Printer Friendly

Multifaith: new directions.

From its outset the interfaith movement has often been motivated by an implicit and sometimes explicit grand narrative of religious essentialism (a search for the unifying basis that is common to all religion). This narrative has shaped interfaith discourse, creating a focus on similarity and uniformity, rather than on difference and diversity. This essay will examine the challenges posed by the current modes of interaction built upon this narrative and examine a counter-model, based on Talmudic dialectic, which points to new avenues of interfaith understanding. (1)

The meta-narrative of religious essentialism served, perhaps, as a useful first step in the interfaith endeavor. It provided reassurance both for interfaith activists and for attendees at events allowing them to identify comfortable similarities--be they about ethics, values, or very broad concepts of the divine--that enabled them to feel that they were on the road to finding the "truth" of religion: that all religions have an ultimate similarity and universality. The comfort it created allowed and encouraged communities with long histories of strife to come together in order to begin to talk and cooperate. Through this process, however, activists became blind to the ultimate failure of the meta-narrative of religious essentialism. Dialogue and discussion, while built on the demonstration of "sameness," pointed to difference and diversity. These differences were ignored or dismissed as merely the dross, blinding us to an inner truth that was the same for all. The Dalai Lama, for example, has been widely quoted as saying, "Every religion emphasizes human improvement, love, respect for others, sharing other people's suffering. On these lines every religion has more or less the same viewpoint and the same goal." (2) While it is difficult to argue with the values that underlie the quote, it is doubtful that all religious traditions were examined before this defining meta-narrative was created. Would traditions that fail to embrace this message not be "authentic religions"? (3)

The search for the "religious essentialism" continues to this day. Conferences and dialogues continue, in the hope of demonstrating that all religions truly are the same (or at the very least share the same underlying message). It is believed that this unity will help bring peace to the world. This attempt at creating the grand narrative of religion, however, instead of leading to a better understanding of the world's diverse religions (and to creating an environment of better understanding and cooperation between people from differing traditions) has created a simulacrum of religion. Our broad taxonomies, which gave us comfort, instead of helping us understand each other are masking the individualities that make us what we are.

The interfaith movement utilizes a variety of meta-narratives of universality or essentiality to create a level of comfort, thought necessary to enable interfaith cooperation and coexistence. Yet, when these are examined critically, not only are the "similarities" paper thin, but it also becomes clear that these meta-narratives are a conscious or unconscious attempt to fit everything into a neat, scholarly political or particular religious mold. These unifying narratives abound in the interfaith world where it is not uncommon to hear about the "Golden Rule," (4) "People of the Book," and the "Abrahamic Faiths." (5) Each of these gives priority to a faith or group of faiths, defining all other religions within the context of the prioritized faith(s). (6)

Even such broad narratives as the "family of religions" (a common theme of interfaith events) can be construed too narrowly (and therefore as exclusionary). It implies a genealogical connection and, within the interfaith world, a kinship based on a basic set of similarities that unite the entire "family." This model would tend to exclude any tradition that does not enshrine or essentialize the "familial" similarities.

The "Golden Rule" is one of the most pervasive essential message meta-narratives within interfaith discourse. (7) It suggests that the "Golden Rule" (do unto others as you would have others do unto you) is the uniting message of religion and, indeed, is part of our planet's common language. (8) Proponents suggest that the "Golden Rule" should be the unifying ethic that brings humanity together, perhaps implying that this distilled "essential message" can form the basis not only of a global ethic but also of a global religion. (9) Jeffrey Wattles's influential The Golden Rule concludes with just this suggestion. (10) Wattles suggests that it can be the "balm for an overly theologized religious consciousness" that overrides the specifics of diverse religious traditions to create the "universal family of God." (11)

While the "Golden Rule" or laws of reciprocity (with varying degrees of difference) are found in many traditions, and the origins of the version in the Christian Scriptures (Mt. 7:12, 22:29; Lk. 6:31, et al.) are rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures (Lev. 19:8) and have parallels in contemporaneous rabbinic literature (Sifra, Kedoshim, iv; BT Shabbat 31a), the signified "Golden Rule" is attached to these laws only in the Christian religious tradition. (12) While the first known use of "Golden Rule" or "Golden Law" was in the late seventeenth century, (13) in recent times many within the interfaith movement have come to see it as the uniting essential message of world religions.

