Not Display the Golden Rule On School House Walls?
the courts, the public, and the news media are embroiled in controversy over the
display of the Ten Commandments. Recent decisions by a closely divided Supreme
Court on disputed cases in Texas and Kentucky only fueled the fires of controversy
rather than bringing an end to the long debate.
As I have written elsewhere,
there are several serious problems with "displaying" the Ten Commandments
on school house walls. The Ten Commandments are, quite clearly, a sacred text
for both Christians and Jews, so that placing this text at taxpayer's expense
on government property involves the state in the support of a particular religion,
or in this case two particular religions: Christianity and Judaism. As a Christian,
I happen to believe it is the church's responsibility to promote faith. I don't
want the government interfering with, interpreting, or promoting the doctrines
of any faith system, even my own. For if politicians, guided by the whim of public
opinion, promote beliefs I agree with today, the precedent is established for
promoting beliefs that are utterly dangerous and repugnant tomorrow. It's my responsibility
to teach the Bible; let the government take care of the power grid. Clearly the
federal government has enough on its hands, simply attending to the public's security
and safety, without assuming the additional responsibility for the care and nurture
of the soul.
There are huge ironies
in this debate. In the first place, those supporting display of the Ten Commandments
are arguing that this does not involve the government in an unconstitutional support
of religion because such displays are NOT religious! Well, if the Ten Commandments
are not religious, I don't know what is. Arguing that the Ten Commandments are
not religious is dishonest. Not a good strategy on the part of those who purport
to honor a document that prohibits lying.
Equally important, fighting
over the Ten Commandments is a huge waste of energy, particularly when there is
another "sacred text" that could accomplish all that Ten Commandments
promoters want to accomplish while at the same time avoiding the problems associated
with a government agency getting involved in the the promotion of a particular
The Golden Rule, which appears in slightly different versions
in both the Old and the New Testaments, is clearly as much a part of the Judeo-Christian
tradition as the Ten Commandments. But unlike the Ten Commandments, the Golden
Rule is a nearly universal principle, recognized by all the major world religions
as well as humanist and secular philosophies.
Rather than dividing
people, as the highly politicized commandments do, the Golden Rule could literally
bring people together around a constellation of values that nearly everyone shares.
Below are just a few of the references in different traditions to
teachings that run parallel to what westerners refer to as the Golden Rule. Still,
one suspects that those promoting the Ten Commandments will not be convinced to
change tactics on this one, as scoring partisan political points seems to be far
more satisfying than actually bringing consensus around shared ideals and values
that are appropriate in a religiously diverse democracy such as our own.
not post the Golden Rule on school house walls?
Native Spirituality/ We are as much alive as we keep the earth alive. Chief Dan George
Faith / Lay not on any soul a load that you would not wish to be laid upon
you, and desire not for anyone the things you would not desire for yourself. Baha'u'llah,
Buddhism / Treat not others in ways that you yourself would
find hurtful. The Buddha, Udana-Varga 5.1
Christianity / In everything,
do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
Jesus, Matthew 7:12
Confucianism / One word which sums up the basis
of all good conduct....loving-kindness. Do not do to others what you do not want
done to yourself. Confucius, Analects 15.23
Hinduism / This is the
sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you. Mahabharata
Islam / Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others
what you wish for yourself. The Prophet Muhammad, 13th of the 40 Hadiths of Nawawi
Jainism / One should treat all creatures in the world as one would
like to be treated. Mahavira, Sutrakritanga
Judaism / What is hateful
to you, do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is
commentary. Go and learn it. Hillel, Talmud, Shabbath 31a
Sikhism / I
am a stranger to no one; and no one is a stranger to me. Indeed, I am a friend
to all. Guru Granth Sahib, pg. 1299
Taoism / Regard your neighbour's
gain as your own gain and your neighbour's loss as your own loss. Lao Tzu, T'ai
Shang Kan Ying P'ien, 213-218
Unitarianism / We affirm and promote
respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. Unitarian
Zoroastrianism / Do not do unto others whatever is injurious
to yourself. Shayast-na-Shayast 13.29
If you want to talk with someone in person, please feel free to call 212-864-5436
The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.