Obama and the Universal Golden Rule

Over at National Review Online, Cliff May, who is right 99.9% of the time, makes a rare error. He questions President Obama’s Nobel Prize speech claim that “the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.” May points to the Sermon on the Mount and to the teachings of the first-century Rabbi Hillel for evidence of the Golden Rule in Christian and Jewish thought. (An even better Jewish cite would have been Leviticus 19:18–“Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself”–since Leviticus is Jewish scripture, and Rabbi Hillel’s kind and wise sayings are not.) May then writes: “I don’t think one finds either sentiment in the Koran and the Hadith. Infidels do not enjoy the same status as the Faithful – not in Allah’s eyes and not in the eyes of Allah’s servants. Not unless and until they convert.”
Let’s look at the record. One can find innumerable historical examples of Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others viciously mistreating people who were of different religions. In many cases, the mistreaters could offer some plausible citation to their own religion’s scripture or other teachings. However, if question is: “Does every major world religion contain the Golden Rule?” the answer is “yes.” To wit:
Islam:  “Not one of you (truly) believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” An-Nawawī’s Forty Hadith, transl., Ezzeddin Ibrahim & Denys Johnson-Davies (Damascus, Syria: The Holy Koran Publishing House, 3d ed. 1977), Hadith 13, p. 56 (attributed to Mohammed; parenthetical in original).
Mencius said, “Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and you will find that this is the shortest way to benevolence.”  Lao Tzu said, “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.”  The Mahabharata teaches, “This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.”  The Buddha said, “What is displeasing and disagreeable to me is displeasing and disagreeable to others too. How can I inflict upon another what is displeasing and disagreeable to me?”  The Baha’i, Jainists, and Sikhs agree.
Confucianism: Mencius said, “Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and you will find that this is the shortest way to benevolence.”  Mencius, Mencius, transl., D.C. Lau (N.Y.: Penguin, 1970), book 7, part A, item 4, p. 182. (And yes, I know that there’s a lot of discussion about whether Confucianism and Taoism are actually religions, or just philosophies.)
Taoism: Lao Tzu said, “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.”  Lao Tzu, T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien (Treatise of the Exalted One on Response and Retribution), transl., Teitaro Suzuki & Paul Carus 213-218 (La Salle, Illinois: The Open Court Pub. Co., 1906).
Hinduism: The Mahabharata teaches, “This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.”  Mahabharata, 5:1517. Anusasana Parva, book 13.
Buddha: The Buddha said, “What is displeasing and disagreeable to me is displeasing and disagreeable to others too. How can I inflict upon another what is displeasing and disagreeable to me?”  Christopher W. Gowans, Philosophy of the Buddha (London: Routledge, 2003,), ch. 15.
Baha’i: : “Lay not on any soul a load which ye would not wish to be laid upon you, and desire not for any one the things ye would not desire for yourselves. This is My best counsel unto you, did ye but observe it.” Baha’u’lah, Gleanings, from the Writings of Baha’u’lah (U.S.: 1990), ch. 56, p. 128.
Jain: “One should treat all creatures in the world as one would like to be treated.” Mahāvīra, Sutrakritanga 1.11.33.
Sikh: “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. See also Guru Angad, vol 2, 29.

Over at National Review Online, Cliff May, who is right 99.9% of the time, makes a rare error. He questions President Obama’s Nobel Prize speech claim that “the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.” May points to the Sermon on the Mount and to the teachings of the first-century Rabbi Hillel for evidence of the Golden Rule in Christian and Jewish thought. (An even better Jewish cite would have been Leviticus 19:18–“Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself”–since Leviticus is Jewish scripture, and Rabbi Hillel’s kind and wise sayings are not.) May then writes: “I don’t think one finds either sentiment in the Koran and the Hadith. Infidels do not enjoy the same status as the Faithful – not in Allah’s eyes and not in the eyes of Allah’s servants. Not unless and until they convert.”

One can find innumerable historical examples of Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others viciously mistreating people who were of different religions. In many cases, the mistreaters could offer some plausible citation to their own religion’s scripture or other teachings. However, if the question is: “Does every major world religion contain the Golden Rule?” the answer is “yes.” To wit:

Islam:  “Not one of you (truly) believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” An-Nawawī’s Forty Hadith, transl., Ezzeddin Ibrahim & Denys Johnson-Davies (Damascus, Syria: The Holy Koran Publishing House, 3d ed. 1977), Hadith 13, p. 56 (attributed to Mohammed; parenthetical in original).

Confucianism: Mencius said, “Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and you will find that this is the shortest way to benevolence.”  Mencius, Mencius, transl. D.C. Lau (N.Y.: Penguin, 1970), book 7, part A, item 4, p. 182. (And yes, I know that there’s a lot of discussion about whether Confucianism and Taoism are actually religions, or just philosophies.)

Taoism: Lao Tzu said, “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.”  Lao Tzu, T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien (Treatise of the Exalted One on Response and Retribution), transl. Teitaro Suzuki & Paul Carus (La Salle, Illinois: The Open Court Pub. Co., 1906).

Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.”  Mahabharata, 5:1517.

Buddhism: Siddhartha said, “What is displeasing and disagreeable to me is displeasing and disagreeable to others too. How can I inflict upon another what is displeasing and disagreeable to me?”  Christopher W. Gowans, Philosophy of the Buddha (London: Routledge, 2003), ch. 15.

Baha’i: : “Lay not on any soul a load which ye would not wish to be laid upon you, and desire not for any one the things ye would not desire for yourselves. This is My best counsel unto you, did ye but observe it.” Baha’u’lah, Gleanings, from the Writings of Baha’u’lah (U.S.: 1990), ch. 56, p. 128.

Jainism: “One should treat all creatures in the world as one would like to be treated.” Mahāvīra, Sutrakritanga 1.11.33.

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.

Are the above sayings all “central” to their respective religions? Well in Islam, the Hadith (stories and sayings of Muhammad, based on tradition) are much less central than the Koran. In Confucianism, Mencius is perhaps the greatest of Confucian writers, but he’s not Confucius. One could raise centrality questions about most of the quotes (other than the Sermon on the Mount, which is indisputably central). Does the Hadith’s reference to “his brother” mean: 1. A sibling? 2. A co-religionist? 3. Everyone? At the least, the Hadith’s text (like the text of references to a “brother” in other religions) is open enough so that kind-hearted people can legitimately interpret it as “everyone.”

While President Obama’s Nobel speech is Kennedyesque in the very best way, there is an important difference between the challenge that JFK faced and the one that BHO faces. Communism, like Nazism, was Evil incarnate. President Roosevelt was right to say so about Nazism, and President Reagan was right to say the same about Communism. The appropriate long-term goal for American policy was to eliminate these evils from the face of the earth. Such a goal is neither appropriate nor legitimate with regard to Islam. Accordingly, it was proper for the President Obama in Oslo to continue the Bush policy of appealing the best part of Islam, and of denying the claims of al Qaeda and similar evil-doers that they represent true Islam.

Although I didn’t vote for Barack Obama, he is my President, and I wish him every success in carrying out the positive vision he articulated today; if he does, he will have more than fully earned the Nobel Peace Prize.