Art by Abby Wilt
Love, and how people show and receive it, comes in many forms.
These acts of love, or loving kindness, reverberates throughout people of different religious beliefs.
“We need to grant each other the dignity of difference, we also need to find those things that build bridges between our differences — and loving kindness does that,” said John Barton, professor of religion and philosophy and director for the Center of Faith and Learning.
A thread Barton said connects world religions is what is known in Christianity as the Golden Rule.
“‘Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you,’” Barton said. “Which Christians find in Matthew 7:12, but a version of that is found in Confucianism, Hinduism and Jainism. I mean, it’s everywhere — Sikhism, Bahai, I mean, it’s just everywhere.”
The Golden Rule
Barton said his primary research and teaching area is religious diversity and world religions. Barton published a book, “Better Religions,” on Oct. 1, about building peace between different religions. He points to the shared belief in the Golden Rule as one way forward.
Confucianism is a school of ideological thought focused on social and cultural etiquette. Confucianism also details expectations for different relationships, and the Golden Rule is at it’s center.
“The Confucian Golden Rule is one of the earliest versions of the Golden Rule, which we find in the teachings of Confucius, which is at least half a millennium before Jesus said it,” Barton said.
Confucius’ writings point toward orderliness in daily and social life, and values universal kindness.
“Confucius actually states it in the opposite way that Jesus does,” Barton said. “Jesus says, ‘Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.’ Confucius says something like, ‘Don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you.’”
Daoism also has a version of the Golden Rule, Barton said — detailing living without resistance and in harmony with the flow of the cosmos.
From a nonreligious perspective, Barton said Utilitarianism, the most popular religously neutral ethical theory today, has this ethic.
“It says we should always act in such a way that brings about the greatest amount of happiness to the greatest number of people,” Barton said.
The motivation here, Barton said, might just be evolutionary survival.
And yet, it still provides a connection.
“It’s not the concept itself, but it’s the ethic of loving kindness and compassion that I find isn’t an essential core, but it’s a useful overlap that we find in all religions,” Barton said. “It gives us a platform.”
Words of love
Barton said because religions are so diverse, not every religion has an exact one-to-one translation of the word love.
“Love is very much a concept that is at home in the Abrahamic religions,” Barton said. “So Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”
Judaism uses ‘chesed’ is to mean loving kindness, Barton said. Throughout the Hebrew Bible — especially in the Psalms — people respond to God’s loving kindness with praise.
In Christianity, there is the word ‘agape,’ which has a core concept of unconditional love, Barton said.
“I would say that the Greek concept that we find in the New Testament is a Greek derivation of chesed, the idea of God’s loving kindness that God is a God of loving kindness, unconditional loving kindness,” Barton said.
In Islam, Barton said there is ‘taleef’ — a mutual love and commitment to each other as human beings. The word ‘Islam’ itself is derived from an Arabic word that means peace and solace.
“This idea that the foundations of peace is this mutual compassion, mutual mercy, this mutual love that we extend to one another, and that’s what God calls people to,” Barton said.
Islam is very clear — this love should be extended to others, Barton said.
The word ‘karuna’ is the Sanskrit word for compassion, Barton said. In Hinduism and Jainism, there is the concept of ‘ahimsa,’ meaning “non-harm” or nonviolence. These ideas, and the ethic of mercy and compassion, is very similar to the Abrahamic concept of love.
“The thing that holds together all the world’s traditions, all the world’s religious traditions, is not as much concepts or ideas about God and the universe or doctrines, but it’s an ethic,” Barton said.
Serah Hodson, senior and intern for Relationship IQ, said a huge meaning of the word love, for her, is selflessness.
Hodson said she was raised in a nondenominational Protestant church from birth and was “steeped in Christianity” her entire life before coming to Pepperdine.
As a child, Hodson said her faith was very legalistic — and it wasn’t until she was 12 that she learned what it meant for God to love her.love her. Hodson said it is still easy for her to fall back into that legalistic lens.
However, when she believes God loves everyone unconditionally, Hodson said her experiences are more holistic.
“Then my interactions with other people are not dependent on what they do or the boxes they check or how good I think they are, but dependent on like, I believe that there is something worthy and good in the core of you,” Hodson said.
Love, Hodson said, prompts her to make the people around her better — she sees this in the context of her interactions with her younger sister and the advice she has given her.
“It’s really cool to see the ways that I’ve poured into her and tried to teach her — because I love her — now being used [for her] to pour into other people, teach other people, because she loves them,” Hodson said.
Love without judgment
Art Professor Yvette Gellis said her husband, Andrew, is Jewish, whereas she was raised Roman Catholic. In her “deep relationship” with Jesus Christ, Gellis said she learned to love without judgment.
“What does matter is the original message of Jesus Christ, which was one of love, and then you start to see that we’re all connected, everyone,” Gellis said. “That’s why in an interfaith marriage, it didn’t matter. Because we are all connected.”
After a month of dating, Gellis said her husband invited her to a Bar Mitzvah. This was her first time attending a Jewish service, and Gellis said her husband showed her how seriously he took his faith, which impressed her.
“I saw that he would be a wonderful father,” Gellis said. “I saw that he would be faithful to me. I saw that he was an honorable man, who had an enormous amount of integrity. And I fell in love. I knew in that moment, I could marry him.”
Another month went by and the two went on a camping trip up the face of Yosemite. On the way down, Gellis said Andrew asked her to marry him, to which she replied, “Really?” She would say yes the third time he asked.
A path to work toward
Junior Eddie Li said for him, love is being generous to people. Growing up in China, Li said he studied Confucianism, which impacted his life.
“[Confucius] definitely sees love similar to the way I do,” Li said. “ He definitely doesn’t want to stop or delve into a romantic love. His love is a love between relations — families, friends between people — even people we are not familiar with, with strangers.”
A world that practiced love like Confucius would be more peaceful, Li said, because everyone would be content in their love.
Parents, for example, may not often express love to their child verbally, Li said, but rather express it through actions — such as cooking.
“Love is more continuous,” Li said. “Kindness can be shown from time to time, but love is pretty consistent. It happens on a regular basis, whereas kindness can be shown to anybody at any time.”
Love, Li said, is more of a choice, but people are inclined to love each other.
“Confucius will say that you have to love everybody,” Li said. “But he is demanding that for a sage and that is not something I can attain as a normal human being. But it is a path to work toward.”
A platform for peace
The unity of a shared ethic of “loving kindness,” Barton said, provides a way to connect people who have vastly different lived experiences.
While the one-to-one translation of love may not exist in all religions, Barton said loving kindness does. These joint ethics help people navigate an increasingly globalized world.
“While it has been true for thousands of years that this Golden Rule ethic is a thread between and among different religions, that fact is more urgently important in the 21st century than it has ever been, because we’re living in each other’s backyards,” Barton said.
When preparing for marriage, Gellis said all the priests and rabbis wanted to know was how they would raise their children — which Gellis said they never really talked about.
The most important thing, Gellis said, is support for one another.
“I will say, it’s easier if you find someone in your own faith, without a doubt,” Gellis said. “But if you have that kind of love, you support each other — my husband never once didn’t support who I was as a person.”
Hodson said she uses her knowledge that God loves her as a guidepost when interacting with a faith community where there is a lot of judgment and tradition mixed with social positioning.
“Being aware of the image of God in other people allows me to, in a day-to-day kind of way, ignore divisions between people and more like, not ignore, but pick a better thing to focus on,” Hodson said.
Contact Samantha Torre via Twitter (@Sam_t394) or email: email@example.com