Is this meta-narrative useful in the understanding or even uniting (if this is considered an appropriate interfaith goal) of diverse religions? Would a religion be inauthentic if it did not have a version of the "Golden Rule"? As noted above, the idea of the "Golden Rule" is a Western, especially Christian, religious concept. (14) This raises important questions about the legitimacy of the search for it within other traditions. Indeed, the very search can be seen as an attempt either to say more or less benignly, "Isn't it wonderful that you are all like us, that religions are really all the same?" Or, more dangerously, "We have the truth and we will find it or impose it wherever we go." Indeed, in many cases the search for the "Golden Rule" appears to be an attempt to create comfort--and to emphasize the unique rightness of our own traditions--by finding ourselves in the "other."

There are numerous websites (and even more programs created by multi-faith organizations across the globe) dedicated to the idea that the "Golden Rule" or, more generically, the "Law of Reciprocity" is the essential message of world religions. (15) Interestingly, while the websites examined list up to twenty-one different versions of the "Golden Rule," two things become clear: The traditions that are claimed to express the same essential message are very different, and only the so-called "great religions" of the world (and also something listed under the generic term "native spirituality") are included. (16)

A perusal of the traditions included on these websites as versions of the "Golden Rule" is quite instructive. The connections between the traditions grouped under this meta-narrative are quite broad. Any statement (there is no indication of relative importance) from a religious tradition that in a very broad sense implies a connection between one person and another fits under the rubric of the "Golden Rule." (17) Some of the traditions included require an active sense of responsibility, while others are more passive, requiring merely that one wish the other well. The Hindu entry, for example, states, "This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you," while the Muslim entry reads, "Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself." (18) Versions of the "Golden Rule" included in these lists are also both positive and negative. While the classic Christian formulation is positive, the most quoted Jewish one is negative: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary. Go and learn it." (19) Other traditions seem to fit under the "Golden Rule" rubric in only the most tangential sense and may have been included for reasons other then the appropriateness of the association. The statement listed under the puzzlingly broad rubric of "native spirituality," for example, has little or nothing to do with reciprocity, at least between one human and another: "We are as much alive as we keep the earth alive." (20) Indeed, Wattles adds a further complication, noting that in some traditions the "Golden Rule" applies only to adherents, while in others it is interpreted more universally. (21) The differences among traditions indicated by the quotations selected render the entire meta-narrative of the "Golden Rule" so broad as to be meaningless and actually highlight the diversity found within world religious traditions.

The websites that attempt to present the "Golden Rule" as the essential message of religion also create an artificially imposed hierarchy of values. While Judaism and Christianity both prioritize the law of reciprocity as the "great principle," or the "Golden Rule," other traditions, which have a version of the law of reciprocity, may see it as important but not the essential message of their tradition. This imposed hierarchy prevents a true understanding of other traditions. Indeed, it is impossible authentically to understand rules of reciprocity in other traditions when they are taken out of context, especially when forced into the Western mold and hierarchy of the "Golden Rule" meta-narrative.

It may be argued that, despite these critiques, the "Golden Rule" meta-narrative is harmless or even beneficial, as it highlights a very positive and perhaps pervasive ethic. Yet, as was asked above, how do we interpret religious traditions that do not enshrine a version of the "Golden Rule"? One anecdotal experience can illustrate the danger raised by this question. The early version of this essay (including this very question), presented at NAIN Connect-2010, coincidentally was followed by a session highlighting "Golden Rule" projects around North America. Following this second session, a Wiccan attendee stated that her tradition did not include a version of the "Golden Rule." (22) During a private discussion it became clear that this statement was of great concern to another attendee, a board member of the organization sponsoring the conference. When asked why she was concerned, she stated that, if a religion did not have a version of the "Golden Rule," it was obviously not a "true" religion, as the "Golden Rule" was the essential revelation given us by God. As seen from this anecdote, while meta-narratives can create or impose unity, they also perforce deem as illegitimate anything that falls outside their artificially constructed parameters.

