Multi-faith Sacred Writings and Symbols from 13 Traditions
May 2002 Spiritan Missionary News
by Leslie Gabriel Mezei
On the morning of September 11th 2001 I was driving north from Toronto to Tottenham , Ontario to interview Paul McKenna about the colourful Golden Rule Poster he created, with sacred writings from 13 faith traditions, representing the overwhelming majority of the world’s peoples and cultures. As the horrible news came blaring from the radio, at first I thought it must be a hoax, like the 1938 Orson Wells’ Martian invasion broadcast. Then I asked myself, “How can human beings become so desperate and full of hate to sacrifice thousands of innocent civilians?” This is supposed to be an age of increasing acceptance of diversity, of interfaith dialogue. Obviously, we haven’t universally applied the millennia-old Golden Rule, which urges us to treat everyone in our human family generously, even our enemy.
Then my roots as a survivor of the Holocaust of World War II came back to me, and the Cuban missile crisis of 40 years ago, when we last thought that our world might come to an end. Now, here was a forceful reminder that we in North America are not isolated from the ongoing conflicts of the rest of the world, that we must redouble our efforts to bring the message of unity and love to the whole world. We postponed the interview and Paul McKenna and each of us said a prayer.
Launch of the poster
Four months earlier, as an interfaith minister of the Universal Worship Service, I participated in the official launch of the Golden Rule poster. It was held at the Scarboro Missions Society in Toronto , a Canadian Catholic missionary community, whose Interfaith Desk produced this visually striking and profound multi-faith statement.
Paul McKenna explained that the Golden Rule had become an ongoing passion for him some twenty years ago, when he first saw it expressed from the point of view of a number of faith traditions. The idea of a poster came to him six years ago. It took five years of research that included consultations with experts in each of the 13 faith groups and with a host of graphic designers.
Many of the over 100 people involved in the project were at the launch, including some of the artists, members of the Interfaith Desk of the Scarboro Missions and members of Paul’s family. Representatives from many faith groups recited the sacred writings from the poster. In an additional demonstration of unity, they recited one another’s sacred texts.
Paul McKenna, a life-long committed Catholic, has an MA in Theology from the University of Toronto , a Master of Divinity from the University of Ottawa , and some clinical pastoral education and journalism training. He worked in social service and social justice organizations, until he got the call to a vocation in interfaith work. For the last 15 years he has functioned as a full-time freelance writer, educator, organizer, and workshop leader on topics such as interfaith dialogue, Gandhian nonviolence, humour, and the Golden Rule. He is a tireless networker, bringing many people together from varied backgrounds.
I went back to interview Paul ten days after September 11th. In an atmosphere of what we felt were spurious claims of religious motivations for the barbarism of that attack, we were keenly aware of the urgency for greater understanding among peoples and religions.
The Golden Rule in Various Faith Traditions
Paul pointed out that many mistakenly think of the Golden Rule (a name first applied to it only at the end of the 17th Century) as uniquely Christian: ‘In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets’ (Matthew 7:12). In this statement by Jesus, we see the contribution of the Old Testament. The Golden Rule is thus a short-hand summary of the teachings of the Bible. The most quoted Jewish source expresses the Rule in its opposite form, also as a pithy condensation. The story goes that Rabbi Hillel in the First Century was challenged to summarize the teachings of the Law while standing on one foot. He then stated: ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole Torah, all the rest is commentary.’
Many have argued that the Golden Rule can be used in a negative way by selfish, antisocial and perverse people. And there is much debate about the real meaning of reciprocity and mutuality. But the context has to be considered, points out Jeffrey Wattles in his ground-breaking book “The Golden Rule.” He traces the emergence of the Rule in the literature of many religions, of numerous philosophers and of humanist groups throughout the ages.
Jeffrey Wattles asserts that the Golden Rule has to be read on a high moral plane, and be connected with the teachings of love, such as Jesus’ exhortation, ‘Love your enemies’ (Luke 6:27). Very early in the Old Testament,‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18) moderated the ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth’ formula, which, interestingly, was originally intended as a moderating rule to limit vengeance: Only an eye for an eye, and nothing more—this didn’t prevent the poor from being hanged for stealing a loaf of bread, until not that long ago.
