U.S. of 11 September 2001. It would be wrong to conclude that all Muslims are terrorists—just as it would be wrong to conclude from Protestant and Catholic terrorism in Northern Ireland that all Christians are terrorists. It also would be wrong for the West to ignore criticisms that even moderate Muslims make against the West: for example, that it sides too much with Israel against Palestinians; that it often ignores Muslim sensibilities, as in how it acts in the holy land of Saudi Arabia; or that it’s obsessed with material things, sex, and individual freedoms. These criticisms may contain much truth.

Many liberal Muslims, although critical of the West, want to adapt more to the modern world. They believe in freely elected governments, equality for women, and the right to choose and exercise one’s religion (Majid 1998[59] and An-Na’im 1991[60] & 2008[61]). These Muslims think democracy and human rights fit Islam’s essential message. And they emphasize how Islam is like other religions and how different faiths need to understand and learn from each other.

Islamic-Christian relations recently moved to a new phase. What started this was a talk by Pope Benedict XVI[62] on faith and reason. The pope briefly referred to a remark made in 1391, as part of an Islamic-Christian debate, by Byzantine emperor Paleologus: ”Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” Benedict didn’t accept or reject the remark—that wasn’t his point. His point was that Paleologus assumed that acting unreasonably contradicts God’s nature. This was what Benedict wanted to discuss. The anti-Islam remark was used to lead to the point about reason and God’s nature.

The anti-Islam remark shocked many. While Benedict didn’t endorse the remark, he mentioned it without repudiating it. Many surmised that he agreed with it. Was Benedict anti-Islam? Or just careless? Or was he trying to shake up Islamic-Christian relations for the good (which was the ultimate effect)?

Reactions came quickly. Many criticized the pope, some defended him, some thought critics overreacted, and some added more anti-Islam remarks. Perhaps the wisest reaction was a letter of 11 October 2006 [63] signed by 38 Muslim leaders and scholars throughout the world, written to correct misconceptions, point out Muslim-Christian similarities, and call for dialogue. This became in 2007 a longer letter to the pope and 26 other Christian leaders, signed by 138 Muslim leaders. This later became a book[64] featuring the 2007 letter, now endorsed by over 300 Muslim leaders and 460 organizations, with responses from over 60 Christian leaders (including Benedict). The tone is positive, puts away petty divisions, and exemplifies the GR attitude mentioned earlier: “Understand the other’s faith as you would like your own faith to be understood.”

Common Word says that Muslims and Christians, who together make up over half the world’s population, need to live together in peace and justice. It appeals to the two love norms (of God and neighbor) that both groups share. Islam has “So invoke the Name of your Lord and devote yourself to Him with a complete devotion”[65] and ”None of you has faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself” (the Islamic GR). The document also endorses the right to choose one’s own religious beliefs and claims that this too is part of the Qur’an (2:256): ”Let there be no compulsion in religion.” This brought relief to many and the hope that all Islamic countries might respect religious freedom.

The pope responded positively[66]. Without denying differences, he emphasizes that both groups worship the one God and must show mutual respect and solidarity. He mentions the Islamic GR and love norms. So the pope’s snafu led to the two faiths coming closer together. One can only hope that this new spirit of mutual respect and understanding will trickle down to Muslims and Christians throughout the world.

Recall 11 September 2001, when a few Muslim terrorists killed nearly 3,000 people in the U.S., Gensler—and no doubt many others—expected a GR response from the United States, but it didn’t happen. What would a GR response look like?

Applying GR wisely involves Kita (Know-Imagine-Test-Act). First, we need to know how our actions affect others. Why were so many Muslims (and not just the terrorists) angry with America? What were their perceptions, feelings, sensitivities? Could there be things that America was doing wrong? Understanding must come first—preferably a mutual understanding. Then we’d imagine ourselves in their place and test for GR inconsistencies. Finally, we’d act on policies that we can endorse regardless of where we imagine ourselves in the situation. Preferably, both sides would do all this. The GR approach is slow and requires effort; but it’s the only way to a just and lasting peace.

Instead, the United States gave an ultimatum and then used violence. The U.S. did little to understand the other side. The U.S. policy sent the message: ”We’re good, the extremists are evil,[67] and we must defend ourselves.” The extremists were doing evil, we were doing a mix of good and evil, and we’d defend ourselves better by promoting mutual understanding. Violence should only be a last resort. Returning force for force, instead of first trying GR, encourages further retaliation. And it goes against central teachings of both Christianity and Islam.

Other Abrahamic religions[edit]

An Abrahamic religion, again, is one that traces its origin through Abraham. The main examples are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Another example, Samaritanism, is mentioned in the gospels but today has only a few members; it accepts one God and the Torah.

Thomas Jefferson and many early Americans were Deists; they accepted God but rejected revelation and organized religion. Jefferson liked the Bible’s moral teaching, but he didn’t see it as divinely inspired; his Jeffersonian Bible had just the gospel verses he agreed with, including GR[68]. Searching http://www.deism.com shows that many Deists today are devoted to GR as “rule number one.” While calling Deism ”Abrahamic” is stretching the term, Deism’s beliefs do come historically through Abraham.

A depiction of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery receiving priesthood authority from John the Baptist

Mormonism was founded by Joseph Smith (1805–44) and is strongest in Utah.[69] GR occurs in the Book of Mormon[70] as well as the Christian Bible, which Mormons also accept. A Web search revealed that many Mormons are strongly committed to GR.[71]

The Bahá’í faith, with members across the world, is Abrahamic. Bahá’í was founded in Persia (now Iran) by Prophet Baha’u’llah (1817–92). According to Bahá’ís, there is one God and ultimately just one religion. God revealed himself through prophets that include Abraham, Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Christ, and Muhammad. The latest is Baha’u’llah, but more will come. Humanity is one family, men and women are equal, prejudice must be eliminated, and world peace must be upheld by a world government.[72]

Bahá’í scriptures say much about love and GR. Baha’u’llah’s Epistle to the Son of the Wolf has this passage:

Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of your neighbor, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer to the cry of the needy… Be fair in your judgment, and guarded in your speech. Be unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men. Be as a lamp unto them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression. Let integrity and uprightness distinguish all your acts…

It also has GR: “If your eyes be turned towards justice, choose for your neighbor that which you choose for yourself.”

The Bahá’í have seven temples throughout the world, and Gensler often visited the one just north of Chicago. This beautiful temple is open to all faiths. It has Baha’u’llah quotations that highlight God’s greatness and love, and the oneness of humanity and religion. The information center has posters with quotations from Baha’u’llah (the second with GR):

O ye children of men! The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship among men.

The children of men are all brothers, and the prerequisites of brotherhood are manifold. Among them is that one should wish for one’s brother that which one wishes for oneself.

The Bahá’í faith captures well what is common to the Abrahamic religions.

Christian Science was founded by Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910). Her 1885 Science and Health puts GR as the last of six tenets of Christian Science: “To do unto others as we would have them do unto us.”

The Unification Church was founded by Sun Myung Moon (1920–) and is strongest in Korea. It emphasizes GR, including its global, interfaith dimension and our need to live for others[73].

Non-Abrahamic religions[edit]

Religions that didn’t originate through Abraham are more diverse. They may believe in one God, many gods, or no gods. So the theology varies. What is common is GR and concern for others. We’ll start with the religions of India.


The festival of lights- Diwali, is celebrated by Hindus all over the world.

Hinduism, India’s traditional religion, is the world’s third largest religion, after Christianity and Islam. Hinduism started before recorded history and has no known founder. It’s colorful and complex, with vast scriptures, complicated spiritualties, and many gods (which are often taken to represent different aspects of one supreme God). Hindus tend to be tolerant of doctrinal differences, believing that ultimate reality is beyond our ability to put into words.[74]

Hinduism has the whole GR package —the positive and negative forms and the claim that GR sums up how we’re to live:

One who practices the religion of universal compassion achieves his highest good… One who regards all creatures as his own self, and behaves towards them as towards his own self… attains happiness… One should never do to another what one regards as hurtful to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of righteousness… In happiness and misery, in the agreeable and the disagreeable, one should judge of effects as if they came to one’s own self. [75]

GR applies to our treatment of all creatures, including animals (who may be humans reincarnated). Here are further GR-like statements:

  • Good people do good to others without expecting any good in return…. Good people, understanding their own feelings, can understand the feelings of others.[76]
  • One who regards all creatures as his own self enjoys the fruits of the holy places.[77]
  • One who casts an equal eye everywhere, regarding everyone as his own self and the happiness and misery of others as his own, is deemed to be the best. [78]
  • One who is kind and who practices righteousness …, who considers all creatures on earth as his own self, attains the Immortal Being; the true God is ever with him.[79]

Four Hindu beliefs give GR a context. (1) There’s a divine cosmic order about how to live (for example, to be truthful and chaste, and to treat others as you want to be treated). Violating this order brings harm to us and to others.

