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Why Not Display the Golden Rule On School House Walls?

Once again 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.

For my earlier editorial: The Ten Commandments, Too Hot For School House Walls

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 religion.

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.

Why 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

Baha'i 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, Gleanings

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 5:1517

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 principle

Zoroastrianism / Do not do unto others whatever is injurious to yourself. Shayast-na-Shayast 13.29

The Ten Commandments, Too Hot For School House Walls


Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and author of Faith, Science and the Future, published in 1994 by CrossCurrents Press. He is also the author of God and Science (John Knox / Westminster, 1986) which he is now rewriting to incorporate more recent developments in the conversation taking place between scientists and theologians. He has also written widely for such publications as The New York Times, The Nation, Commonweal, The Christian Century and others.

For further information about Charles Henderson.