Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Charter for Compassion

I have been a fan of religious scholar and author Karen Armstrong for many years, ever since I first read her book A History of God.

One of her central messages, particularly apt for our times, is that the religious fundamentalism that is thriving in all three major monotheistic faiths is actually a retreat from God despite adherents' claims of having a white-knuckled grasp of "him." Yet, she further writes that, despite our many religious, spiritual, and ethical differences, many traditions at their core share a proclamation of the Golden Rule. And from the desire to build peace in a world in which fundamentalism and division thrives, the Charter for Compassion was born:

"The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves....

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion....

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community."

It's simple, really. Cheesy, perhaps. Overly-general, maybe. But, unlike some declarations, this spiritual/ethical declaration attempts to bring the world together rather than tear us further apart as human beings.

I have no doubt that some religious leaders will ignore and/or not sign on to this charter despite the fact that its message is at the very foundation of their respective religions. Dogma has a tendency of getting in the way of what really matters.

In which case, I wonder, what are those who oppose this doing to promote peace in a violent world? What are they doing to be the change they want to see in the world? How are they using religion and belief systems, not to promote peace, but to divide the world into opposing camps? How are they using religion to promote human error, rather than to transcend it?

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