(2) There’s karma, a moral law of cause and effect: you tend to get the treatment you give others. So you’ll receive good if you give good to others, and you’ll receive needless suffering if you give this to others. Hindu karma works in part through reincarnation; your soul after death returns to live in another human or animal body, higher or lower depending on your moral character. So the good or evil you do to others comes back to you, if not in this life then in the next. Many religions see life as a spiritual journey toward God; the Hindu journey covers several lifetimes. Doing evil sets us back, while doing good moves us forward, both in this life and in the next.

(3) In some mystical way we’re all identical to our neighbor and to God. If I harm my neighbor then I harm myself, for my neighbor is myself.

(4) Our true happiness is the spiritual possession of God, who is within us. Spirituality is more than morality, but it must include moral intentions.

Hinduism has a caste system. In the Veda, the world was created from the dismembered god Purusha. Brahmins, made from the head, are leaders, intellectuals, and priests; they abstain from meat and alcohol. Kshatriyas, from the arms, are warriors. Vaisyas, from the thighs, do farming, ranching, and business. Sudras, from the feet, do physical labor. Untouchables (touching them contaminates upper castes) are lower and outside the caste system. Society works best if each group follows its proper function (as in Plato’s Republic). Which caste one is born into depends on how one lived in a previous life; a good life moves you up, while a bad life moves you down. So those of lower caste are getting what they deserve, being punished for sins of a previous life. The caste system remains influential, even though India outlawed it in 1948.

Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948) opposed British rule over India and the harsh treatment of the untouchables (whom he called “the children of God”). While a firm Hindu, Gandhi was influenced by other faiths and claimed to be also Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and Buddhist. He preached non-violent resistance to British rule. He was committed to truth, faith, vegetarianism, simple living, and universal justice and love toward all faiths, races, and castes. He said that we can’t claim to have God on our side if we act immorally. He also said that we’ll all end up blind and toothless if we all follow “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” He’s called ”the father of India” for helping to bring India’s independence. He influenced the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and Martin Luther King’s non-violent resistance in the United States.

Hinduism gave the West karma, methods of prayer and spirituality, nonviolent resistance, and yoga. Yoga instructions often begin with the traditional Sanskrit greeting “Namaste” (“I honor the Divinity in you which is also in me”), spoken with hands together and a bow.

India produced other religions. Jainism, which began in the sixth century BC and somewhat resembles Hinduism and Buddhism, emphasizes compassion, non-violence, and the sacredness of all life; here are GR passages:[80]

  • A monk should… treat all beings as he himself would be treated.[81]
  • Indifferent to worldly objects, a person should wander about treating all creatures in the world as he himself would be treated.[82]
  • As I feel every pain and agony from death down to the pulling out of a hair—in the same way, be sure of this, all other living beings feel the same pain and agony as I, when they are ill-treated in the same way. For this reason no living being should be beaten, treated with violence, abused, tormented, or deprived of life.[83]
  • As it would be to you, so it is to one you intend to kill. As it would be to you, so it is to one you intend to oppress. As it would be to you, so it is to one you intend to torment…. And so the righteous person…does not kill nor cause others to kill.[84]

Sikhism, which began 500 years ago, is strongly monotheistic and combines elements from Hinduism and Islam; here are GR-like passages:[85]

  • Conquer your egotism. As you regard yourself, regard others as well.[86]
  • A true Guru is a friend to all; everyone is dear to Him.[87]
  • No one is my enemy, and I am no one’s enemy. God, who expanded His expanse, is within all; I learned this from the True Guru. I am a friend to all; I am everyone’s friend…. By His Grace, I am cured of the disease of egotism.[88]

Given karma, GR is only a small step—since then to get the treatment I want I must give others that same treatment.


standing Buddha statue with draped garmet and halo
Standing Buddha statue at the Tokyo National Museum. One of the earliest known representations of the Buddha, 1st–2nd century CE.

Siddhartha Gautama (c. 563—483 BC), who started Buddhism, was born a Hindu to a royal family in India. Being distressed by suffering he saw outside the palace, he became an ascetical monk, denying himself pleasure and eating almost nothing. Later he found this empty and turned to a “middle way” of moderation, shunning both luxury and self-denial. At age 35, he achieved enlightenment while sitting under a Bodhi tree, and henceforth was called “Buddha” (enlightened one). He attained wisdom, compassion, virtue, and freedom from hatred and desire. He remembered events from a previous life and saw how our deeds influence our next life. He achieved nirvana, so by not being reborn he’d avoid future suffering. But out of compassion for others, he returned to the world and taught his path to enlightenment.[89]

Buddhism teaches four noble truths: (1) Life involves suffering. (2) We suffer because we have unhealthy desires that we can’t fulfill. (3) We can avoid suffering by avoiding these desires; this brings nirvana—a peaceful, happy existence now and the freedom from being reborn into another life after our death. (4) We can avoid suffering and achieve enlightenment through the eightfold path: living rightly about beliefs, intentions, speech, actions, work, effort, mindfulness, and concentration.

Buddhism teaches karma, that the good or evil we do to others will come back to us, now or in a future life. Its five precepts forbid killing or harming sentient beings, stealing, adultery, lying, and intoxicating drinks and drugs.

Buddhism also teaches GR:

Look where you will, there is nothing dearer to man than himself; therefore, as it is the same thing that is dear to you and to others, hurt not others with what pains yourself. (N. Canon Dhammapada 5:18, Rockhill 1883: 27)

This next passage similarly appeals to self-love:

The King said to the Blessed One: “Just now I was with Queen Mallika. I asked her, ’Is there anyone dearer to you than yourself?’ ”’No, your majesty,’ she answered. ‘There is no one dearer to me than myself. And what about you, your majesty? Is there anyone dearer to you than yourself?’ “’No, Mallika. There is no one dearer to me than myself.’” On realizing the significance of that, the Blessed One exclaimed: ”Searching all directions, one finds no one dearer than oneself. In the same way, others are fiercely dear to themselves. So one should not hurt others if one loves oneself.”[90]

Some Western thinkers similarly argue that if my concern for myself gives value to what happens to me, then your concern for yourself must give value to what happens to you. But then I should be concerned about both—my good and yours. Here’s another such passage that exhibits GR reasoning:

The disciple reflects: ”Here am I, fond of my life, not wanting to die, fond of pleasure and averse to pain. If someone would deprive me of my life, it would not please me. If I, in turn, were to deprive another such person of his life it would not please him. For that state unpleasing to me must be unpleasing to him; and so how could I inflict that upon him?” As a result of such reflection he abstains from taking the life of creatures and encourages others so to abstain.[91]

GR connects with two important Buddhist virtues: peace of mind and compassion. The peaceful serenity suggested by Buddha statues goes well with these next passages, about how to respond to evil done to us:

”He insulted me, hit me, beat me, robbed me”— brooding on this increases violence. ”He insulted me, hit me, beat me, robbed me”— not brooding on this decreases violence. Violence increases through violence but decreases through non-violence.[92]

If a man foolishly does me wrong, I will return to him the protection of my ungrudging love; the more evil comes from him, the more good shall go from me. [93]

Treating others as badly as they treat us (revenge) divides people; it brings violence and inner torment. Being forgiving and non-violent to others, as we want them to be to us, unites people; it brings inner peace and serenity. This next quote, from the Dalai Lama, is about compassion:

We all want to be happy and free from misery. In Tibet, the teachings of the Buddha have been a strong and pervasive influence. From these we have learned that the key to happiness is inner peace. The greatest obstacles to inner peace are disturbing emotions such as anger and attachment, fear and suspicion, while love and compassion, a sense of universal responsibility are the sources of peace and happiness.[94]

The world-religions expert Karen Armstrong[95] says that all major religions teach compassion (in the root sense of ”the ability to feel with the other,” com-passion = feeling with), and that compassion is the virtue (good character trait) that corresponds to the golden rule.

Buddhism evolved different branches. Most branches don’t believe in gods; but some believe in many gods or one supreme God, and some see Buddha as divine. Some branches have rational philosophies; others (like Zen) delight in paradoxes, like the sound of one hand clapping. Some have belief systems, while others are agnostic about beliefs. Some stress prayer, while others are more secular. Some believe in one Buddha, while others believe in many Buddhas or that all are called upon to become Buddha.

