Charter for Compassion

November 12, 2009 | 12 comments
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Call for CompassionIn February, 2008, noted religious author Karen Armstrong was awarded the TED Prize, and her wish for the world was to gather a council of Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and other spiritual leaders to draw up a “Charter for Compassion.” Today, the Charter for Compassion web site was unveiled.

It’s worth a look. It also appears that everyone else in the world is trying to look, as the site is up and down today. So here, dear readers, is the Charter:

As Armstrong writes:

One of the most urgent tasks of our generation is to build a global community, where men and women of all races, nations and ideologies can live together in peace. Religion which should be making a major contribution to this endeavour is often seen as part of the problem; all too often the voices of extremism seem to drown those that speak of kindness, forbearance and mutual respect.

This charter is focused on the second great commandment, something I think is relatively easy to embrace. The first great commandment, in the hands of the various religions, tends to be the sticky wicket.

Is it possible to defuse the violence committed by those who think God has called them to protect God’s truth and anyone who assails it?

What do you think?

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12 Responses to Charter for Compassion

  1. MikeInWeHo on November 12, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    This is fantastic. Thanks for posting it, Rory.

  2. J. Madson on November 12, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    Karen Armstrong’s two speeches you can find on TED are wonderful. I suggest everyone listen to them.

  3. Dan on November 12, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    Is it possible to defuse the violence committed by those who think God has called them to protect God’s truth and anyone who assails it?

    No. A lot of how one identifies himself is tied with the “struggle” against those who are not of the same faith.

    How do we, as Mormons, perceive the world in the future? What do we see coming? Do we really see a world where all religions thrive, where each one that claims truth continues to exist? Or do we not perceive a day when we tell the world “we told you so?” (albeit in kinder terms than that). Do not all religions strive for a future when they are the sole arbiters of truth in the world? There is indeed a struggle, and attempts at reconciliation will only last for moments until one religion finds a way to surpass another. Take the move by Pope Benedict to allow Anglicans into the Catholic fold. Very shrewd move, allowing married Anglican priests to be considered Catholic next to celibate Catholic priests.

    In the case of the LDS Church, much of our identity is based on the difference between our theology and that of other Christian faiths. We don’t resort to violence for that cause, at least not overtly through our religion, but we certainly participate in overt violence with other Christian groups through our national military against non-Christian nations. And we couch that struggle as an eternal one. President Hinckley’s remarks both in October 2001 and April 2003 followed this pattern.

    I think that if we wish to be more compassionate, one toward another, between religions, we need religious leaders to stop speaking of war, particularly tied to an eternal struggle for the soul of humanity.

  4. Steve on November 12, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    Few people of faith–of any religious persuasion–will try to make a case for the non-importance of compassion, or even that compassion is anything short of central and essential to a happy life. No objection from me.

    Here’s my concern: religious assertions that are subject to disagreement are often percieved as manifestations of malice. I’m reminded of the flack that Pope Benedict XVI took a few years ago, when he reiterated the positions the Catholic Church has held since ancient times: that the Roman Catholic Church is THE legitimate Church of Christ. Such offense! Imagine the hurt feelings!

    As a Mormon, I am usually quite touched whenever my Evangelical friends and acquaintences attempt to open my eyes to the fact that I am going to burn in hell for eternity unless I renounce my faith and make a one-time deal that will irrevocably seal my eternal salvation. I may disagree, but so long as the conversation does not get abusive I seldom detect a manifest lack of compassion on the part of my would-be soulwinner.

    However–and in my opinion unfortunately–not everybody sees such exchanges in the “marketplace of ideas” as a good thing. To tell me that I am going to burn in hell, according to some, is an intrusion, a verbal assault, an emotional attack. To assert the primacy of the Holy See is a slap in the face to non-Catholic Christians everywhere. To engage in proselytizing–now that’s been analogized to murder.

    Sometimes a religious belief can itself be “offensive.” Muslims believe that Jesus was only one in a series of Messengers from God. As a Christian, upon learning of that belief I had a choice: I could take offense (after all, they’re “insulting” Jesus), or I could acknowledge my differences with Islam and, confident in my beliefs, acknowledge a Muslim’s right to disagree with me.

    So here’s my question: does compassion, according to the Charter, require refraining from any actions or statements that might give offense? Does it require compromising beliefs or doctrines that might hurt someone’s feelings? Or does it promote respect for genuine diversity–you know, the kind of diversity that actually leaves room for sharp disagreements?

    After visiting Charter For Compassion’s home page, I’m uncertain whether the Charter’s definition of compassion requires abstaining from professions of belief that thin-skinned people might find offensive. If not, sign me up. If so, then the organization can count me as an opponent.

  5. Ida Tarbell on November 13, 2009 at 9:42 am

    Can we stop an isolated nutjob who is hearing the voice of (insert religious figure) telling them to go kill people? Sadly, no.

    Can we take away the ability of demagogues to use the existing differences in religion alluded to above to create an ideology of violence? Perhaps, but it would depend on how we approached things. I’m in the make-the-world-more-socially-just camp on that question, but I know there’s also a bomb-’em-back-to-the-stone-age camp…

  6. Sean on November 13, 2009 at 9:55 am

    Great comment, Steve (#4).

  7. ECS on November 13, 2009 at 10:42 am

    I’ve very much enjoyed reading Karen Armstrong’s books – thanks for posting this. Who can argue with compassion? One person’s definition of “compassion”, however, is someone else’s definition of “paternalism” – or worse.

    I really liked the video, thanks again for sharing.

  8. queuno on November 13, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    If this were /., I’d rank Steve (4) a 5.

  9. queuno on November 13, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    I’ve watched this video several times, and I think that the Church’s stance on SSM may fall outside the lines of “compassion”. And the reference to “living creatures” could be contrued as a slap at meateaters.

  10. Paul B on November 17, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    I think we’re already a lot closer to this goal than we have been in the past, despite the culture wars between Muslims and Christians, Evangelicals and atheists, or even gay activists and (too many) Mormons. I don’t think there has ever been a time in recorded history when so many people across the globe were so open to co-existing with different points of view, and so committed to living lives that allow for human variation and diversity. For one thing, there has never before been such an awareness of that diversity, so it is now something we confront much more frequently than our ancestors.

    It is true that this exposure to differences has also fostered mistrust and hatred among many, and I doubt that will ever go away completely. In fact, I know it won’t. And for the most part I don’t think this added exposure translates into true acceptance of the differences, in the sense of adopting those differences in one’s own life and “owning” them, but, as I said, we’re not as bad at co-existing as we once were.

    Of course, we have a long, long way to go before we reach the ultimate goals of the Charter for Compassion in its ideal state. Even so, it’s important to recognize that we have that capacity because many of us already lean in that direction.

    And I don’t think anyone thinks there’s a pain-free Nirvana at the end of this rainbow. But every step that brings us closer to these goals, no matter how elusive or even mythical the destination, the better off we’ll all be.

  11. Raymond Takashi Swenson on November 18, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    The video is clearly appealing in its “United Colors of Bennington” diversity. Who could argue against Compassion?

    I might.

    In 2009, the words of this pledge will be interpreted by some people to mean that no one should be told that their lifestyle choices are lacking in moral rectitude, even when that message does not involve coercion or threat. It could be understood to mean that communicating to people that you disagree with their religious views is harmful, and that religious expression that does not reaffirm everyone in their chosen behaviors is to be condemned as lacking in “compassion”.

  12. Steve on November 18, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    Raymond,

    Isn’t it ironic that as of 2009, the only commandment the violation of which is still considered deserving of condemnation is “Judge not, lest ye be judged?”

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