The process of imposed meta-narratives has been shown to reflect the dominant/dominated dichotomy wherein dissenting voices, methodologies, and paradigms are seen as illegitimate, passe, or anti-intellectual. (23) As noted, meta-narratives of this type ignore difference in an attempt to create universal definitions. Yet, Jean-Francois Lyotard has suggested that we are in a time of radical epistemological and ontological crisis, since it has become increasingly clear that the meta-narratives that academia (and, in this case, interfaith activists) created to organize society do not work. (24) Indeed, as discussed above, the similarities adduced by concepts such as the "Golden Rule" or other religious "essential messages" are so general as to tell us little about the culture or worldview of other traditions or people. This is reinforced by Zygmunt Bauman's critique of the social sciences that could also be aimed at the interfaith world, that "they informed of contingency while believing themselves to narrate necessity, of particular locality while believing themselves to narrate universality." (25)

Creating broad categories such as "Golden Rule" prevents us from seeing particularities and obscure real differences. (26) Jacques Derrida suggested that there is a need for us to abandon all reference to a center, subject, or privileged reference, origin, or archia. (27) The meta-narrative, he suggested, is a distortion of reality, reflecting a modernist "amnesia." His historical critique of all meta-narratives, whatever their origin, isolates them within particular times, places, genders, and classes. Every discourse, he noted, is bricoleur using the intertextual meaning at hand to create and construct meaning. (28) Derrida has demonstrated that the essentialist narratives such as the "Golden Rule" that are used to create interfaith discourse are themselves contingent and contextual.

This rejection of meta-narratives of religious essentialism is complicated by the complexity of identity-construction that renders each person as idiosyncratic. Noted anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss suggested a process of bricolage as a means whereby sets of signs--cultural objects--are invested with meaning. He suggested that the key aspect of the process of creating meaning is not based on a conscious selection of the best materials that might be used for the purpose, but it is the unconscious adaption of materials that are on hand that fit into the underlying structure of the society. (29) The material used may be recycled and reused again within the same society or within different societies to express vastly different ideas.

While Levi-Strauss focused his concept of bricolage on the creation of mythological thought, others have also extended it to other societal expressions, be they rituals, religion, or aspects of interpretation of material culture. (30) While for Levi-Strauss bricolage is an unconscious process by which the cultural elements used for construction are unimportant, and only the underlying structural patterns that establish signification for the community are important, anthropologist Seth Kunin added a degree of agency to the theory of bricolage through the concept of jonglerie, or the juggling of identity: "Jonglerie highlights the fact that to some extent individuals and groups consciously negotiate their sense of identity." (31) Human identity, perforce, is constructed of a variety of contested elements, which are constantly in a process of negotiation. At different moments of life there are both conscious and unconscious emphases on differing aspects of an individual's identity. Religious identity and self-definition will therefore also be in a constant state of negotiation.

This analysis of worldview suggests the complexities through which it is constructed. It is not unlikely that people within one area, especially in a country as diverse as Canada or the United States, and even people from the same general cultural or religious group will have a multiplicity of worldviews with a wide variety of contested elements. Kunin's work suggests that it is possible to create only general taxonomies when bringing groups of people together. There must, however, always be the recognition that the external and internal borders of these taxonomies are extremely malleable, fuzzy, and local. This serves to undermine the usefulness of any essentialist meta-narratives.

These theorists point to another complexity within the process of creating grand narratives. Though each person, in the context of formal or informal interfaith dialogue, may come from a particular religious tradition, this is only one aspect of his or her Weltanschauung. Derrida and the other theorists have suggested that the creation of an individual's worldview is complex and under continuous construction. (32) Perforce, even when one attempts to make authoritative statements about one's religious tradition, it will be an idiosyncratic presentation shaped within the context of the complexity of one's Weltanschauung.

This analysis suggests that the interfaith movement should value the local, particular, and tentative. The purpose for interfaith activities should be to see and understand the other, rather then to create grand narratives, which artificially attempt to bring everyone together or to impose (or try to discover) the shared "essential message" of all religion. Real peace, coexistence, and understanding will come only when we value the other without any interest in making (or seeing) them as we see ourselves.