Some Buddhist branches believe in a self that continues through time (from infant to child to adult) and in personal survival and heavenly bliss. Other branches reject a genuine self, claiming that what we misleadingly call the “self” is merely a collection of experiences.[96] So the Harry Gensler of ten years from now will be a collection of experiences too, but it won’t be me in any significant sense. So why should ”I” be concerned for ”my” future pleasures instead of for “yours”? This no-self (selfless) view undermines self-interest and encourages an impersonal concern for good wherever it occurs.

Many from other faiths are impressed by Buddhist meditation, non-violence, and a universal compassion that extends even to animals.


Confucius Tang Dynasty.jpg
Confucius Tang Dynasty

Confucius (c. 551–479 BC) greatly influenced Chinese thought. His Analects was one of the earliest books on ethics, coming before the Nichmachean Ethics of Aristotle (384–322 BC). While Aristotle gave definitions, alternative views, and complex reasoning, Confucius wrote as a sage —with proverbs, anecdotes, and brief dialogues. Both taught an elevated morality and set the tone for ethical thinking in their part of the world.[97]

Here are some ideas to ponder from Confucius’s Analects:

  • The wise consider justice, the unwise self-interest.
  • You can still be happy if you have only coarse grain to eat, water to drink, and your arm for a pillow. Riches and honor without justice are like passing clouds.
  • We can learn much from any two random people. We can imitate their good qualities and take their bad qualities as a warning.
  • Goodness can’t be out of reach since I attain it when I seek it.
  • Rulers should ensure that a state has enough food, weapons, and trust. Weapons are the least important, trust the most important.
  • The wise bring out the good in people, the unwise bring out the bad.
  • Repay hatred with justice, and kindness with kindness.
  • Demand much from yourself and little from others.
  • Our lives degenerate if we love humanity but not learning.

Confucius says little about gods, karma, or the afterlife. He avoids paradoxical or mystical language. He focuses on how to develop concern for others.

When challenged to sum up his teaching, Confucius uses a negative GR:

Tzu-kung asked, ”Is there one word which can serve as the guiding principle for conduct throughout life?” Confucius said, “It is the word altruism (shu). Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” (Analects 15:23, in W. Chan 1963:[98] 44)

Confucius uses 恕 (shu) for the GR virtue (good habit). ”Shu” is sometimes translated as “reciprocity” or ”fellow-feeling”; Holcombe 1904: 31 says that “shu” includes consideration for others, charity, forbearance, thoughtfulness for others, and mutuality of rights and interests. Confucius also says:

A man of humanity, wishing to establish his own character, also establishes the character of others, and wishing to be prominent himself, also helps others to be prominent. (Analects 6:28, in W. Chan 1963: 31)

[Humanity] is to love men. (Analects 12:22, in W. Chan 1963: 40)

GR occurs twice more in the Analects (5:11 & 12:2, in W. Chan 1963: 28 & 39).

In a work attributed to his grandson, Confucius repeats GR and gives four examples, noting that he’s not always been able to live up to GR:

What you do not wish others to do to you, do not do to them. There are four things in the way of the superior man, none of which I have been able to do: to serve my father as I would expect my son to serve me…, to serve my ruler as I would expect my ministers to serve me…, to serve my elder brothers as I would expect my younger brothers to serve me…, to treat friends as I would expect them to treat me. (Doctrine of the Mean 13:4, in W. Chan 1963: 101)

Classical Confucianism is more a philosophy than a religion. Some forms of Confucianism add gods, temples, worship, and venerating Confucius.[99]

Mo Tzu (c. 479–438 BC), who lived after Confucius, founded Mohism. Mo Tzu was more radical, insisting that we should have the same degree of love for all, not preferring our child’s good to that of a stranger. He writes[100]:

  • Suppose that everybody in the world loves universally, loving others as oneself… When everyone regards other persons as his own person, who will rob? So there would not be any thieves or robbers…. If everyone in the world will love universally… the world will be orderly.
  • Universal love is to regard the state of others as one’s own…. A person of universal love will take care of his friend as he does of himself, and take care of his friend’s parents as his own. So when he finds his friend hungry he will feed him, and when he finds him cold he will clothe him.
  • One who objects to universal love will yet prefer to put his trust in someone who practices it. So the objector shows his attraction to universal love in his actions—there is a contradiction between his word and his deed. So opposing universal love is incomprehensible.

The last example appeals to consistency.


Taoism (Daoism) for centuries in China was the chief rival to Confucianism and Buddhism. Taoism accepts many gods, is mystical and poetic, and emphasizes meditation and worship. It gave us acupuncture, Tai Chi, and Yin-Yang. While Laozi’s popular Tao Te Ching book dates back to about the fourth century BC, it formulates a much older tradition.[101]

Tao (or Dao, pronounced ”DOW”) means ”way” or ”road.” Tao is the unspeakable primal reality from which everything else comes. Tao isn’t God, but that from which the gods and universe came. Tao Te Ching starts by saying that the Tao that can be put into words isn’t the true Tao; then, paradoxically, it says much about Tao, using the word 82 more times.[102]

Our duty is to follow Tao. We do this by following nature and interfering as little as possible. So it’s wrong to build a dam that blocks a river’s natural flow to the sea. We need to live spontaneously and follow instinct. We do badly when we follow social convention or theory, as Confucius was seen as doing. The best rulers interfere little and are compassionate and flexible.

Despite appealing to spontaneity, Taoism has standard norms and virtues. It forbids killing, lying, stealing, and adultery. It has three great virtues: love (compassion, kindness); moderation (simplicity in life, which often includes abstaining from meat and alcohol); and modesty (humility). Tao Te Ching 13 & 49 have GR-like statements (in W. Chan 1963:[103] 145 & 162):

  • The only king worthy of governing is one who values and loves his kingdom as if it were himself.
  • To those who are good to me, I am good; and to those who are not good to me, I am also good; and thus all get to receive good.

The later T’ai-Shang Kan-Ying P’ien has perhaps the clearest Taoist versions of love-your-neighbor and GR: [104]

  • With a compassionate heart, turn toward all creatures.
  • Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.
A traditional representation of "The vinegar tasters"

The traditional Vinegar Tasters painting teaches how Taoists view their rivals. Confucius, Buddha, and Laozi are tasting vinegar. Confucius, with a sour face, sees the world as clashing with how we ought to live. Buddha, with a bitter face, sees life as full of suffering and unfulfilled desire. But Laozi, with a big smile, sees nature (Tao) as good and lives in harmony with it. This painting emphasizes the diversity of Eastern thinking and is good to counter those who simplistically contrast ”the Eastern approach” with ”the Western approach,” as if all Easterners think the same and all Westerners think the same.

Japanese Shintoism accepts many gods. Here are some Shinto sayings:[105]

  • Be charitable to all beings, love is God’s representative.
  • Do not forget that the world is one great family.
  • Even the wishes of an ant reach to heaven.
  • The heart of the person before you is a mirror. See there your own form.

Gensler likes the mirror idea. He envisions a smartphone app that shows, when we act toward another, a transformed video where the same thing is done to us.

Other religions[edit]

Many see the first recorded GR as “Do to the doer to cause that he do,” from ancient Egypt’s ”The Eloquent Peasant” story, about 1800 BC.[106] But the saying’s translation is disputed and it takes much stretching to see it as GR.

Zoroastrianism, an ancient Abrahamic-resembling religion from Persia, has two main GRs: “That character is best that doesn’t do to another what isn’t good for itself” and “Don’t do to others what isn’t good for yourself.”[107]

Many ancient Greek and Roman polytheists supported GR. The Chapter 5 chronology gives dozens of examples, from the Greek Homer (c. 700 BC) to the Roman Emperor Alexander Severus (222.35 AD).

Africa provides one of Gensler’s favorite GR sayings. From the Yoruba people in Nigeria comes “One who is going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts.”[108] Ogunyemi 2010:[109] 35 & 40f has related Yoruba proverbs, along with originals in the Yoruba language:

  • The kind-hearted are full of joy. (Compare with Buddhism.)
  • The house of the kind-hearted does not burn down completely; it is that of the wicked that burns down completely. (Neighbors will give more help to a kind person, so the good you do will come back to you.)
  • As sensitive to pain as are the rats’ little ones, so also sensitive to pain are the birds’ little ones.
  • Whenever you break a stick in the woodland, you should consider what it would feel like if it were yourself who was thus broken.

The baby-bird proverb may have evolved from the stick proverb.

The Church of Scientology supports GR. Its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, in 1981 published an ethics guide, The Path to Happiness, with two GR chapters.

