by Robert Brow   (, Kingston, Ontario, September 2006

As I came down from having stitches taken out in the Hotel Dieu Hospital here in Kingston, I noticed the poster in the lobby. It is titled "The Golden Rule" and it sets out the moral ideal of thirteen different religions. Nine of them offer variants of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount. "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you, for this is the (Jewish) law and the prophets" (Matthew 7:12).

"Treat no others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful" (The Buddha, Udana-Varga 5:18). Confucius said "One word sums up the basis of all good conduct . . . loving kindness. Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself" (Analects, 15:23). Similarly Lau Tzu offered "Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss" (T’ai Sheng Kan Ying Pien, 213-218). Among Hindu writings "This is the sum of duty: do not do others what would cause pain if done to you" (Mahabharata 5:1517). For Sikhs we have "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, 1299).

The Bahais have "Lay not on any soul a load that you would not wish to be laid upon you, and desire not for anyone the things that you would not desire for yourself" (Baha’ U’llah, Gleanings). Zoroaster said "Do not do unto others whatever is injurious to yourself" (Shasyast - no Shayast, 13:29). The Jewish Rabbi Hillel explained "What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah: all the rest is commentary" (Talmud, Shabbat 31a). And Muhammad said "Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself" (Hadith).

It is impossible to say which of these variants originated from the others. Better view the Golden Rule as part of the basis of morality agreed on by most thoughtful people.

If the Golden Rule is found among so many different religions, what is distinctive about the Christian faith? Having given the Golden Rule, Jesus then made clear that it is the power of the Holy Spirit that enables us to live this way. Left on our own we are easily anxious and selfish. We quickly despair of being the kind of person we would like others to be. He expressed this in the parable of the Vine and the Branches. "Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless is abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:4-5).

In this parable the Father is the vine dresser, and the Holy Spirit is the sap that comes in and energizes the branches. This makes clear that Christian faith is not a demand to live by the Golden Rule, but an organic relationship with the three Persons of the One Loving God. That means moral change is effected in us by the love of God, not by our merely human efforts. The branches are not left to produce beautiful grapes on their own. It is the connection with the Vine that works the miracle.

model theology home | essays and articles | books | sermons | letters to surfers | comments