Interfaith activities, therefore, should not be an attempt to lead participants to find commonalities and shared messages. Dialogue and other interactions would not be considered failures but, indeed, successes, if differences were identified rather then commonalities. Each participant in an interfaith interaction is a spokesperson of the "other" (whoever or whatever that may be). The attempt to identify any concept of "essential truth" should have no relevance. Therefore, the model of interfaith dialogue or relation proposed here is neither about transformation nor about finding a unified essence but, instead, is about understanding of and respect for the differences that make us uniquely who we are.

All interreligious contact is a form of dialogue, whether formal or informal. Yet, dialogue--especially in its formal manifestations--has been constrained by a sense that transformation, especially in the realization of the narrative of "religious essentialism," is necessary, else the dialogue would be a failure. (33) These dialogues follow a Hegelian mode of dialectic, where the synthesis of "religious essentialism" is most often the intended end result of the dialogue. Perhaps a mode of non-Hegelian dialectic would be more fruitful in creating a more authentic mode of interfaith understanding. The dialectic found within Jewish rabbinic sources may provide just such a useful counter-model of dialectic for interfaith interaction. While this model comes out of a particular worldview, this essay contends that it is generalizable to our present context. While the Hegelian dialectic, ending as it does with one synthesis or answer (in this context, the meta-narrative of religious essentialism), fits with the modernist worldview, the Talmudic dialectic, with its respect for the contingent and contextual, is postmodern in its approach to the rejection of any grand narrative of "religious essentialism" or universal religious "truth." The classic dialectic--with its steps of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis--is geared at finding the "ultimate truth." The Talmudic dialectic has a very different goal, namely, to leave room for a multiplicity of truths. (34)

A Talmudic argument rarely follows the steps of a classic dialectic; instead, there are often numerous antitheses and almost never an explicit synthesis. It is left to readers to determine which answer is correct, and that decision is always contingent and contextual. The Talmudic dialectic implies that all the answers, contradictory or not, are aspects of "truth." This possibility is explicitly noted within a Talmudic foundational myth included in both the Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot 1:7, 3b) and the Babylonian Talmud (Eruvin 13b). In the text from the Jerusalem Talmud, the House of Hillel and the House of Shamai (two major schools of thought in the early rabbinic period) argue for three years about the correct way to say the Shema (the one major creedal statement accepted as authoritative by the entire Jewish community). The House of Hillel says it should always be said while seated, and the House of Shamai says that in the morning it should be said while standing up. (35) At the conclusion of the passage a heavenly voice (Bat Kol) says, "These (words) and these (words) are both words of the living God. But the halakhah (law) is according to the House of Hillel." The text shows that all sides in discussions and arguments for the sake of heaven speak with the words of God. The text adds that "the law is according to the House of Hillel," merely to enable people at that time (contingent and contextual) to know how they were expected to act.

The text from the Babylonian Talmud is very similar to the text in the Jerusalem Talmud. The main difference of interest here is the conclusion. After stating that the law is according to the House of Hillel, the text adds an explanation for this decision.
   If both [the words of the House of Hillel and the House of Shamai]
   are "the words of the living God," why did the House of Hillel
   merit that the law be according to their opinions? It was because
   they were gentle and kind, and quoted the words of the House of
   Shamai when they gave their own decision. They even put the words
   of the House of Shamai before their own words. (36)

The Babylonian Talmud suggests that Hillel's opinion was chosen as correct for his time because he was willing to present Shamai's view honestly before his own, even though Shamai's "truth" was different from his own. Despite the fact that one side in the argument is chosen as expressing the law, this does not mean that the other arguments can never be followed, even if, as in this case, God seemingly renders the decision. (37) The law--and future decisions about it--is given to humanity.

These texts also suggest a significant transformation in the concepts of both revelation and human decision-making. Indeed, they are a strong rejection of "religious essentialism." They suggest that the ongoing decision-making process is itself one of revelation. Although there is a mythological construct that the "revelation" is Sinaitic in origin, they allow a continuous process of decision-making to be given the authority of the "original" revelation.