GR religions noted so far include Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Deism, Mormonism, Bahá’í, Christian Science, Unification, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Mohism, Taoism, Shintoism, Zoroastrianism, Greco-Roman polytheism, Yoruba, and Scientology. Section 3.3 adds Brahma Kumaris, Native Religions, Neo-Paganism, Theosophism, and Unitarianism. We need more research into other religions, especially tribal ones.

Augustine (400c), who in his early life went through various religions and philosophies, recognized about 400 AD that GR was part of the wisdom of all nations. People today are rediscovering this same insight.


Atheists (who say there’s no God) and agnostics (who take no stand on God) often accept GR. These folks can feel neglected in interfaith-GR discussions. Gensler recently got an e-mail from an atheist complaining (with some levity) about not having an atheism symbol on his GR t-shirt (§1.1):

Why not an atheist GR shirt? Same rule for us, same logic, yes, just without the supernatural justifications. Any serious and thoughtful atheist likely supports GR in some form. Discussing ethics, morality, and religion without serious consideration of atheism leaves one, I think, with weak tea.

He was pleased when Gensler told him that the book would have a section on atheism.

Atheists and agnostics can accept GR, but “without the supernatural justifications.” They might accept GR as an intuitively self-evident principle, as part of a rational procedure, as a cultural convention, as a social contract for mutual advantage, as a socially useful rule, as reflecting their altruistic feelings, or as promoting their self-interest (§2.5 & ch. 12). Theists can accept GR on these grounds too; but they also have religious grounds. So GR can be a point of unity between believers (of all types) and non-believers.

Interfaith GR activists[edit]

An interfaith GR activist is one who goes beyond promoting GR in an academic context (as Gensler does with his writing and teaching) to using GR to bring about change in the wider world, and especially in how various faiths relate to each other. Such activism can take many forms.

This section began by noting how multicultural the world is becoming. This mixing of peoples raises the question: ”What do we have in common that can help us to live together?” People are increasingly finding part of the answer in GR. And they’re encouraged and guided in this by interfaith GR activists. I’ll here discuss three such activists from three different continents: Hans Küng from Europe (Germany), Paul McKenna from North America (Canada), and Mussie Hailu from Africa (Ethiopia). While there are many GR activists today (please forgive me for not mentioning more), these three are especially significant.

Hans Küng (2009)

Hans Küng is a well-known Christian theologian. He wrote a GR global-ethics document that was approved by the Parliament of the World’s Religions.[110]

The first Parliament of the World’s Religions, which met with the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, was the first formal, global meeting of Earth’s religions. The parliament had a Christian Eurocentric bias and didn’t include Tibetan Buddhists, Afro-Americans, or native Americans. But it was an important step. GR was prominent[111].

A century later, in 1993, the second Parliament of the World’s Religions met in Chicago. Hans Küng was asked to write a global-ethics document to be voted on. Since Küng had no precedent for this, he was initially perplexed on what to do. He decided to write a draft on what was common to the religions and then revise it in light of reactions from many experts from different religions. The Parliament would discuss and vote on, but not modify, the document.

It wasn’t easy to produce something that almost all could accept. The document had to compromise on whether to mention God (which Buddhists objected to, so ‘Ultimate Reality’ was used instead), whether to support pacifism or women’s rights, and so on. While some thought Küng’s document was too Western, most thought it nicely expressed their own ideals. There was wide agreement on GR and the need for the document.

Küng’s 20-page document is called “Towards a global ethic: An initial declaration.” After sketching problems facing the world, it highlights the need for a global ethic: a consensus, not on everything, but on key norms that appeal to the religious and non-religious alike. One such norm is that every human being ought to be treated humanely. Another is GR:

There is a principle which is found and has persisted in many religious and ethical traditions of humankind for thousands of years: What you do not wish done to yourself, do not do to others! Or in positive terms: What you wish done to yourself, do to others! This should be the irrevocable, unconditional norm for all areas of life, for families and communities, for races, nations, and religions.[112]

There followed four commandments common to the various faiths:

  • You shall not kill! Have respect for life!
  • You shall not steal! Deal honestly and fairly!
  • You shall not lie! Speak and act truthfully!
  • You shall not commit sexual immorality! Respect and love one another!

These are explained in ways that all religions can accept. Finally, there is a call for all, whether religious or not, to follow their common ethic.

Every group overwhelming approved the document. It was signed by 143 representatives from Bahá’í, Brahma Kumaris, Buddhism, Christianity, Native Religions, Hinduism, Jainism, Judaism, Islam, Neo-Paganism, Sikhism, Taoism, Theosophism, Zoroastrianism, and Interreligious Organizations. Many religions had subgroups. So Judaism had Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed signatures. Christianity had Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican, and Roman Catholic signatures (the Catholics included Cardinal Bernadine of Chicago, Theodore Hesburgh of Notre Dame, Hans Küng of the University of Tubingen, a Vatican representative, religious sisters, and many others). And yes, the Dalai Lama signed the document along with over a dozen others who represented various branches of Buddhism.

And so, for the first time, representatives of the world’s religions in 1993 formally agreed on a global ethic. This included GR (as “the irrevocable, unconditional norm for all areas of life”); the duty to treat everyone humanely; and commandments about killing, stealing, lying, and sexual immorality.

Paul McKenna, an interfaith lay minister with Scarboro Missions in Toronto, got interested in the golden rule in the 1980s while reading a book about world religions. This had a list, which he’d never seen before, of GR in many faiths. The list triggered a growing passion for GR, especially as a tool for unity. McKenna envisioned a poster that would display GR in various religions. The poster emerged in 2000. The earth is in the center. Continents are connected by longitude lines but not divided by national boundaries. Rays of yellow and blue radiate from the earth. Around the edge are symbols and GR sayings for 13 religions: Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Sikhism, Christianity, Unitarianism, Native Spirituality, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Judaism, Islam, Bahá’í, and Hinduism. A copy of the poster hangs in Gensler’s office. It has sold 100,000 copies throughout the world, with copies in different languages and in many prominent places. The poster gives a powerful way to teach GR’s global importance and presence in different faiths. [If this image is used in the course, refer to it here.]

McKenna has had an impact that is both global and local. His http://www.scarboromissions.ca/Golden_rule is the most extensive GR site on the Web, with materials on GR workshops, GR meditations, GR school curricula, a GR movie (produced and directed by Tina Petrova), and much else. He also connects people across the world with a special interest in GR; Gensler often gets e-mails from him on GR. In Toronto, he’s helped to create one-day interfaith GR retreats for high-school students; the students pray, sketch, sing, dance, and do skits about GR in different religions emphasizing mutual understanding and respect for people who are different. When Gensler visited Scarboro Missions in Toronto in August 2010, he saw that McKenna had many people fired up about GR; Gensler met with six who related their stories about how to apply GR, especially in educating children.

Why is the golden rule so special to McKenna? He’s struck by GR’s omnipresence. Since GR is common between peoples, religious and non-religious, from ancient times to the present, it has great moral authority. The rule is simple to understand (but not easy to live), universal (both in its occurrence and in its appeal as it challenges us to become better persons), and powerful (as it summarizes moral teachings about unity, non-violence, social justice, compassion, and cooperation between diverse groups). GR may be the best guide we have to help peoples of the world to live together in peace. To reflect on the golden rule is to reflect from the perspective of a universal wisdom.

If you search the Web for “golden rule,” you’ll find more and more people discovering GR and spreading the word. Multicultural mixing has moved many to look for values that express, not just the fashion of the moment, but what McKenna calls “a universal wisdom.”

Mussie Hailu is an interfaith GR activist from Ethiopia. If you hear about the United Nations doing something with GR, or you see the leader of a country next to a GR poster, Hailu was likely involved.

Hailu uses interfaith dialogue to counter religious injustice and violence. He was a major force in creating the first interfaith organizations in Ethiopia. Later he was a founding member of URI, the United Religions Initiative (http://www.uri.org), which began as a UN analogue; if we can have United Nations, why can’t we have United Religions? UN and URI often work together.

Hailu discovered McKenna’s GR poster and spread it across Africa. He translated the poster into African languages and distributed perhaps 100,000 copies, including one to every African head of state. He sees GR as a path to peace, justice, and interfaith understanding.

Hailu pushed for an April 5 international golden rule day. This began in Ethiopia and was adopted by the United Nations and many countries. Having a GR day isn’t, by itself, so important. There are many special days, and most have little impact. But it’s a beginning, and it could evolve into something bigger. What could we do on a GR day? Gensler envisions interfaith GR services; parades featuring GR and various faiths; teachers instructing students about GR in world religions (which every schoolchild should know about); and talks and programs about GR (how it relates to evolution, for example, or how to apply it to business or sports or bringing up children). Today many of our celebrations involve just one faith, and this is fine; but a celebration that brings all faiths together would also be good to have. Sometimes divisive people get the most publicity, and a vibrant GR day could counteract this.

