Love, Liberty, and the Good Samaritan
In the previous chapter, I explained how ideas about original sin and atonement create a stumbling block for mutual understanding, while suggesting that despite deep disagreements about metaphysics and soteriology, it is possible to establish a secular cosmopolitan consensus about the need for liberty and peaceful coexistence. In this chapter, we will consider whether and to what extent ethical ideas can be abstracted from theological and religious claims. Most reductionistic pluralists maintain that ethics is part of the common core of religion. John Hick maintains that some form of the Golden Rule is at the heart of all religions: “All the great traditions teach the moral ideal of generous good will, love, compassion, epitomized in the Golden Rule.” 2 Gandhi maintained something similar. He stated, for example: “Religion does not mean sectarianism. It means a belief in ordered moral government of the universe . . . This religion transcends Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, etc. It does not supersede them. It harmonizes them and gives them reality.” 3 Gandhi argues that the ideas of truth, love, and conscience unify all religions, including atheism: “God is conscience. He is even in the atheism of the atheist.” 4
This idea has ancient roots. There is a convergence of religion and ethics around a core set of values that form the heart of a cosmopolitan ethics: love, peace, and compassion. Consider love, which is often viewed as the highest good. We see inklings of a philosophy of love in Plato’s Symposium , where love is seen as the heart of philosophy and virtue. Jesus suggested that the essence of the religious law was to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. The epistle of John states that God is love and love is of God. Muslim poets such as Ibn Arabi and Rumi extolled love as the heart of religion. And so on. This might seem like an easy and universal idea. But a glance at books on the philosophy of love remind us that love is complex and culturally varied. The Encyclopedia of Love in World Religions gathers a range of ideas about love from scholars and practitioners. 5 Love is a common core of the world’s religions. But the Encyclopedia has hundreds of entries, which indicates the complexity of the idea of love in its diverse manifestations. And so it goes: diversity runs deep.