We already have common ethical ground. Every religion embraces a form of the Golden Rule and the supreme importance of charity, compassion and human improvement. Let's work from there.
When Jesus was asked, "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?" he replied, "First, you shall love the Lord your God; and second, you shall love your neighbor as yourself."
"In everything," he said, "do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."
The Talmud says that in Roman times, a nonbeliever approached the famous Rabbi Hillel and challenged him to teach the meaning of the Torah while standing on one leg.
Holding up one foot, Hillel replied, "What is hateful to yourself, do not do to another. That is the whole of the Torah ... the rest is commentary."
The prophet Muhammad said, "Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself."
Buddhist scriptures teach us to "treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful."
And Native American spirituality proclaims that "all things are relatives; what we do to everything, we do to ourselves."
We are more than the sum of our differences. We share a moral obligation to treat one another with dignity and respect.
This plea for unity both at home and abroad came near the end of a remarkable speech delivered on the campus of Gordon College Monday by one of our state and nation's most prominent politicians, Sen. John Kerry.
A descendant of Massachusetts Bay Colony founder John Winthrop, Kerry acknowledged that his ancestor was known to be intolerant of those who did not share his Puritan beliefs, and he admitted to his own struggles with the Catholic faith in which he was raised. But throughout the 45-minute address delivered before a packed house in a chapel named for a 19th-century Baptist minister, the Bay State Democrat returned to the theme of commonality among the world's great religions. There's more that unites than divides them, he asserted, which makes the current tensions, both in the Middle East and on the presidential campaign trail here at home, all the more frustrating.
Rather than use religion to seek partisan advantage or promote divisiveness, those of every faith should focus on matters of mutual concern: poverty, disease, the health of our environment and the denial of basic human rights, Kerry said.
"We are more than just Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims or atheists," he declared. "We are human beings. Our faiths — and our fates — are inextricably intertwined."
Hard to argue with that statement that, if taken to heart, might help quell a lot of the bitter rhetoric that plagues us in these scary times.