The number of interfaith organizations is growing (URI has 500 member organizations in 75 countries), and many emphasize GR. GR organizations include Paul Eppinger’s Arizona Interfaith Movement (http://www.azifm.org); Karen Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion (http://charterforcompassion.org), and Religions for Peace (http://religionsforpeace.org). Paul McKenna’s http://www.scarboromissions.ca/Interfaith_dialogue/partners.php has further links.

We see that GR is on the move.


In this section Harry Gensler answers a number of questions about the golden rule and religious beliefs. He answers in the first person based on his personal beliefs.

(Q1) What is a golden-rule saying, what does it mean to say that GR is in a given religion, and is GR in all religions?

I take a golden-rule saying to be any saying fairly close to “What you want done (or not done) to yourself, do (or don’t do) to others.” Switching places is essential: we imagine the act done to us or to someone we love. So I don’t see “Be kind to others” or “Love your neighbor” as GR sayings; but since they’re related, I call them GR-like sayings. Whether “Love your neighbor as yourself” is a GR saying depends on how it’s understood (§3.1a). I allow GR sayings to be applications (like “If you want others not to cheat you, then don’t cheat them”), if the general rule is supported.

What about sayings that apply just to a limited group (like “Treat those of your tribe as you want to be treated”)? For me, a genuine GR saying must apply to everyone. As groups develop, their morality often expands from applying to just a limited group to applying to everyone (ch. 8).

Sometimes it’s disputed whether a religion has GR sayings. Wicca, for example, accepts ”Do not harm” (often taken broadly to include “Do good”) and karma (from which GR is only a small step). Some Wiccans see this combination as the Wiccan GR; but others say their religion has no GR.

GR could be in a given religion explicitly (in words) or implicitly (in how people live). Those who study indigenous or tribal religions sometimes say GR is implicit in such religions.[113] This makes sense, since people of such religions, when they hear GR, often take it to express how they try to live.

Finally, is GR present in all religions? While many religions have an explicit, clear, universal GR, it would be premature to conclude that such a GR is present in all religions. We need more research on indigenous or tribal religions, especially those less influenced by outside forces. I suspect that an explicit, clear, universal GR appears later, as human thought develops, but that at least the seeds of GR (perhaps an implicit GR limited to how tribal members are treated) is present in all, or nearly all, religions.[114]

(Q2) Won’t this stress on what is common lead people to think that all religions are the same or that differences between them don’t matter?

This is unlikely. To say that religions agree on GR isn’t to say that they agree on all things. Consider the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions. The 143 representatives who signed the global-ethics document all thereby agreed on some ethical essentials. But they continued to disagree on many other issues. After the meeting, the Vatican representative and the Dalai Lama didn’t become indistinguishable. But they likely came to a deeper understanding of differences and a greater mutual respect.

(Q3) Shouldn’t we Christians see our religion as ”totally unique” instead of as ”just one religion among many”?

As a Christian, I believe that Christianity is neither ”totally unique” (since it shares much with other religions and took most of its Bible from Judaism) nor ”just one religion among many.” I believe that God can speak through other religions and that different religions can learn from each other. We saw earlier that Jesus in the gospels was often positive about people of other religions and praised them for their faith (§3.1b Q1).[115]

While I respect the beliefs of other religions, I’m sometimes perplexed about what personal attitude to take toward such beliefs. As a Christian, I accept the Creed and thus don’t accept beliefs inconsistent with this. But much of what other religions teach—for example, that Buddha experienced enlightenment—is consistent with the Creed. As a Christian, I can hold that God enlightened and transformed Buddha, for his good and the good of his people. This doesn’t clash with Christianity. Further beliefs about nirvana may clash; but some Buddhist views of nirvana are compatible with Christianity.

Practically all Christian thinkers say that God’s greatness goes beyond what can be put into words. While Christian words help, God’s greatness goes beyond them. So words from other traditions may help too.

(Q4) What can the various religious traditions teach us about GR?

Let me sketch what I’ve gained from studying other traditions. First, what the other Abrahamic traditions (Jewish, Islamic, Bahá’í, etc.) say fits nicely with my beliefs. The Jewish scriptures are already part of my beliefs, the story about Hillel is helpful for those who complain that religion has too many rules, I like the Islamic stress on God’s will and on GR also dealing with our desires, and I find Bahá’í inspirational. I also find useful Eastern teachings about GR. I like the high moral and spiritual tone of Hinduism, karma (which I accept in general terms), applying GR to animals (which the West needs to take seriously), the Buddhist stress on compassion and inner peace (which are part of Christianity too), and the wisdom of Confucius (which is compatible with Christianity). And GR’s wide presence strengthens my Christian belief that we all have the moral law written on our hearts (Romans 2:14f).

(Q5) Isn’t it true that GR, while present in practically every religion, is considered significant only in Christianity and perhaps Confucianism?

Many Christians emphasize GR, while many others ignore it; Pope Benedict, for example, didn’t mention GR in his letter on love or his book on Jesus in Matthew’s gospel.[116] I don’t know how important GR has been in other religions. People who don’t appreciate GR need to understand it better.

I’m more concerned with the future. Representatives of the world’s religions endorsed GR in their 1993 declaration (§3.3). For some of them, GR’s value may have been a new discovery (despite GR being part of their religion). If so, then there’s a growing appreciation for GR, as a common norm of great worth.

Here’s an analogy. Suppose you have gold in your backyard but ignore it. Then you discover its value, and you say “What a wonderful thing I have!” Similarly a religion may have GR in its writings but not pay attention to it. Then it discovers its value, and it says ”What a wonderful thing I have and others also have! May it help us to live together in peace and harmony!”

I’m a convert of another sort. While I’ve long appreciated GR, only recently have I emphasized its global and interfaith dimension. My 1969 GR master’s thesis totally ignored this dimension and my GR doctoral dissertation (Gensler 1977: 1f) spent only two pages on it. To redeem myself a little, let me give a fine paragraph that I put into three books (Gensler 1996: 106, 1998: 112, and 2011a: 88) and later on the Web (http://www.harryhiker.com/gr):

The golden rule, with roots in a wide range of world cultures, is well suited to be a standard that different cultures can appeal to in resolving conflicts. As the world becomes more and more a single interacting global community, the need for such a common standard is becoming more urgent.

This is now on over 75 Web pages (search for the first 12 words in quotes).

(Q6) Do you really think different religions can use GR to get along?

Yes. Hard work may be needed to overcome prejudices, insensitivities, and hatreds. But the Kita way is clear: we need to know the other group, imagine ourselves in their place, test whether we’re now willing that if we were in their place then we be treated as we treat them, and act on GR. If both sides follow this, they can learn to get along.

The major obstacle is divisive people who ignore what their religion says about GR and instead preach hatred towards other religions. Those who spread division are much the same, whether they be Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or whatever. So harmony between religions requires a campaign within each religion to live GR toward those of other religions.

Some beliefs may lead to religious persecution despite GR. John Hick 1992: 157 mentions Christians who tortured others to accept their style of Christianity, based on the belief that these people would otherwise be damned to eternal torment. Given this belief (which virtually all Christians today reject as incompatible with God’s love) the torturers could be willing that they be tortured under similar circumstances (to avoid eternal torment) and thus could be GR-consistent. As noted earlier, we need to get the facts straight before we apply GR. Here we need to get clearer on the nature of God, as loving.

(Q7) Some religions teach a positive GR (“What you want done to yourself, do to others”) while others teach a negative GR (“What you want not done to yourself, don’t do to others”). These two forms are different; many think one form is flawed. But then the moral agreement between faiths is more apparent than real—and the interfaith GR is fake.[117]

This is an important objection to the interfaith GR. I later argue (ch. 10) that the positive and negative GR forms are logically equivalent and thus have identical logical implications. So both forms say the same thing.

(Q8) GRs differ significantly between faiths. For example, Christianity’s ”Treat others as you want to be treated” is about actions while Islam’s ”Desire for others what you desire for yourself” is about desires. Actions differ from desires.[118]

The action and desire forms are different but complementary. Most people see morality as being about both actions and desires; if asked, they’d likely accept both GR forms. I argued earlier (§2.3) for both forms: Gold 1 is about actions while Gold 3 is about desires. GR is a family of related principles, not a single principle, and no one saying can exhaust GR.

GR formulas also have stylistic and cultural differences. One of my favorites is an African proverb: ”One who is going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts.” This proverb is vivid and concrete, not abstract and general. But it gives a lesson about how to treat not just baby birds but also humans and other sentient beings. So the proverb, while rooted in its own culture, is getting at a general truth.

