If Only…

Twice during the past ten years I mentioned, in this blog, an experience I had when driving around rural north Texas with my late wife. We stumbled upon the town of Windthorst and its St. Mary’s Catholic church and a shrine attached to the church. A Latin inscription on the shrine intrigued me; upon returning home, I did some research and found its English translation—Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. A friend informed me that the phrase was part of Catholicism’s Hail Mary, the full Latin version of which is:

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

Thinking back on that, it occurs to me that religious practices—even practices of a religion to which I have had virtually no exposure—have permeated my life experiences. Everywhere I turn, it seems, I see or hear common prayers from various religions and religious denominations. In years past, I often found the intrusion of religion into my secular life irritating, to put it mildly. I was incensed by the intrusiveness of religious phrases, practices, ideas, thoughts, etc. into my personal, private life. But time tends to soften one’s stridency, I think. Anger melts into annoyance and, finally, disappears into tolerance. And, though I am relatively certain I will never become an adherent of any religion based entirely on the premise that an all-powerful being controls the universe, I have come to appreciate some of the sentiments expressed in various religious language, rituals, and approaches to life. While I do not accept divinity, I accept the notions sometimes associated with it and/or the religions that echo one another in certain of their assertions about morality. Norman Rockwell, the famous artist whose painting, The Golden Rule, served as the cover of the April 1, 1961 cover of the Saturday Evening Post, wrote the following notes about a notion that is common to many/most/perhaps all religions: the so-called Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you):

Buddhism: Hurt not other with that which pains yourself. Udānavarga

Christianity: All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. Bible, St. Matthew

Confucianism: Is there any one maxim which ought to be acted upon throughout one’s whole life? Surely the maxim of lovingkindness is such — Do not unto others what you would not they should do unto you. Analects

Hebraism (Judaism): What is hurtful to yourself do not to your fellow man. That is the whole of the Torah and the remainder is but commentary. Go learn it. Talmud.

Hinduism: This is the sum of duty: do naught to others which if done to thee, would cause thee pain. Mahabharata.

Islam: No one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself. Traditions.

Jainism: In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self, and should therefore refrain from inflicting upon others such injury as would appear undesirable to us if inflicted upon ourselves. Yogaśāstra.

Sikhism. As thou deemest thouself, so deem others. Then shalt thou become a partner in heaven. Kabir.

Taoism: Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain: and regard your neighbor’s loss as your own loss. T’ai Shang Kan-Ying P’ien.

Zoroastriansim. That nature only is good when it shall not do unto others whatever is not good for its own self. Dadestan-i Denig.

Though, to my knowledge, Unitarian Universalism does not have a directly comparative statement, three of its principles (The inherent worth and dignity of every person; Justice, equity and compassion in human relations; and Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations) seem to me to incorporate the “Golden Rule” concepts.

To the extent that religious philosophies at their most basic can be expressed in some form of the “Golden Rule,” I do not quarrel with them. My quarrels generally arise from their deviance from those core tenets. But enough about a theory, a belief, an idea. The words of a poet who wrote The Man With The Hoe speak to a call to action:

We have committed the Golden Rule to memory; let us now commit it to life.

~ Edwin Markham ~


The time is nearing seven o’clock. During the last three hours, I have scanned the news (a habit I know I should break), made coffee, contemplated my history of rabid quarrels with religious, fed the cat, and written this post. Time, now, for more coffee and relaxation on the deck…complete with the aroma of a burning cone of patchouli incense.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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