Reaffirming Basic Religious Principles
Continuing the series we began in the first week of Ramadan on the “First Principles of Religion,” this week we focus on the First Principle: Respect for Life. You can find the launch of the series on this page.
First Principle: Respect for Life
Fundamental to all religious sensibilities is respect for life, especially sentient life, and above all human life. Whether life is seen as the creation of a good God (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), as a manifestation or expression of the Divine (Hinduism), or as a vehicle that can ultimately attain enlightenment and Buddhahood (Buddhism), all religions agree in seeing life as sacred.
This principle applies above all to human life (although some religious traditions apply it equally, or almost equally, to all sentient life and even to plants). All religions affirm our common humanity, that all people have the same needs and desires: not only for the physical necessities of life, but also for companionship, community, love—and for communion with the Divine, the sacred, the transcendent, however that may be understood in our different traditions. Religious traditions insist, in fact, that humanity has a capacity unique in creation for such communion and transcendence.
The taking of human life, therefore, is regarded as among the gravest of transgressions, except where it may be necessary to protect still greater harm to others. This respect for life runs counter to a world that sees human life as expendable (in practice if not in theory) for reasons of political power, economic gain, or even, supposedly, of religion. The defense of life, above all of human life, is a primary imperative for all people of faith. Respect for life calls for the condemnation not only of overt violence, but also of threats to human life arising from poverty and oppression, including lack of access to health care, adequate food and water, and sanitary living conditions. It also calls for care and protection of the environment and all its natural resources.
A few of the verses in religious texts that speak to the Principle of Respect for Life include the following:
Islam: “Whoever kills a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if had killed all mankind, and whoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind.” (Qur’an 5:32)
Christianity: “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 6:21-22)
Judaism: “Whoever destroys a life, it is considered as if he destroys an entire world, and whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saves an entire world.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:9)
Buddhism: “He who does no violence to creatures seeking happiness finds happiness after death.” (Dhammapada 132)
Hinduism: “Nonviolence is the highest virtue, nonviolence is the highest self-control, nonviolence is the greatest gift, nonviolence is the best suffering, nonviolence is the highest sacrifice, nonviolence is the finest strength, nonviolence is the greatest friend, nonviolence is the greatest happiness, nonviolence is the highest truth, and nonviolence is the greatest teaching.” (Mahabharata 13.117.37-38)
You can get caught up on the First Principles series below:
Respect for Life
Respect for Human Dignity
Respect for Freedom of Thought and Expression
Respect for Freedom of Religion and Conscience
Respect for Others: The Golden Rule