It’s unwise to emphasize subtle differences in wording between GRs of different traditions, especially since translations can vary significantly. So Matthew 7:12 is rendered as what we desire/want/wish/would/will that others do to-us/for-us/to-or-for-us. Chapters 1 and 2 took the general idea and then tried to express it carefully to make it as good an idea as possible.

Traditional religious GRs are folksy proverbs. They lack a same-situation clause and so lead to absurdities if taken literally (§§1.2.3 & 2.1a.b). This doesn’t mean that these GR sayings are bad; it just means that we need to tidy up the wording if we want something that can be taken literally. Many people live GR more subtly than how they say it (§2.1e).

(Q9) Is your technically stated GR (Gold 1 in §§1.1 & 2.1d) plausibly attributed to Confucius, Hillel, and Jesus?

They had the basic insight but not the same words. Gold 1 expresses their basic insight with greater technical precision, so it can withstand objections and be applied more easily to difficult situations.

(Q10) What groups most oppose a common GR across various religions?

The sharpest opponents are those who emphasize how religions differ and think that the emphasis on GR denies these differences. I’d respond that there are similarities and differences across religions, and to affirm one similarity isn’t to deny the differences. Groups that differ greatly need to agree on some things, like GR, that can help them to live together in peace.

(Q11) Isn’t it cultural imperialism to use the Christian term “golden rule” to refer to similar teachings in other faiths?

According to Paul McKenna, a leader in this area, interfaith dialogue creates a shared vocabulary. Words like karma, shalom, and tao, from specific faiths, refer to things common to many faiths. This isn’t cultural imperialism. Golden rule, which comes likely from Christians (but maybe from the pagan Severus . §11.3 Q2), is part of this shared vocabulary.

(Q12) How does GR connect with the faith and justice mission of your Jesuit religious order?

GR is a justice norm that’s rooted in my Catholic faith but also can be rooted in the faith (religious or otherwise) of everyone else on the planet. So GR, as the interfaith-justice norm, brings both ideas together.

(Q13) Why is GR so universal across humanity?

Various reasons can be given for GR’s universality:

  • Religious: God implanted GR in our hearts and revealed it in every religion.
  • Biological: Evolution hard-wired GR into our genes and brains (§7.4).
  • Psychological: Universal developmental stages lead to GR (§6.2).
  • Sociological: Societies need GR to survive (§§7.2 & 8.1).
  • Logical: GR forbids an inconsistency (ch. 1.2), and we all have a cognitive dissonance drive to avoid inconsistency.

These explanations can work together.

(Q14) Why did God create a world with many religions but a common GR?

I don’t know. Qur’an 5:48 suggests that God made us of different faiths to compete with each other in doing good. And a bumper sticker says ”God is too big to fit into one religion.” We all need to reflect on this question.

Composite GR message[edit]

Each verse has ideas from at least two faiths, as given earlier in this chapter:

Treat others as you want to be treated; what you want done (or not done) to yourself, do (or don’t do) to another.

Love your neighbors; regard the joy or pain of another as your own.

Desire for others what you desire for yourself; let your heart be pure and your judgments fair.

Understand the feelings of others as you understand your own; the heart of another mirrors your own heart.

Love your enemies; if a foolish person does you wrong, respond with love.

Show peace or violence toward others, and they’ll likely act that way toward you; the treatment you give is the treatment you’ll get.

Fill your life with kindnesses, and you’ll have joy; compassion brings contentment and inner peace.

Live as sons and daughters of one God; the world is one big family.

This nicely summarizes the GR message of the world’s religions.[119]