The potential for an ongoing dialogue and open-ended dialectic is indicated in every traditional edition of major Jewish texts from the Bible to the Talmud, midrash, and medieval codes. In a recent book, Rabbi Daniel Gordis described the Talmudic page as a "dialogue" across the generations. (38) Nearly every generation of scholars of the Common Era (until the nineteenth century) is represented on the page and engages in dialogue and conversation about the possible meanings of the text and of the nature of Judaism and halakhah.

The center of each page includes the basic text of the Talmud, often including both the Mishnah (completed in the third century, but including discussion from the first 200 years of the Common Era) and the Gamara (completed in the sixth century, including discussions from mishnaic times until its completion). It is within these texts that the debate on the nature of halakhah begins. The Mishnah generally includes simple statements of the law, with little expansion or explanation. That is not to say, however, that the Mishnah presents only one view. Rather, the Mishnah often includes a variety of views and rarely states which view is authoritative. (39) The Gamara, placed after each section of the Mishnah, continues and broadens the debate. It may explain and accept or reject the approaches found in the Mishnah, and it may even bring other possible answers not found there.

The commentaries found around the sides of the page also serve to demonstrate that the concept of open-ended dialectic exemplifies the halakhic tradition. Each generation of commentators (for example, Rashi, in the eleventh century) felt free to present their understandings of the text and to disagree, when necessary, with the commentators who came before them. (40) The fact that the disagreements are printed together implicitly expresses the concept that there may not be only one correct answer or interpretation.

The debate on the nature of halakhah, as represented by the page of Talmud, is not, however, one-sided, representing only those who believe in the diversity of acceptable interpretations. Expression of the desire to state the halakhah clearly as a presentable list of laws is also represented. The outer margin of each page of Talmud includes a cross-reference to the major codes (thus allowing the reader to see which opinion is authoritative), called Ein Mishpat Ner Mitzvah. Even here, however, diversity is implied, since there is no guarantee, or even likelihood, that halakhic rulings of the major codes will agree on the subject under discussion. Nonetheless, by its very nature, the design of the Talmud and other Jewish texts admits and even welcomes diversity and open-ended dialectic. With each generational addition and with each difference of opinion, the possibility and acceptability of diversity is celebrated and institutionalized.

The possibility (indeed, the desirability) of diverse "truths" is also stressed in the rabbinic process of halakhic decision-making. For the rabbi the "law" was not a list of laws but, rather, a process by which the law of a particular time could be determined. The halakhah rejoices in its potential for diversity. A well-known text states that a rabbinic student was ordained only when he was able to prove in 100 different ways that a snake (a prohibited food according to the dietary laws) was permissible to be eaten. (41) While Jewish practice may never have allowed the eating of a serpent, it is clear that the rabbinic tradition required that its students have the ability to be creative and to formulate and argue new approaches to the halakhah.

The very fact that a multiplicity of opinions is presented within the texts, especially the Mishnah and Gamara, demonstrates that halakhah does not have one correct answer but, rather, admits the possibility of change. This point is also strongly emphasized in a text mentioned above, Eruvin 13b. This text suggests that for every decision in halakhah there are an equal number of arguments for all other possible decisions. The answer chosen as authoritative at the time of the writing of the text may have been considered correct then. However, one of the other answers can be chosen as correct at a later time. (42)

The model proposed here is based on the belief that all truth is contingent and contextual and that there are many possible "correct answers." A "Golden Rule" or "Great Principal" may be right for one tradition--or even many. Even so, it may not be the essential message for all religious traditions. Even within a tradition, that which is considered essential may well change over time, based on the needs and realities of adherents. Indeed, a multiplicity of idiosyncratic "correct answers" may even be found concurrently, based on differing worldviews of adherents living in different contexts with differing contingencies. This model suggests that all these answers are indeed correct and that an acceptance of them allows us to understand the "other" better.

Based on this model of dialectic, interfaith dialogue would therefore no longer be concerned with identifying the kernel of truth, "the essential message," that unites all religions. Instead, it would aim to value difference and diversity of participants and traditions. Both the analysis above and the model suggest that the search for the "essential message" blinds us from seeing the "other" as he or she truly is, allowing us to see them only within our own contingent and contextual "correct answers."

