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THE GOLDEN RULE POSTER Multi-faith Sacred Writings and Symbols from 13 Traditions  

Mayor David Miller Meets With The Toronto Area Interfaith Council

TRANSFORMING DEVELOPMENT Exploring Approaches to Development from Religious Perspectives



A SALUTE TO CANADA My Adopted Land Of Unparalleled Multicultural And Religious Diversity

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THE GOLDEN RULE: Unity in Diversity  






The Golden Rule in World Religions

Leslie Gabriel Mezei

     Paul McKenna of the Scarboro Missions and I were treated as honoured guests at the beautiful wooded campus of Bard College www.bard.edu just North of New York City on April 15-17, 2008.  Their Institute of Advanced Theology www.bard.edu/iat hosted an academic conference on The Golden Rule in the Religions of  the World.


     The papers will be published in two volumes: “The Golden Rule in the Religions of the World,” and “Analytical Perspectives on the Golden Rule.” In a unique project, funded by the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love: Altruism, Compassion, Service www.unlimitedloveinstitute.org with money from the John Templeton Foundation www.templeton.org  19 scholars were asked to submit research papers for a one semester student seminar at Bard College, the class members of which chaired all the sessions at the conference itself, and prepared questions for the speakers. These papers, which we were privileged to receive in draft form in advance,  represent original research into Greco-Roman religion and philosophy, Confucianism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, early Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, and many analytical perspectives. IAT’s previously published conferences following this model were Altruism in World Religions and Religious Tolerance in World Religions. In preparation for each of the three, for greater consistency Professor William Scott Green of the University of Miami provided a paper defining the subject matter, and posed a number of questions for each of the scholars to answer in their presentations.

     The whole conference will soon be available on a set of DVDs. Contact Emily Darrow at darrow@bard.edu . Alas, there could have been an even richer set of interactions if more of the speakers summarized rather than read their papers to us, and more time was allowed for questions and comments.  

The many personal connections we made with some of the nearly one-hundred attendees were invaluable. One of the foremost was getting to know Jeffrey Wattles, the creator of our “bible”, his 1996 book “The Golden Rule”.  See his comments about the conference at:


     Also from the Cleveland area, Harry Gensler’s ethics books concentrate on the Golden Rule. He has a GR website www.jcu.edu/philosophy/gensler/goldrule.htm where you can listen to his talk at Bard.

     And from France , Olivier du Roy has just finished his Ph. D. thesis on the Golden Rule, representing 30 years of monumental work. The book contains an examination of 1,200 texts that include expressions of the Golden Rule. He is looking for a way to get it translated from French into English. Any help would be appreciated, especially the suggestion of an appropriate translator.

    Our hosts and the editors of the conference volumes are two of the most eminent scholars and popular writers on the Jewish and Christian religions, both at Bard College . Since this is a personal report, I want to relate to you how I spent the long train ride home to Toronto – a form of retreat for me – reading their recent popular books.

     Rabbi Jacob Neusner’s Wikipedia Bibliography takes up 50 of my laptop screens by actual count, and these are only of books (not including his papers) written, co-written or edited by him.  Reading his A Rabbi Talks with Jesus, I went back with him to the first century Holy Land, where he argues with Jesus right after the Sermon on the Mount was delivered. With the greatest respect for his  teachings, Neusner explains to him why he cannot follow Jesus, but must  follow the Torah, and highlights the positive attributes of Judaism. 

     Professor Neusner had been engaged in correspondence over this book with a Roman Catholic Cardinal, who since became Pope Benedict XVI. Neusner went to see him directly from our conference, where he had the chance to suggest to the Pope that they write a book together on the conciliatory aspects of Judaism and Christianity.

    Bruce Chilton is the Director of the Institute of Advanced Theology, Bard College ’s Chaplain and a practicing Episcopal Priest. His numerous scholarly contributions on the beginnings of Christianity use sources  from the original Aramaic and other ancient  languages. Still cocooned in the train, wafting by the misty Albany River , I was immersed in his Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography, and followed the mystical development of this self-taught Jewish preacher. According to Chilton, Jesus’ radical exploits remained to the end within the limits of some trends of Jewish practice. In a book that reads like a first class mystery, we know the end, but are taken step by step through the how, as if we were there. 

     Chilton also saw the Pope as part of an ecumenical group, although he is not optimistic of any real progress soon towards a Christian ecumenical union.

     What a great opportunity to hobnob with these and other scholars for the college students,  such as Ben Raker – a sophomore planning to major in theology and music, shown below chairing a session with Neusner and Chilton.


    A number of themes emerged for me, some surprising:

ź        The Golden Rule has appeared in practically all religions and cultures throughout history, but did not actually take a central role in the theological development of the religions, nor did it become a pervasive force in daily life. As with other ideals, its fulfillment is still in development. We optimists believe that we are just entering the age of the Golden Rule. 

ź        The equivalence of the Golden Rule with the earlier “love thy neighbor” was emphasized by a number of speakers. I would have liked even more stress on the mystical theme of “because your neighbour is yourself.”

          On this topic, see my article about the development of the Golden Rule Poster, which begins with my first interview with Paul McKenna, the poster’s creator, on September 11, 2001. www.interfaithunity.ca/essays/goldenruleposter.htm 

          You will find at www.scarboromissions.ca/Golden_rule  an abundance of resources, including the poster in a number of languages, detailed guidelines for meditation exercises, workshops and school curricula.

ź        The equivalence of the positive (do to others as you would have them do to you) and negative (don’t do unto others…) forms of the Golden Rule was asserted by a number of scholars.  Some consider it unfair to delegate the negative form into an inferior “Silver Rule”.   The negative statement also implies the positive, and the positive one implies the negative.

ź        Many of the scholars urged us to understand and use this time-honoured universal general rule only in its serious and sacred context. It is true that when trying to interpret it for particular circumstances, anomalous results can be constructed in unusual – and often unhealthy – situations. But a “Platinum Rule,” which tries to look at the situation from the other’s point of view, would have its own problems. The writers gave us a better understanding of the various fallacious and sometimes frivolous interpretations, and provide some guidelines in dealing with them.

     Along the way we learned about the sweep of philosophical thinking from ancient times to the present. The papers take us from a great variety of scriptures to Greco-Roman times; explain the more recent Kantian “moral reason” vs. John Stewart Mills’ “utilitarianism” – both of which embrace the Golden Rule for opposite reasons; and lead us through current research on social evolution.

     Let Paul McKenna have the last word: “This was a unique historical event, which will advance our understanding of the Golden Rule immeasurably.”


Leslie Gabriel Mezei is an interfaith minister with the Universal Worship Service,  founding publisher of the Interfaith Unity Newsletter and Resource Centre (www.interfaithunity.ca) and the first Golden Rule Ambassador appointed by the Scarboro Missions in Toronto.


 ©2008,  Leslie Gabriel Mezei






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