  1. There are many lists of GRs in the world’s religions; Paul McKenna’s poster on this has sold 100,000 copies worldwide (http://www.scarboromissions.ca/Golden_rule/poster_order.php).
  2. Troll, C. (2008) “Future Christian-Muslim engagement,” paper at a Cambridge meeting between Christians and Muslims, http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/208895?eng=y
  3. Sohaib a Muslim, has additional GR-based interfaith-dialogue suggestions. See: “The golden rule: An Islamic-dialogic perspective,” paper at Edinburgh Festival of Spirituality of Peace, http://dialogicws.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/goldenrule_saeed1.pdf
  4. Mayton 2009 Nonviolence and Peace Psychology, New York: Springer, ch. 7 pp 167–203 discusses Abrahamic morality. Interfaith Declaration 1993 expresses an agreement between Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders on international business ethics.
  5. On GR in Judaism, see Alexander 2005: “Jesus and the golden rule,” in The Historical Jesus in Recent Research, ed. J. Dunn and S. McKnight, Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, pp. 489–508., Goldin 1946: “Hillel the Elder,” Journal of Religion 26: 263–77., Jospe 1990: “Hillel’s rule,” Jewish Quarterly Review 81: 45–57., Küng & Homolka 2009: How to Do Good & Avoid Evil: A Global Ethic from the Sources of Judaism, trans. J. Bowden, Woodstock, Vt.: SkyLight Paths., Neusner & Chilton 2008: The Golden Rule: The Ethics of Reciprocity in World Religions, New York: Continuum. pp 9–25 & pp 55–64, Telushkin 2006–9: A Code of Jewish Ethics, 2 vols, New York: Bell Tower, 1:10–2, 2:9–15 & 2010: Hillel: If Not Now, When? New York: Schocken, and Wattles 1996: The Golden Rule, New York: Oxford University Press. pp 42–51.
  6. Traditions divide and number these differently; here Gensler follows a system common in Judaism. Rabbis also divide and number the 613 commandments differently. To get a list, search for “613 commandments of the Torah” on the Web. Some rules sound strange. For example, Deuteronomy 22:11 forbids wearing clothes with a wool-linen combination (common today for summerweight suits). Some Jews today take this rule seriously while others see it as obsolete.
  7. From Sanhedrin of the Babylonian Talmud 56a (http://www.come-and-hear.com/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_56.html). Most other religions would accept these commandments.
  8. Shabbat of the Babylonian Talmud 31a (http://www.come-and-hear.com/shabbath/shabbath_31.html). The cover of Telushkin’s (2010) book on Hillel Hillel: If Not Now, When? shows a Gentile standing on one foot.
  9. Goldin, J. (1946) “Hillel the Elder,” Journal of Religion 26: 273f.
  10. Sirach 31:15, from about the same time, has “Judge the needs of your guest by your own.”
  11. 2 Samuel 14:1–13 & 1 Kings 20:38–42 have similar examples.
  12. The Torah made an exception for war enemies, like Amalekites; see Exodus 17:14–6, Numbers 31:1–18, and Deuteronomy 25:17–9. New Encyclopedia of Judaism 2002 (article on “love of neighbor”) says that some rabbis taught that “Love your neighbor” doesn’t apply to how to treat idolaters. If we give Judaism the benefit of the doubt here, we can see the Torah as having a universal love norm – but also (as often happens when higher ideals first appear) as having elements inconsistent with this. The Torah displays various stages of moral and religious development.
  13. Many say the two norms are equivalent. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica I-II, q. 99, a. 1) says that “Do unto others” analyzes and is implicit in neighborly love; Telushkin 2006–9 A Code of Jewish Ethics says something similar. Hanfling 1963 “Loving my neighbor, loving myself,” Philosophy 68: 145–57 and Waterman 1945 “The ethical clarity of the prophets,” Journal of Biblical Literature 64: 297–307 say the two norms are distinct but complementary. Stanglin 2005 “The historical connection between the golden rule and the second greatest love command,” Journal of Religious Ethics 33: 357–71 thinks they are distinct and that GR (which he takes in the literal way Gensler criticized earlier) is flawed. See also Donagan 1977 The Theory of Morality, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 57–66. and Wattles 1996: The Golden Rule pp 64–6.
  14. Or we might take “Love your neighbor” as a comprehensive normative theory (utilitarian or otherwise, §14.2). Then the consistency GR, while not equivalent to “Love your neighbor,” could be used (when combined with knowledge, imagination, and rationalized desires), to defend it.
  15. Wierzbicka 2001: What Did Jesus Mean? Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp 191–202 discusses issues about GR in Matthew’s gospel – like the historicity of Jesus’s statement, whether Jesus reacted to Hillel, whether Jesus’s positive GR was original and important, how central GR was to Jesus’s teachings, and whether Jesus rejected GR (Dihle 1962 Die goldene Regel, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht and others propose this, seeing GR as egoistic, but see §§7.3 & 14.4 Obj. 30–31). Other studies include Alexander 2005: “Jesus and the golden rule,” in The Historical Jesus in Recent Research, ed. J. Dunn and S. McKnight, Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, pp. 489–508, Allison 1987: “The structure of the Sermon on the Mount,” Journal of Biblical Literature 106: 423–45., Betz 1995: The Sermon on the Mount, Minneapolis: Fortress, pp. 508–19, 599f., Easton 1914: “The Sermon on the Mount,” Journal of Biblical Literature 33: 228–43., Jeremias 1961: The Sermon on the Mount, London: Athlone., Little & Twiss 1978: Comparative Religious Ethics, San Francisco: Harper and Row. pp 179–206, Manek 1967: “On the mount – On the plain,” Novum Testamentum 9: 124–31., Meier 2009: A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume 4: Law and Love, New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, pp. 551–7., Neusner & Chilton 2008: The Golden Rule: The Ethics of Reciprocity in World Religions, New York: Continuum. pp 76–87, A. Perry 1935: “The framework of the Sermon on the Mount,” Journal of Biblical Literature 54: 103–15., Topel 1998: “The tarnished golden rule,” Theological Studies 59: 475–85., Tullberg 2011: “The golden rule of benevolence versus the silver rule of reciprocity,” Journal of Religion and Business Ethics 3: article 2, http://via.library.depaul.edu/jrbe/vol3/iss1/2, and Wattles 1996: The Golden Rule, New York: Oxford University Press. pp 52–76 & 182–9.
  16. Matthew 7:12
  17. Matthew 5:38
  18. Matthew 5:44
  19. Matthew 6:9
  20. Along these lines, Wattles 1996: The Golden Rule, New York: Oxford University Press pp 183 calls the golden rule “the principle of the practice of the family of God” and rephrases it as “Treat other persons as brothers and sisters, as sons and daughters of God, as you want others to treat you.”
  21. Matthew 6:12
  22. Matthew 7:3.5
  23. Matthew 5:7
  24. Matthew 6:14–15
  25. Matthew 7:1
  26. Matthew 5:3.12, 20.26, 29f, 46f; 6:1.6, 16.21, 33; and 7:11
  27. This may remind us of the karma of eastern religions. In Christianity and monotheistic forms of Hinduism, God brings it about that you get the kind of treatment that you’ve given to others. In many forms of Buddhism, however, this repayment operates by a law of nature.
  28. Matthew 5:48
  29. Matthew 25:31.46
  30. Matthew 22:35–40
  31. Matthew 7:12
  32. Augustine 400a: On the Sermon on the Mount, bk. 2, ch. 22, http://www.newadvent.Org/fathers/16012.htm(See also §3.1a and Wattles 1993: “Plato’s brush with the golden rule,” Journal of Religious Ethics 21: 81 and 1996: The Golden Rule, New York: Oxford University Press. pp 47 & 203.)
  33. Luke 6:31
  34. Luke 10:24.37
  35. John 15:12f
  36. Matthew 2:1.12
  37. Matthew 8:5.13
  38. Matthew 8:28.34 & Luke 8:26.39
  39. Matthew 12:39.41
  40. Matthew 12:42
  41. Matthew 15:22.8 & Luke 7:25
  42. Matthew 27:19
  43. Matthew 27:54 & Luke 7:2.9
  44. Luke 4:26
  45. Luke 4:27
  46. Luke 10:24.37
  47. Luke 17:12.9
  48. Matthew 7:1f
  49. Matthew 5:43f
  50. Romans 2:14f
  51. On GR in Islam, see An-Na’im 1991: “A kinder, gentler Islam?” Transition 52: 4–16 & 2008: Islam and the Secular State, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, Neusner & Chilton 2008: The Golden Rule: The Ethics of Reciprocity in World Religions, New York: Continuum. pp 99–115, Rost 1986: The Golden Rule: A Universalist Ethic, Oxford: George Ronald pp 96–110, and Saeed 2010: “The golden rule: An Islamic-dialogic perspective,” paper at Edinburgh Festival of Spirituality of Peace, http://dialogicws.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/goldenrule_saeed1.pdf. Sites http://www.quranexplorer.com and http://islamworld.net have texts. Michel 2010: A Christian View of Islam, ed. I. Omar, Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis has a very positive assessment of Islam from a Catholic theologian.
  52. Qur’an 4:36
  53. Qur’an 83:1.3
  54. Bukhari 1:2:12, Muslim 1:72f, and An-Nawawi 13
  55. Saeed, S. (2010) “The golden rule: An Islamic-dialogic perspective,” paper at Edinburgh Festival of Spirituality of Peace, http://dialogicws.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/goldenrule_saeed1.pdf
  56. A Common Word Between Us and You, 2009, Jordan: Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, http://acommonword.com/index.php?lang=en&page=downloads 27
  57. Neusner, J., and B. Chilton (eds) (2008) The Golden Rule: The Ethics of Reciprocity in World Religions, New York: Continuum.
  58. Chenai, M. (2008) Recueil de textes du professeur Abdulaziz Sachedina, Paris: Publibook, pp. 150f.
  59. Majid, A. (1998) “The politics of feminism in Islam,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 23: 321–61.
  60. An-Na’im, A. (1991) “A kinder, gentler Islam?” Transition 52: 4–16.
  61. Islam and the Secular State, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
  62. “Faith, reason and the university,” 2006, a talk at the University of Regensburg, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2006/september/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20060912_university-regensburg_en.html
  63. Common Word (2006) “Open letter to his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI,” signed by 38 Islamic leaders, http://ammanmessage.com/media/openLetter/english.pdf
  64. A Common Word Between Us and You, Jordan: 2009, Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, http://acommonword.com/index.php?lang=en&page=downloads
  65. Qur’an 73:8
  66. A Common Word Between Us and You, 2009, Jordan: Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, http://acommonword.com/index.php?lang=en&page=downloads
  67. Http://ammanmessage.com/media/911-Islamic-Condemnation.pdf has a long collection of strong “Islamic statements against the terrorism of 9/11.” Sites http://ammanmessage.com and http://acommonword.com are useful to counter negative stereotypes against Muslims.
  68. Jefferson, T. (1804) The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, Philadelphia: Jacob Johnson.
