November 11th, 2009


Reviving the Golden Rule

I spend a lot of my time writing about fanaticism and fundamentalism, and the way religion can be twisted into an abusive force. However, as religion scholar Karen Armstrong points out, compassion is taught in every religion. It is time to revive that and, as she says, it is the antidote to sectarianism and religious wars.

Karen Armstrong gives an amazing lecture about the importance of the Golden Rule and introduces her Charter For Compassion, asking world religious leaders to sign on.

Some of her lecture in written form, excerpt below.

Transforming Compassion Project

Charter For Compassion


The religions that should help to heal these divisions have themselves been gravely implicated in the terrorism and violence of our time. Actually, the chief cause of our present troubles is political but in regions of the world where warfare has become chronic -- the Middle East, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Chechnya -- religion has been sucked into the vicious cycle of aggression, strike and counter-strike.

Yet at the core of every single one of the world religions is the virtue of compassion, which does not mean "pity"; its Latin root means to feel with the other. Each one of the world religions has developed its own version of the Golden Rule -- Do not treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself -- and maintained that this is the prime religious duty. Everything else in the Torah is "only commentary," said Rabbi Hillel; you can have faith that moves mountains, said St Paul, but without charity it is worthless. The Prophet Muhammad said that a person who did not fulfill the Golden Rule could not be called a believer. And each of the faiths also insists that you cannot confine your compassion to your own group. You must have "concern for everybody," love your enemies, and honour the stranger.

Yet -- some magnificent exceptions -- rarely hear our religious leaders speaking of compassion. All too often the message is strident, intolerant or else overly concerned with dogmatic belief or a particular sexual ethic. But wherever I go -- east or west -- I find that people are longing for a more compassionate world. The aim of the Charter is to change the conversation, make it cool to be compassionate, and bring the Golden Rule back to the centre of religious life.

So please contribute to the Charter on line. We need everybody's insights -- atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Jews, Muslims -- everybody! We need to implement the Golden Rule globally, so that we only treat other nations as we would wish to be treated ourselves. We need a global democracy, where everybody's voice is heard with sympathy and absolute respect. Any ideology -- religious or secular -- that breeds hatred or contempt is failing the test of our time, because if we do not build a more compassionate global community it is unlikely that we will have a viable world to hand on to the next generation.