It is often tempting to try to create broad narratives that encompass entire groups so as to render them transparent or, as in the interfaith movement, to create (or impose) a similarity based on "essential messages" such as the "Golden Rule" to ease communication and cooperation. While the aims of these meta-narratives may seem attractive in redressing the conflicts that have been the norm of interreligious interaction to this time, they oversimplify all the groups thus categorized. They also mask true understanding and can be used to exclude those groups that fall outside the parameters of the narrative. Religious systems are far more complex then these meta-narratives would suggest. It may not be comfortable to move away from the grand narratives that we have sought to unite us and have hoped would create peace but that, instead, merely conceal the particular. As we engage in dialogue, formal and informal, built on the possibility of diverse truths rather than an essential message, perhaps we will truly begin to understand the other and to build the foundations of a world based on peaceful coexistence.

* This essay is based on a paper delivered at the NAIN Connect conference held in Salt Lake City, UT, in July, 2010. This is the annual conference of the North American Interfaith Network (an umbrella organization for interfaith organizations from across North America).

(1)It is not the contention of this essay that all interfaith activity is motivated by the narrative of essential message but, rather, that this is the dominant message found within the movement. There has been movement in other directions; note, e.g., "Respect for Differences," the theme of the 2009 Parliament of the World's Religions. Yet, the dominant role of religious essentialism is demonstrated in both the theme and program for the 2011 NAIN Connect, "Many Lands, Many Faiths, One Common Principle--The Golden Rule."

(2) Attributed to the Dalai Lama, without source, on hundreds of websites.

(3) See below.

(4) In recent years the "Golden Rule" has been the subject of critique because of its cultural imperialism and its failure to see the "other." It has been noted that the "Golden Rule" asks us to treat others as we would be treated, rather than understanding that people from other cultures may have differing notions about appropriate behavior (see "The Platinum Rule" by Tony Alessandra at

(5) The last two of these, "People of the Book" and "Abrahamic Faiths," are a reflection of the fact that interfaith discussion was largely among Jews, Christians, and later Muslims until the end of

the twentieth century. It is not my contention that there is no historical connection among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam but that this narrative is used mainly to limit discussion to these three faiths.

(6) Some narratives of this type, such as "Indigenous Religion," are also problematic in that they group together very disparate traditions to achieve political ends rather than to create an authentic understanding of these religions.

(7) There are many other religious essentialism narratives, including care for the environment (see, e.g., the "Green Rule," at &view=article&id=3&ltemid=4; and "Seeking Peace: Visions of Peace from Twelve Faith Traditions," at

(8) Jeffrey Wattles, The Golden Rule (New York and Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 189. Wattles's book presents the most comprehensive discussion of the "Golden Rule," examining it both historically and philosophically. However, with the exception of a chapter examining the "Golden Rule" within Confucianism, the book focuses on development, understanding, and critique of it only in the Western philosophic and religious traditions. Wattles's book is quoted on many of the websites that present the "Golden Rule" as a uniting religious ethic (see, e.g.,

(9) Wattles, Golden Rule, p. 189.

(10) Ibid., pp. 165-189.

(11) Ibid., p. 185.

(12) Within the Jewish tradition these rules of reciprocity are highlighted but not universalized as the klal gadol, the great principle, or in another text the "essence" of the Torah.

(13) Wattles, Golden Rule, p. 78. Three books, written within the Protestant Anglican tradition in the late part of the seventeenth century, are the first to use the term: The Comprehensive Rule of Righteousness, Do as You Would Be Done By (William Lord Bishop of St. Davids, 1679);

The Royal

Law, or the Golden Rule of Justice and Charity (a sermon by George Boraston, 1683); and The Golden Rule; or, The Royal Law of Equity Explained (John Goodman, d. 1690). Neither Wattles nor any of the websites suggests that the term was picked up historically in any language other than English.

(14) The essential Western focus on the "Golden Rule" as the essence of religious ethics (and, indeed, the essence of religion) is highlighted by Wattles's book.

