Golden Rule poster
common ethos of
THE TORONTO STAR
Saturday, September 29, 2001
BY RON CSILLAG
SPECIAL TO THE STAR
Call it a candle in the darkness: A piece of heavy-stock paper, measuring just over four square feet, that hopes to soften hearts and open eyes when they need it most. For if ever there was a time for the world’s religions to open channels to each other, this is it.
It took the Sept. 11 evil visited on the United States, and the chilling attacks on innocent Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and others who didn’t “look” Christian, to bring faith groups together in unprecedented numbers for interfaith memorial services, where hands were joined and tears were shed and believers of all stripes saw they have more in common than they may think.
So even though the Golden Rule poster has been around for about a year, it has more resonance now than ever. It makes its point elegantly and humbly, but
powerfully: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Do unto others…Theologians call it the Ethic of Reciprocity:
The nearly universal principle of not doing to others what you wouldn’t want done to you. The simple yet sage concept forms the moral underpinning of just about every religion and faith system on the planet. Some say it is the distillation of the Ten Commandments, the heart of all faith, the nub of a global ethic.
Forget the cynic’s version (“He who has the gold, rules.”). Humanists and other non-believers, mean-time, might look to George Bernard Shaw’s impish take: “Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.”
Maybe, but chances are their religions’ views of the maxim are strikingly similar. Paul McKenna, a writer and consultant in interfaith dialogue, took five years of
research to find analogues for the golden rule in 13 faiths for the colour poster, which was produced in conjunction with Scarboro Missions, a leader in inter-
religious outreach.“This has more power than a video or a lecture. It’s just so simple,” says McKenna, who began exploring the golden rule in the world’s faiths nearly 25 years ago while leafing through a book on comparative religion. “That triggered in me a commitment and passion I never lost. I think this poster will really
move interfaith dialogue ahead because it both symbolizes and inspires unity,”
It does that by showing that whatever divides religions when it comes to a deity, other beliefs, practices or dogma, there is near unanimity of opinion that every
individual should be treated with the same respect and dignity we all seek for ourselves. Almost all faith and ethical groups have passages in their scriptures or writings that promote this ethos.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the granddaddy of them all is in Leviticus: “…thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” But for the Christian entry, McKenna chose instead to quote Jesus, who says in the Book of Matthew: “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”
To teach the entire Torah while the questioner stands on one foot. Unfazed, Hillel responds: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary.”(There are other examples of the doctrine appearing in negative form, employing “do not,” while some are positive and proactive, using “do.” Scholars have expounded heaps on this).
“Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself,” states a hadith (saying) of the Prophet Muhammad, while the Sikh holy text, the Sri
Guru Granth Sahib, declares: “I am a stranger to no one; and no one is a stranger to me. Indeed, I am a friend to all.”
McKenna notes that the entry on Native spirituality emphasizes reciprocity for the Earth, while the Jain selection stresses respect for all non-human creations, in
keeping with the religion’s guiding philosophy of complete non-violence.
The poster is being used in interfaith services, houses of worship and as a teaching tool in elementary and high school classes across Canada and the U.S. Teachers of
world religion courses have developed lesson plans.
A French version for francophone schools is in the works.In addition to encouraging reflection on religious diversity, it spurs thought on conflict resolution, social
justice, and personal behaviour.
And it bas already borne fruit. An interfaith coalition that has come together around the golden rule will be launched Thursday at City Council chambers. The project, dubbed Connecting, calls on people of faith to reach out to the marginalized – the
elderly, disabled, the homeless, the poor – through informal contacts like the occasional chat over coffee or simply introducing yourself.
The project “challenges people to reach out to those who are hurting,” says McKenna.“We have a resistance to the pain of others.”
Prior to the launch, an inter-religious service will feature the poster being cut up into 13 pieces, and reassembled to symbolize unity of purpose.As McKenna notes, this is an ethical call to self-transcendence; the age-old notion that there’s more to life than ourselves.
Ron Csillag is a Toronto writer specializing in religion. He can be reached at [e-mail address]. The poster [was] available from Broughton’s Religious Books and Gifts. [The current phone number & e-mail address was listed.]*