  69. There’s controversy on whether Mormonism, Christian Science, and the Unification Church are Christian. If they aren’t, then at least they’re Abrahamic.
  70. 3 Nephi 14:12
  71. The Book of Mormon is at http://scriptures.lds.org, while http://www.mormon.org has general information about Mormonism.
  72. On GR in Bahá’í, see Rost 1986: The Golden Rule: A Universalist Ethic, Oxford: George Ronald pp 115–55 & 175–9. Http://reference.bahai.org/en has texts.
  73. Wilson, A. (2007) World Scripture and the Teachings of Sun Myung Moon, New York: Universal Peace Federation, pp. xi, 67f. (available online, search for the title)
  74. On GR in Hinduism, see Rost 1986: The Golden Rule: A Universalist Ethic, Oxford: George Ronald pp 25–31 and Neusner & Chilton 2008: The Golden Rule: The Ethics of Reciprocity in World Religions, New York: Continuum. pp 146–56. Http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/maha and http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/sok have texts.
  75. Mahabharata bk. 13: Anusasana Parva, §113
  76. Mahabharata bk. 2: Sabha Parva, §72
  77. Mahabharata bk. 3: Vana Parva, §82
  78. Mahabharata bk. 6: Bhishma Parva, §30
  79. Songs of Kabir 65
  80. On GR in Jainism, see Rost 1986: The Golden Rule: A Universalist Ethic, Oxford: George Ronald pp 32–6. Http://www.sacred-texts.com/jai has texts.
  81. Jaina Sutras, Sutrakritanga, bk. 1, 10:1–3
  82. Jaina Sutras, Sutrakritanga, bk. 1, 11:33
  83. Jaina Sutras, Sutrakritanga, bk. 2, 1:48
  84. Jaina Sutras, Akaranga Sutra, bk. 1, Lecture 5, 5:4
  85. On GR in Sikhism, see Rost 1986: The Golden Rule: A Universalist Ethic, Oxford: George Ronald. pp 111–4. Http://www.sacred-texts.com/skh has texts. While many Web sites give the Sikh GR as “Treat others as you would be treated yourself,” references are obscure.
  86. Shri Guru Granth Sahib, Raag Aasaa 8:134
  87. Shri Guru Granth Sahib, Raag Wadahans 12:33
  88. Shri Guru Granth Sahib, Raag Dhanaasaree 14:12
  89. On GR in Buddhism, see Neusner & Chilton 2008: The Golden Rule: The Ethics of Reciprocity in World Religions, New York: Continuum. 116–45 and Rost 1986: The Golden Rule: A Universalist Ethic, Oxford: George Ronald pp 37–41. Reilly 2008: Ethics of Compassion, Lanham, Md.: Lexington reinterprets GR using Buddhist ideas.
  90. “Raja Sutta: The King,” Pali Canon Tipata, Khuddaka Nikaya, Udana 5:1, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/ud/ud.5.01.than.html
  91. Samyuttanikaya 55:7, http://www.accesstoinsight.org /lib/authors/bodhi/wheel282.html
  92. Yamakavagga: Pairs, Pali Canon Tipata, Khuddaka Nikaya, Dhammapada 1:3–5, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/dhp/dhp.01.than.html
  93. Sermon on Abuse, like “Love your enemies,” http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/btg/btg58.htm
  94. Johnson, S. (1996) The Book of Tibetan Elders, New York: Riverhead xiii–xiv
  95. Armstrong, K. The Case for God,(2009) New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 370f
  96. Some Western thinkers have held similar things, including David Hume, William James, and Derek Parfit. They have been opposed by thinkers like Roderick Chisholm and Richard Swinburne, who defend the belief in a self that literally persists through time.
  97. On GR in Confucianism, see W. Chan 1955: “The evolution of the Confucian concept Jên,” Philosophy East and West 4: 295–319., Dubs 1951a: “The development of altruism in Confucianism,” Philosophy East and West 1:48–55., Ivanhoe 1990: “Reweaving the ‘one thread’ of the Analects,” Philosophy East and West 40:17–33., Jung 1969: “An existential and phenomenological problem of intersubjectivity,” Philosophy East and West 16: 169–88., Neusner & Chilton 2008: The Golden Rule: The Ethics of Reciprocity in World Religions, New York: Continuum. 157–69, Nivison 1996: “Golden rule arguments in Chinese moral philosophy,” in his The ways of Confucianism, Chicago: Open Court, pp. 59–76., Nussbaum 2003: “Golden rule arguments: A missing thought?” in The Moral Circle and the Self, ed. K. Chong, S. Tan, and C. Ten, Chicago: Open Court, pp. 3–16., Roetz 1993: Confucian Ethics of the Axial Age, Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press., Rost 1986: The Golden Rule: A Universalist Ethic, Oxford: George Ronald 47–53, Rowley 1940: “The Chinese sages and the golden rule,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 24: 321–52., and Wattles 1996: The Golden Rule, New York: Oxford University Press. pp 15–26. Http://www.sacred-texts.com/cfu has Confucian texts.
  98. Chan, W. (1955) “The evolution of the Confucian concept Jên,” Philosophy East and West 4: 295–319.
  99. A GR t-shirt designed and often worn by Gensler uses 水 (the ideogram for “water”) for Confucianism, as is often done; but Confucianism has no standard, universally recognized symbol.
  100. from bk. 4 of the Book of Mozi (or gMo Tzuh) from http://ctext.org/mohism
  101. On GR in Taoism, see Rost 1986: The Golden Rule: A Universalist Ethic, Oxford: George Ronald pp 42–46. Http://www.sacred-texts.com/tao has Taoist texts.
  102. This is like Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, which gives a theory of reality but then says that the most important things (including his theory) cannot be put into words.
  103. Chan, W. (1955) “The evolution of the Confucian concept Jên,” Philosophy East and West 4: 295–319.
  104. Suzuki, T., and P. Carus (trans.) (1906) T’ai-Shang Kan-Ying P’ien (Treatise of the Exalted One on Response and Retribution), La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, http://www.sacred-texts.com/tao/ts 12
  105. While these sayings are often ascribed to Shintoism, Gensler couldn’t find their source in any general translation of the Shinto scriptures.
  106. The original source for this is J. Wilson 1956: The Culture of Ancient Egypt, Chicago, University of Chicago Press pp 121. Http://www.jimloy.com/egypt/peasant.htm translates the hieroglyphics verse as “Give me justice for the wrong that was done to me” while http://www.rostau.org.uk/ep/EPAlign/Peasant/guest90.html has “Doer for the one who always does for you” or “Act for the one who acts for you.” The passage is obscure.
  107. On GR in Zoroastrianism, see Neusner & Chilton 2008: The Golden Rule: The Ethics of Reciprocity in World Religions, New York: Continuum. 65–75; these quotes are from p. 68.
  108. While this is all over the Web, Gensler couldn’t find the original source. Wattles 1996: The Golden Rule, New York: Oxford University Press. pp 9 & 193 gives further African and Native American GR sayings.
  109. Ogunyemi, Y. (2010) The Oral Traditions in Ile-Ife: The Yoruba People and Their Book of Enlightenment, Palo Alto, Calif.: Academica.
  110. Küng & Kuschel 1993: A Global Ethic: The Declaration of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, trans. J. Bowden, London: SCM Press, http://www.weltethos.org/1-pdf/10-stiftung/declaration/declaration_english.pdf. See also Casanova 1999: “The sacralization of the humanum: A theology for a global age,” International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 13: 21–40.; Falk 1999: “Hans Küng’s crusade: Framing a global ethic,” International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 13: 63–81.; S. King 1995: “It’s a long way to a global ethic,” Buddhist-Christian Studies 15: 213–9.; Küng 1993: Global Responsibility: In Search of a New World Ethic, New York: Continuum, 1997: “A global ethic in an age of globalization,” Business Ethics Quarterly 7: 17–31., 2000: “Global ethic: A response to my critics,” International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 14: 421–8., 2006: “22nd Niwano Peace Prize Commemorative Address,” Buddhist-Christian Studies 26: 203–8.; C. Lee 1995: “Unity beyond religious and ethnic conflict based on a universal declaration of a global ethic: A Buddhist perspective,” Buddhist-Christian Studies 15: 191–7.; Straus 1995: “Peace, culture, and education activities: A Buddhist response to the global ethic,” Buddhist-Christian Studies 15: 199–211.; and Sullivan & Kymlicka 2007: The Globalization of Ethics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press..
  111. Wattles 1996: (1996) The Golden Rule, New York: Oxford University Press. 91 & 217n5f
  112. Küng, H. (1993) Global Responsibility: In Search of a New World Ethic, New York: Continuum. 23f
  113. Rost (1986: 21) The Golden Rule: A Universalist Ethic, who lived in Africa for 15 years, couldn’t find a GR saying in many native African religions. But Azenabor 2008: “The golden rule principle in an African ethics,” Quest: An African Journal of Philosophy 21: 229–40. argues that GR, even if not put into words, is a deep part of native African religions (see also Wiredu 1996: Cultural Universals and Particulars: An African Perspective, Bloomington, Indiana University Press pp 29 & 41).
  114. Some groups that claim to be religions clearly reject GR. The so-called “World Church of Creativity” (Klassen 1991: A Revolution of Values Through Religion, Riverton, Wyo.: Creativity, http://creativitymovement.net/documents/REVOLUTI.PDF) has a “golden rule” that says “What is good for the White Race is the highest virtue; what is bad for the White Race is the ultimate sin.” This isn’t GR (Q1).
  115. To learn about Christians who oppose interfaith activities, search for “Acts 4:12 Committee” on the Web. Acts 4:12 says that people are saved only under Jesus’s name. Most commentators don’t take this to mean that only those who explicitly accept Jesus will be saved. Instead they take it to mean that even those who don’t explicitly accept Jesus, such as infants and non-Christians, can still in some way be saved through Jesus’s power. Any interpretation of Acts 4:12 must account for passages like Acts 10:35, where Peter says, in the presence of the Roman soldier Cornelius, that those of every nation who fear God and act justly are acceptable to God. Vatican II (http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council) was positive about other religions. Nostra Aetate 2 says: “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.” Lumen Gentium 16 says: “Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life.”
  116. Benedict 2005: Deus Caritas Est, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/index_en.htm & 2008: Jesus of Nazareth, trans. A. Walker, New York: Doubleday. Bennett, M. (1979) “Overcoming the golden rule: Sympathy and empathy,” in Communication Yearbook 3, ed. D. Nimmo, New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, pp. 407–22. Also in his Basic Concepts of Intercultural Communication, Yarmouth, Me.: Intercultural, 1998, pp. 191–214. But Benedict mentions GR when discussing what Christians share with Muslims (Common Word 2009: 234) and with other groups (ch. 5: 2008).
  117. Anderson, S. (2009) “The golden rule: Not so golden anymore,” Philosophy Now 74: 26–9.
  118. Wierzbicka, A. (2001) What Did Jesus Mean? Oxford: Oxford University Press. 200.2
  119. Gensler got the idea for this from a paper by his student Ashley Marie Markiewicz. A good exercise is to take each verse and try to identify the faiths from which its elements are taken.