Religion too often is a source of division and animosity, he said to thousands of attendees, including several world leaders and hundreds of members of Congress, at the annual National Prayer Breakfast held in Washington, D.C. But the holy scriptures of the world's major religions all teach the Golden Rule, he said.
"There is one law that binds all great religions together," Obama said, according to ABC News. "It is, of course, the Golden Rule - the call to love one another, to understand one another, to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth."
"Instead of driving us apart, our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted, to make peace where there is strife and rebuild what has broken, to lift up those who have fallen on hard times." He acknowledged that people of different faiths can't avoid having differences on some beliefs, on the text used, or teaching on the afterlife, but he stressed that "no matter what we choose to believe . there is no religion whose central tenet is hate."
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the keynote speaker at the prayer breakfast, also emphasized that religion should motivate people to unite in doing good rather than divide. "For billions of people, faith motivates, galvanizes, compels and inspires," Blair said. "Not to exclude, but to embrace. Not to provoke conflict, but to try to do good."
"This is faith in action and you can see it in countless local communities," he continued. "Where those from churches, mosques, synagogues and temples tend the sick, care for the afflicted, work long hours in bad conditions to bring hope to the despairing and salvation to the lost."
Obama said he plans to reach out to religious leaders and scholars around the world to facilitate productive dialogues on faith.
"I don't expect divisions to disappear overnight, nor do I believe that long-held views and conflicts will suddenly vanish," Obama said. "But I do believe that if we can talk to one another openly and honestly, then perhaps old rifts will start to mend and new partnerships will begin to emerge."