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Celebrating Shared Values

One remarkable aspect of faith, although it has often been obscured by sectarian divisions, is the fact that various religious traditions share common values and teachings.

In his classic meditation on the importance and power of religious faith, The Abolition of Man, the towering twentieth-century Christian philosopher and theologian C.S. Lewis highlights that commonality by quoting a large number of religious texts from a large number of religious traditions, demonstrating the remarkable similarity of their moral teachings. Beyond those that Lewis quotes, there are numerous other sayings from all religious traditions that reveal the fundamental unity of their moral message.

This universality includes a prohibition on killing. These include an extract from the Egyptian Book of the Dead: “I have not slain men.” This coincides with the Old Testament commandment, “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13). In the Old Norse Völuspá, we read: “In Nastrond (= Hell) I saw… murderers.”

The commonalty carries over to the responsibility to be truthful and not engage in slander or calumny. The Hindu Laws of Manu state: “He who is cruel and calumnious has the character of a cat.” The Babylonian Hymn to Samas directs: “Do not slander.” The Ten Commandments say: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16)

One must also be charitable and kind: the Qur’an directs Muslims to “serve God, and do not join any partners with Him; and do good – to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer, and what your right hands possess.” (4:36)

Confucius’ Analects also include an exhortation to kindness: “Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you.” The Lord Jesus enunciates the same principle: “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

Similarly, the Lord Jesus also says: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31), which is a quotation from Old Testament law (Leviticus 19:18). Islamic tradition records that Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, said: “None of you will have faith until he loves for his brother or his neighbor what he loves for himself.” (Sahih Muslim 45)

Love for one’s family likewise can be found like a golden thread running through all religious and ethical traditions. There is the ancient Egyptian saying: “Love thy wife studiously. Gladden her heart all thy life long.” Epictetus reminded his readers: “Did not Socrates love his own children, though he did so as a free man and as one not forgetting that the gods have the first claim on our friendship?” A Hindu text states: “Your father is an image of the Lord of Creation, your mother an image of the Earth. For him who fails to honor them, every work of piety is in vain. This is the first duty.” The Ten Commandments, of course, say: “Honor your father and your mother.” (Exodus 20:12)

Likewise, the Babylonian List of Sins asks: “Has he approached his neighbor’s wife?” This corresponds, of course, to another one of the Ten Commandments: “You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14) The Qur’an exhorts: “And do not come near to adultery. Lo! it is an abomination and an evil way.” (17:32)

The obligation to be honest is common also across religious traditions. The Babylonian List of Sins asks: “Has he drawn false boundaries?” The Ten Commandments direct: “You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:15) The Qur’an stipulates harsh punishment for “the thief, male or female.” (5:38)

All these and many more commonalities among the religious and ethical traditions of the world provide the basis for dialogue and mutual respect among adherents of the various traditions. They demonstrate that what unites us is far greater, more important and more powerful than what divides us. As we strive to Protect the Future of Faith, we must not only see others as fellow human beings made in the image of God, but as people who cherish the same values that we hold dear.

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