(15) A Google search brought up more than 100 websites celebrating the "Golden Rule" as the essential message of world religions. See, e.g., or www. The Scarboro Mission, a Catholic organization, has made the "Golden Rule" a focus of its work. It produces a poster in several languages, and its website contains a wide variety of "Golden Rule" programming ideas. Interfaith programs utilizing the "Golden Rule" narrative are widespread in North America. Two examples of these programs were developed in Arizona and Saskatchewan. The Arizona Interfaith Movement, e.g., created (in conjunction with the State of Arizona) both a "Golden Rule" license plate and several other projects dedicated to the "Golden Rule" as the essential message of religion. Indeed, its mission expressly is "to build bridges of respect, understanding, and support among diverse people of faith through education, dialogue, service, and the implementation of the Golden Rule" (see http://www.azifmorg/). The organization, Multi-Faith Saskatchewan, Inc., also focused on the "Golden Rule" when it created a sacred space incorporating plaques inscribed with the "Golden Rule" in different religious traditions (see

(16) While the religions included in the websites perused are somewhat diverse, all include the so-called "great religions" with the addition of other ancient (e.g., Jainism or Confucianism) or early-modern traditions (e.g., Baha'i and Unitarianism). None of the websites includes any modern or new-age traditions, the one exception being Wicca, which is found on reciproc.htm.

(17) Interestingly, Wattles identified this problem in his introduction (Wattles, Golden Rule, p. 4). He suggests that activists have attempted to identify the "Golden Rule" as the unifying message of world religions, yet, under closer examination, it is clear that a rule that appeared to be similar may have very different formulations and implications in diverse religions.

(18) See

(19) Ibid.

(20) Ibid.; see also the Yoruba and Wiccan entries at 3. htm.

(21) Wattles, Golden Rule, p. 4.

(22) The Wiccan Rede, "An it harm none, do what thou wilt," is found at This is another example of the shoehorning of a very different ethic into the "Golden Rule" narrative. The Wiccan attendee at the conference was unwilling to make this jump.

(23) Shawn Wilson, Research Is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods (Winnipeg, Manitoba: Fernwood Publishing, 2008), pp. 57-58.

(24) Hans Bertens, "The Postmodern Weltanschauung and Its Relation to Modernism: An Introductory Survey," in Joseph Natoli and Linda Hutcheon, A Postmodern Reader (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1993), p. 48. Lyotard suggested that meta-narratives obscure the "clouds of sociality," allowing for increased power and efficiency by power structures (Jean-Francois Lyotard, "Excerpts from The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge," in Netoli and Hutcheon, Postmodern Reader, p. 72.

(25) Zygmunt Bauman, "Postmodernity, or Living with Ambivalence," in Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and Ambivalence (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991), p. 231; emphases in original. Bauman also noted that truth-claims arise solely "in the context of hegemony and proselytism" (p. 233).

(26) Even the concept "religion" itself becomes a meta-narrative that both includes and excludes, based on the parameters of its definition. When taken broadly, it becomes essentially meaningless; when defined more narrowly, it becomes a mirror of the culture of the defining party. E.g., does "religion" require a set of beliefs, or could it also be based on a set of rituals? Does "religion" require a belief in the divine?

(27) Jacques Derrida, "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of Human Science," in Natoli

and Hutcheon, Postmodern Reader, p. 232.

(28) Ibid.

(29) Claude Levi-Strauss, The Savage Mind, The Nature of Human Society Series (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), p. 19.

(30) Seth D. Kunin, "Juggling Identities among the Crypto-Jews of the American Southwest," Religion, vol. 31, no. l (2001), p. 52.

(31) Ibid., p. 42.

(32) Clement Vidal, "Wat is een wereldbeeld?" in Hubert Van Belle and Jan Van der Veken, eds., Nieuwheid denken: De wetenschappen en het creatieve aspect van de werkelijkheid (Leuven: Acco, 2008), pp. 71-86 (available in English as "What Is a Worldview?" at Vidal_2008-what-is-a-worldview.pdf, p. 3). Leo Apostel (d. 1995) suggested a more personal construction, a bricolage built on one's culture and language and also on one's context and experience (Leo Apostel and Jan Van der Veken, Wereldbeelden: Vanfragmentering naar integratie [Kappellen: Pelckmans, 1991]; E.T.: D. Aerts et al., Worm Views: From Fragmentation to Integration [Brussels: VUB Press, 1994]).

