In a group discussion last week, a few people expressed concern about the rise of violent acts and hatred in the world. We talked but did not find solutions.
Later, I thought about the billions of people of faith who espouse love and peace as central parts of their beliefs. I decided to try to back this thought with research.
According to the Pew Research Center, 84% of the world’s population has a religious affiliation. It cites these worldwide numbers: Christianity, 2.1 billion; Islam,1.3 billion; Hinduism, 900 million; Buddhism, 376 million.
These are just a few of the estimated 4,200 religions in the world.
Could this many religious people solve some of the world’s problems? Of course, these faithful people would have to believe that peace and love are important enough to seek ways to reduce acts of hatred and violence. Then I thought about a few major religions that would be motivated to promote peaceful means. I selected a few religions that supported two concepts: the golden rule and love of neighbors and enemies.
The Christian golden rule is written in Matthew 7:12” “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
According to several sources, this message became known as the golden rule when the Roman Emperor Severus wrote it on his wall in gold. He also used it to promote peace by public displays of the message. The message encourages Christians to treat others with kindness and fairness.
The golden rule has definitely been scrutinized, and some critics suggest that it would be a better approach to treat others as they wish to be treated. This point can be debated in another column.
A brief overview of the history of the golden rule will reveal its usage in many cultures and time periods. It has been used not only as a religious guide but as a philosophical and ethical guide about reciprocity. The golden rule message was expressed as early as 2400 B.C. in an ancient Egyptian proverb and can be read in the ancient Indian epic poem Mahabharata.
Judaism expressed its message in the Talmud: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowmen.”
Buddha’s teachings said, “Hurt not others in ways that you would find hurtful.”
According to “The Analects,” an ancient compilation of the sayings of Confucius, the Chinese philosopher wrote, “Do not do unto others what you would not want others to do unto you!”
Greek and Roman philosophers and writers wrote their versions of the golden rule in their eras.
In Islamic writings, the concept of reciprocity was expressed in the following lines, “None of you believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself” and “Be just as you would love to have justice.”
The necessary companion to the golden rule is the message of “love thy neighbor and your enemies as yourself.” Quite frankly, loving neighbors and enemies is not natural for many people. Human tendency is to distrust those who are different, but Scripture guides the faithful. This message can be found in ancient cultures similar to the Greek concept of the sacred law of hospitality. Biblical support can be found in many passages. Leviticus 19:18 says, “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the Lord.” Jesus said that the first commandment was to love God. He then said in Mark 12:31, “And the second is, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.”
Sacred texts of many religions support peace and love. Religious beliefs provide the motivation to act, but a unified will is necessary to find peaceful ways to replace violence and hatred.
Individuals can make personal commitments to follow their religious beliefs, and they can vote for others who have the power to control hate and violence. Perhaps, a group of faithful people can agree to honor beliefs by keeping their living spaces free from hatred and violence. Small workable steps taken by billions of people can cover vast areas. I am determined to remain hopeful.
Historical information and interesting discussions can be found on Golden Rule and Religions and the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy sites.
“One who is going to take a stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts.”
— Yoruba proverb