For Paul McKenna, “This poster screams self-transcendence. All the sacred writings are pushing us in that direction. This self-transcendence, I believe, is the guts of the whole experience of religion and spirituality, in a healthy way: The surrender to something, or someone, beyond ourselves. It’s only in self-transcendence that we become fully ourselves, fully human. What the great teachers across all the traditions say to us is that we are looking for happiness in all the wrong places. I think it’s the Buddhists that are clearest on this. To paraphrase them: ‘My search for freedom and meaning and happiness has everything to do with my commitment to your freedom and your happiness and your meaning’. The Buddhists also say simply: ‘Consider others thyself.’ We’ve got to move beyond ourselves as individuals and act generously out of our oneness, our interconnectedness. ”
Native spirituality teaches that brotherhood and sisterhood extends beyond the human family. After consultation with native leaders, Paul chose for the poster: ‘We are as much alive as we keep the earth alive’ (Chief Dan George.) “In this ancient poetic wisdom, ‘earth’ means you and me and the birds and the moon—everything! Profound interconnection with moral implications,” Paul adds, “And if you look at the Unitarian principle on the poster, it says the very same thing in modern sophisticated language: ‘We affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.’ And the Jain selection emphasizes the teaching of non-violence toward all creatures. ‘One should treat all creatures in the world as one would like to be treated’ (Mahavira). I think this poster will really move the interfaith dialogue ahead, because it both symbolizes and inspires unity.“
The Poster Is a Big Hit
The Golden Rule poster has been purchased individually and in bulk by schools, school boards, religious institutions, Sunday schools, penitentiaries, hospitals, corporate offices, and homes, mainly in Canada and the U.S. so far. The poster has been used, for example, in an alcohol-recovery program in Calgary , Alberta and in a psychiatric institution in North Bay , Ontario . Jeff Archambeault, the Chaplain of the latter commented, “This poster just keeps on giving.” The Catholic Register quoted Grade 11 world religions teacher Joe Wey of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School, Toronto : “Most of the students had only studied Christianity, so some of them were surprised to see the similarities. …We teach not just tolerance, but respect for other religions.”
A French-language version is being produced, and translation into other languages may follow. A TV documentary set in a world religions classroom was aired Canada-wide by VisionTV last year. Lesson plans are now being piloted for elementary and high school classes. A study-guide for adult audiences is available free of charge. The resources include searching questions, varied exercises, and additional study materials.
People from different parts of the world have been overwhelmed on first viewing the poster. The circle of symbols is a visual meditation on our unity. The rays emanating from the globe tie the symbols together in what amounts to a ‘coat of arms’ for the interfaith movement. The 22” x 29” colour poster is visually appealing, pedagogically useful and is the result of sound scholarship. The 13 writings are acceptable to everybody in both religious and secular settings. The poster, Paul McKenna discovered, “is an ingenious tool for doing comparative religion, interfaith dialogue and world religions education; for exploring ethics, scripture study and multi-faith prayer; for promoting reflection on social justice, solidarity, compassion, world peace and global unity.”
Monsignor Pedro López Quintana of the Secretariat of State in the Vatican wrote, “The Holy Father wishes me to express his gratitude for the … Scarboro Missions’ Golden Rule poster which you sent him.” On January 4th 2002, eight ambassadors from the North American Interfaith Network and Scarboro Missions presented the Golden Rule poster to Mrs. Gillian Sorensen, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, where it is now on permanent display.
Transcending cultures, nations, and religions, the Golden Rule poster is a fitting declaration of the yearning of many to eliminate the rhetoric of racial, cultural and religious bigotry and the practice of violent attack and retribution. What we need is an ethic of generosity, peace and love in all interactions among nations, communities and individual members within our whole human family.
Leslie Gabriel Mezei is a freelance writer and interfaith minister in Toronto . (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Go to http://www.scarboromissions.ca/golden-rule to find an abundance of resources, including the thirteen sacred texts of the Golden Rule in a number of languages, detailed guidelines for meditation exercises, workshops, school curricula, and how to order the poster from a number of sources.