(33) Interfaith dialogues have often been set up with a choice of topics to ensure success. Difficult or controversial issues are, therefore, often avoided. There is also a real fear that controversial opinions will alienate attendees who also desire an "essential message" that mirrors their own beliefs. One interfaith event on parenting was deemed a failure by its organizers when a conservative Christian presenter's point of view was very troubling to the more liberal Christians attendees, who were unwilling to hear a voice (relatively, from their own tradition) that did not mirror their own views.

(34) The reader may note that the texts examined below discuss matters of ritual rather than belief. This reflects the fact that traditional Judaism is an orthopraxy rather than an orthodoxy. Belief within rabbinic Judaism is very idiosyncratic and, therefore, contingent and contextual, while ritual (commandment) is more structured and communal.

(35) Bet Shamai bases its argument on the verse, "You shall speak of them [i.e., recite the Shema] when you lie down and you rise up" (Dt. 6:6). Bet Shamai deduces that in the evening you should recite the Shema while seated (or reclining), and in the morning it should be recited while standing. Bet Hillel, on the other hand, claims that these refer only to the times when the Shema should be recited and have no bearing on how the Shema should be recited.

(36) Eruvin 13b.

(37) On the same page of ibid., God is said to have shown Moses on every issue forty-nine ways to make it permitted and forty-nine ways to make it forbidden.

(38) Daniel Gordis, God Was Not in the Fire (New York: Scribner, 1995), pp. 94-96.

(39) The Gamara and other later sources developed rules to determine which part of the Mishnah expressed the law, but these were not always followed. Essentially, any statement from the Mishnah could be taken as an expression of the law.

(40) In some cases interpretations earlier than Rashi's are also printed on the standard text.

(41) Eruvin 13b.

(42) This possibility is stated explicitly in Mishnah Eduyyot 1:5: "Why is the minority opinion recorded together with the majority opinion, since the Law is according to the majority? It is recorded so that if some court favors the minority opinion and decides in accordance with it, no other court may overturn the decision of that court, except if it is greater than the earlier court in wisdom and number."

David A. Kunin (Jewish) has been rabbi and educational director of Beth Shalom Synagogue in Edmonton, Alberta, and chaplain at the University of Alberta, since 7003. In 2011, he also lectured in theology at St. Stephen's College at the university. He has previously served congregations in San Diego, CA (1999-2003); Elmira, NY (1996-99); New York City (1994-96), Glasgow, Scotland (1990-94); and Wanaque, NJ (1987-90). In addition to his congregational work, he has served in educational capacities at several levels and served as a hospital chaplain. His B.A. is from Brandeis University, Waltham, MA; his M.A. and rabbinic ordination are from Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, in 1990. He holds board positions with Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Action and Education (president since 2010), Jewish Family Services, and the Interfaith Initiative to End Homelessness. He is a member of the Multi-faith Advisory Committee of the University of Alberta Hospital and of the St. Stephen's College Academic Senate, as well as serving as Jewish chaplain for a senior residential home in Edmonton. He was on the editorial board and was book review editor of the Journal of Progressive Judaism, Sheffield, U.K. (1993-2000), where four of his articles were published. He has other articles forthcoming in Conservative Judaism. The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, New York, has published his Seder Tikkun Layl Shavuot (2006), Jewish Living Now (1995-96), and Magnet Synagogues ... Singles Programming (1996). He has presented papers at five annual conferences of the Society of Crypto-Judaic Studies, two NAIN Connect conferences, and at symposia at the University of Alberta.
COPYRIGHT 2012 Journal of Ecumenical Studies
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Kunin, David A.
Publication:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2012
Previous Article:An ecumenical response to the "Sunday-Monday gap": two themes in E. Glenn Hinson and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
Next Article:Remarks welcoming Professor Leonard Swidler to the national library of the Druze community in Lebanon, March 19, 2011.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters