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...Their tastes may not be the same
November 17, 2009 4:16 PM   Subscribe

On Thursday, the 12th of November, Karen Armstrong (previously & previously) unveiled her Charter for Compassion. The charter is the product of her Feb 2008 TED prize wish to “restore the Golden Rule as the central global religious doctrine.” The project began with a “unique web-based decision making platform”, allowing “thousands of people from over 100 countries added their voice to the writing of the Charter.” These contributions were then given to the Council of Conscience for the construction of the final charter. Previous attempts at the promotion of a "global ethic" grounded in the Golden Rule have been largely, globally, ignored. Some people dislike the idea of blurring the differences between religions, some have problems with the Golden Rule itself.
"If therefore, the document and its fashioners have dedicated their work to explicating the unity of religious wisdom and morality, He would undoubtedly applaud that action as a very sensible and enlightened thing to do, especially in an ever-more-connected and shrinking world. If, however, when pinned down, those same fashioners had to confess as well to an attempt to make all religions seem to be little more than enculturated expressions of ways to the same God or end, I suspect He would have shaken His head and said, 'Can we talk?'"
- Beliefnet: How Would Jesus Respond to the Charter for Compassion?: Phyllis Tickle Weighs In
posted by ServSci (56 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
The problem with the Golden Rule is that many people would not want you to do unto them as you would want them to do unto you.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 4:23 PM on November 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


Why don't we just write one poem and just get it the hell over with? Why do we need so many poems? Why do the French need so many different types of cheeses? Why don't they just agree on one and eat it already. Also, why are there so many different kinds of finches? You'd think one finch would have been plenty. Let's find the finch that best expresses the finchiness of finches and name that "the finch", and kill all the others.
posted by Faze at 4:31 PM on November 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


I don't think the Golden Rule ever stopped being the central religious doctrine.

The problem here is that she's going to need to fix people.
posted by rokusan at 4:32 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


The problem with the Golden Rule is that people are too complex for just one little rule.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:32 PM on November 17, 2009


If the various religions have the same functional ends than the sensible course of action is to promote the most parsimonious "religion" that would still reach those ends. I don't think that many people would find such a bland and committee defined faith especially inspiring.

It seems to me that morality is not the reason religion exists, but rather is an argument for the desirability of religion. Has anyone ever tried to test the correlation of religion and moral behavior?

On preview: I am all for having a few thousand poems for every person on the earth as long as the differences between our poems are not made an excuse to abuse or murder.
posted by idiopath at 4:33 PM on November 17, 2009


The "Previous attempts" link is key here. Hans Kung has more scholarly cred in his little finger than Karen Armstrong has in her entire corpus. His project has not been a success, and hers will not be, either.

Religions are distinct in there unfalsifiable descriptions of the unobservable. These cannot be compared or contrasted, except perhaps with respect to their effect on observable phenomena like human progress.

This is a fruitless endeavor.
posted by jefficator at 4:42 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm very suspicious of the inclusion of Robert Thurman, who has long been a promoter of the big lie that the Chinese killed more than a million Tibetans at a time when the population of Tibet was 1.3 million. But perhaps compassion has come to him.
posted by shetterly at 5:00 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Do unto others and split.
posted by anazgnos at 5:07 PM on November 17, 2009


Paul Treanor's kind of a dick. Yes, anyone can pervert the Golden Rule. Anyone can pervert anything. That doesn't mean it's a useless starting point.
posted by shetterly at 5:13 PM on November 17, 2009


Religions are distinct in there unfalsifiable descriptions of the unobservable. These cannot be compared or contrasted, except perhaps with respect to their effect on observable phenomena like human progress.

Well, even if I was prepared to grant that religious truth claims cannot be falsified by appealing to the 5 senses (and I am not), I would still point out that there are many criteria one could use to adjudicate between two competing religious doctrines, e.g. internal consistency, coherence with previously accepted data, fruitfulness, explanatory scope, etc.

Surely if I claim that the cosmos began with primordial bark of Lord Space Walrus, praise his whiskery bluster, this claim cannot compete when compared to other less specious claims. None of us has seen t=0, and none of us has seen an empty chair where God was supposed to sit, but we still make cosmological and religious truth claims about based on evidence.

I suspect the lines between what is observable and what is unobservable are not so neat and tidy.
posted by reverend cuttle at 5:15 PM on November 17, 2009


I'm very suspicious of the inclusion of Robert Thurman, who has long been a promoter of the big lie that the Chinese killed more than a million Tibetans at a time when the population of Tibet was 1.3 million.

So do you not think the Chinese killed any Tibetans? Or do you just think that the number of Tibetans the Chinese killed was an okay number?

Do you really think that China's military annexation of Tibet is a positive or value-neutral event in human history?

I also think Robert Thurman's a self-important douchebag, but not because he's unfair to China. That's like hating Dick Cheney because he doesn't eat vegetables.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:25 PM on November 17, 2009


The golden rule is much more complicated than, say, "Thou shalt not kill," and even that rule has been too difficult for many to understand.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:28 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's nothing fundamentally wrong with the golden rule. If people want to use it to justify evil deeds, then let them, the law will take effect and they end up in jail or a mental institution, according to the golden rule. The golden rule doesn't justify evil, as some critics would imagine to make their point.

The brilliance behind the golden rule is that it has nothing to do with any god. Kant, whom they cited as a critic, would also have us in fear of a god in order to prevent wrongdoing, but people collectively do evil when representing god's special will. I also note that Kant didn't really disregard a golden rule anyway, as found in his categorical imperative.)
posted by Brian B. at 5:31 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


In just about any criticism of the Golden Rule that I've seen, including here, the critic usually has to stuff some straw in a shirt and put it on a pole before the criticism has a target.

From the critical article: In the Golden Rule approach, [the others] have nothing to say.
Horseshit. You'd like to be asked about your wishes, wouldn't you? QED

> The problem with the Golden Rule is that many people would not want you to do unto them as you would want them to do unto you.

Alright... we'll grant an exception for kinks..

> The problem with the Golden Rule is that people are too complex for just one little rule.

People are too simple (thick) for one little rule. Seriously though, assuming people are too complex is beside the point. or just an excuse not to apply the GR.

Oh wait...

>The golden rule is much more complicated than, say, "Thou shalt not kill," and even that rule has been too difficult for many to understand.

Not complicated, but definitely a bit more of a think than "Thou shalt not kill", sure. BTW, those who kill (or enable killing) have usually chosen to ignore that rule. They understand it just fine.

and, what Brian B. said.
posted by Artful Codger at 5:35 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Some people dislike the idea of blurring the differences between religions

Yeah, count me as one of those, especially with regards to Buddhism and any theist religion. It's popular to assert that "Oh, Buddhism and Christianity are really just different flavors of the same thing," but it's a nonsensical statement, because they start from completely different conceptions of the world.

You can insist that everything tastes the same, but taking the meat and vegetables out of the soup just leaves you with really weak broth.
posted by desjardins at 5:38 PM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


The problem with the Golden Rule is that many people would not want you to do unto them as you would want them to do unto you.

I agree completely--I recall reading a Buddhist essay where the author said a much better and more trustworthy formulation would be the inverse:

Do not do unto others as you would have them not do unto to you.
posted by LooseFilter at 6:09 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Golden Rule never was "the central global religious doctrine". It cannot be "restored" to a position it never had.

Also, the Golden Rule has no provision to deal with people who opt-out of the Golden Rule (or, at least, it has no provision to deal with them in a non-servile manner). Someone who always plays by the Golden Rule can be exploited endlessly by someone who does not. Christianity "solves" this problem by promising a supernatural reward to those who play by the rules, but it should be obvious that widespread-but-not-complete compliance with the Golden Rule would cause as much pain on Earth as joy in Heaven... one could scarcely invent a better paradise for liars, robbers, and cheats.

A tit for tat with forgiveness strategy makes a lot more sense to me. Treat those who treat you kindly with kindness, treat those who harm you with harm, yet forgive the occasional trespass when you're so inclined. As much as we cry about "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind", I think most people (and most animals, for that matter) are willing to forgive if behavior changes, and often even spontaneously... but forgiveness-by-default makes one a victim, nothing more.

Brian B: how does one jail someone according to the Golden Rule? No one wishes to be jailed themselves, and all of us would want forgiveness for our own crimes, so in a society which operates strictly according to the Golden Rule, who can justly jail someone? It seems to me that you need to look outside the Golden Rule to find this sort of authority. Also, as haltingproblemsolved points out, even if you can get it to work at home, the Golden Rule often fails spectacularly when applied to people of a different culture, even if they subscribe to the same rule... not everyone wants to be done unto in the same way.
posted by vorfeed at 6:11 PM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sidhedevil, compassion means you don't lie about anyone.

As for the numbers, here's something written by a former director of the Free Tibet Campaign in London: He May Be a God, but He’s No Politician. I generally agree with him.
posted by shetterly at 6:14 PM on November 17, 2009


I don't think tit for tat really works all that much better than the golden rule. The fundamental problem with both is that usually many people have some sort of interest that should be taken into account.
posted by colophon at 6:19 PM on November 17, 2009


Do not do unto others as you would have them not do unto to you.

The Golden Rule requires you to feed the hungry. The inverse allows you to let them starve. The tension between requiring fallible beings to do good deeds and allowing them to do nothing will never be resolved.
posted by shetterly at 6:21 PM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Karen Armstrong is a bit ridiculous. She seems to think that "religion" is a good thing and that rather then everyone believing the same religion, she can just convince people to use her interpretation of their religion so everyone will all believe the same thing but just use different labels.

I find that highly unlikely.
posted by delmoi at 6:21 PM on November 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


I thought the Golden Rule was "He who has the gold makes the rules."

Where did this other one come from?
posted by webhund at 6:24 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same. -GBS

I like the religions whose versions of The Golden Rule basically state to be empathetic. "Do unto others..." is the cheapest of all versions. Loving your neighbor, treating his losses as your own, checking if your ambitions harm him before plowing ahead - all of these are such better concepts of the rule. "Do unto others" erases empathy and forces a square peg into a round hole and fuck that peg if he doesn't like it, it's what I'd want.

It's really the only one that not only sidesteps empathy, it asks you to practice a sort of self-interest. I think it's ugly, and not at all in the same gentle and empathetic spirit as most of those similar, but so very different, rules.
posted by birdie birdington at 6:27 PM on November 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


The golden rule is much more complicated than, say, 'Thou shalt not kill,' and even that rule has been too difficult for many to understand.
"I tried to put it in the simplest possible terms for you people, so you'd get it straight, because I thought it was pretty important," said God, called Yahweh and Allah respectively in the Judaic and Muslim traditions. "I guess I figured I'd left no real room for confusion after putting it in a four-word sentence with one-syllable words, on the tablets I gave to Moses. How much more clear can I get?"
God Angrily Clarifies 'Don't Kill' Rule
posted by kirkaracha at 6:33 PM on November 17, 2009


Brian B: how does one jail someone according to the Golden Rule?

You would simply jail them because they did something to someone else that you would not want them to do to yourself.
posted by Brian B. at 6:37 PM on November 17, 2009


From the last link:

The Golden Rule disregards moral autonomy

Unlike much western ethics, the Golden Rule does not emphasize claims to moral autonomy. Should Bill Gates give his money to the starving Ethiopians? The Golden Rule approach implies, that he should try to think himself into the position of a starving Ethiopian, and ask whether he would want money or food in those circumstances. But - assuming he can not otherwise understand the issue - why not just ask the Ethiopians?

In the Golden Rule approach, they have nothing to say. It is the person who acts (or refrains from an act), who must use the Golden Rule. Applying the Rule requires their 'skill' in transferring their viewpoint. They are centre-stage, in the Golden Rule approach. The object of the action does not need to think or speak, and no dialogue takes place. (Remember that western philosophy generally encourages discourse). A strict Golden Rule ethic would probably forbid asking the other person's opinion, since that might be distorted by temporary circumstances. And the Golden Rule is used to assess cases of persons who can not speak their will - coma patients, for instance.


If The Golden Rule requires that I put myself into the position of someone needing help why am I precluded from assuming I would want someone to ask me what type of help I needed?

The notion is so flawed I couldn't make myself read the rest.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 6:47 PM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Actually, yes, it has been studied.
Sociologist Zuckerman spent a year in Scandinavia seeking to understand how Denmark and Sweden became probably the least religious countries in the world, and possibly in the history of the world. While many people, especially Christian conservatives, argue that godless societies devolve into lawlessness and immorality, Denmark and Sweden enjoy strong economies, low crime rates, high standards of living and social equality. Zuckerman interviewed 150 Danes and Swedes, and extended transcripts from some of those interviews provide the book's most interesting and revealing moments. What emerges is a portrait of a people unconcerned and even incurious about questions of faith, God and life's meaning. Zuckerman ventures to answer why Scandinavians remain irreligious—e.g., the religious monopoly of state-subsidized churches, the preponderance of working women and the security of a stable society—but academics may find this discussion a tad thin. Zuckerman also fails to answer the question of contentment his subtitle speaks to. Still, for those interested in the burgeoning field of secular studies—or for those curious about a world much different from the devout U.S.—this book will offer some compelling reading.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:53 PM on November 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


Karen Armstrong is overthinking a plate of beans, IMO.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:58 PM on November 17, 2009


how is this different from the Universal declaration of human rights?

A charter of compassion is certainly concomitant with a secular document like the UN declaration of human rights. Why waste time trying to elevate the discussion into the spiritual realm when there is so much to be done in a purely secular realm?
posted by kuatto at 7:03 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I doubt we could even get all MeFites to adopt the golden rule.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:07 PM on November 17, 2009


You would simply jail them because they did something to someone else that you would not want them to do to yourself.

That's not the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule requires the same behavior toward everyone, including criminals, and does not suddenly fail to apply when someone "does something to someone else that you would not want them to do to yourself".

If "someone" does a bad thing, then the Golden Rule asks the judge to do unto "someone" as she would wish them to do unto her in the same situation. That implies not jailing them.

I don't think tit for tat really works all that much better than the golden rule. The fundamental problem with both is that usually many people have some sort of interest that should be taken into account.

That's why I suggested tit for tat with forgiveness. There are obviously many situations in which it's wiser to let things slide, or to come to a mutually satisfying agreement; thus, one should always be free to forgive. Nothing about tit for tat suggests that you shouldn't consider the other party's interest... merely that the other party's interest should not always outweigh your own.
posted by vorfeed at 7:08 PM on November 17, 2009


ZenMasterThis: "I doubt we could even get all MeFites to adopt the golden rule."

Post on the threads of other users as you would have them post on yours.

As you crap on FPPs, so shall your FPPs be crapped on; as you favorite, so you shall be favorited in turn.

Flag it and move on shalt be the whole of the law.
posted by idiopath at 7:14 PM on November 17, 2009 [7 favorites]


Also, the Golden Rule has no provision to deal with people who opt-out of the Golden Rule.

No rule does; that would require a meta-rule that says "Follow the Golden Rule." But who says I have to follow the meta-rule? Uh oh...
posted by albrecht at 7:15 PM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


If "someone" does a bad thing, then the Golden Rule asks the judge to do unto "someone" as she would wish them to do unto her in the same situation. That implies not jailing them.

Really? Because if I committed a crime, I wouldn't want to avoid punishment, and I think the same is probably true of many judges (of course some might be absolute hypocrites).

That's the problem with the Golden Rule--it presupposes that people aren't hypocritical assholes.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:22 PM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Because if I committed a crime, I wouldn't want to avoid punishment

I mean, yeah, sometimes I feel glad I got away with speeding or whatever.

But if I committed a more serious crime, I wouldn't feel like I deserved not to be punished.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:23 PM on November 17, 2009


You would simply jail them because they did something to someone else that you would not want them to do to yourself.

-That's not the Golden Rule.

That the point. It's not the golden rule to violate the golden rule. It's doesn't really say turn the other cheek. If people don't imagine that it works both ways, then they shouldn't be telling us how inflexible it is while they continue to suggest it is supposed to work one-way. And we're talking about a replacement to religious ethical dogma, not a replacement to secular law, which the golden rule complements quite nicely as a guide to democratic justice, fitting the crime, not too little and not too much, rather than arbitrary religious forms of punishments.
posted by Brian B. at 7:27 PM on November 17, 2009


"Do unto others" erases empathy and forces a square peg into a round hole and fuck that peg if he doesn't like it, it's what I'd want.

Too easy. Would you want someone doing something to you that you don't want? So... why would another person want that? The essence of the Golden rule is empathy.

[re: punishment]
...The Golden Rule requires the same behavior toward everyone, including criminals, and does not suddenly fail to apply when someone "does something to someone else that you would not want them to do to yourself".
If "someone" does a bad thing, then the Golden Rule asks the judge to do unto "someone" as she would wish them to do unto her in the same situation. That implies not jailing them.


Well, first of all, why the hang-up on punishment and vengeance? Some societies [eg Netherlands] base their laws and penalties on the principle of harm-reduction and restitution, not retribution.

How's this for applied GR? "I would like to live in a society that provides some measure of personal and property safety, and I'd like to make that possible for others too."
posted by Artful Codger at 7:41 PM on November 17, 2009


I think all y'all need to read Ain't Nobodies Business If You Do.

Taking that idea to heart solves 80% of the problem. If it ain't no skin off your ass, it ain't a problem.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:45 PM on November 17, 2009


Why waste time trying to elevate the discussion into the spiritual realm when there is so much to be done in a purely secular realm?

kuatto, because they're linked. The presence of Thurman screams that they're linked: the Dalai Lama's circle took money from the CIA for over a decade to keep fighting in hopes of restoring feudalism in Tibet, then started taking money from the NED in the '80s.

That's the problem with the Golden Rule--it presupposes that people aren't hypocritical assholes.

Sidhedevil, the guy who's famous for the Golden Rule in Christian circles had a lot to say about hypocrites, none of it good.

Taking that idea to heart solves 80% of the problem.

Five Fresh Fish, I'm very fond of Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do. But solving 80% of the problem sucks for the remaining 20%.
posted by shetterly at 8:09 PM on November 17, 2009


The remaining 20% are crimes against person or property. They are, rightfully, a problem. You might think it sucks, but I'm afraid you're not going to get much of a society if you ignore them as one can ignore victimless "crimes."
posted by five fresh fish at 8:28 PM on November 17, 2009


fff, the Golden Rule is not about the law. It's about creating a society in which everyone shares. I was thinking of the people who have the least, which is more than 20% of the population.

You seem to think the Golden Rule is at odds with Live and Let Live. It's not. Letting people do what they want, so long as their freedom is not built on the suffering of others, is at the heart of the Golden Rule.
posted by shetterly at 8:56 PM on November 17, 2009


The Golden Rule requires you to feed the hungry. The inverse allows you to let them starve.

No, the Inverse Golden Rule is not doing anything to anyone you wouldn't want done to you. So because I would not want someone to let me go hungry, I should not allow someone else to go hungry. I don't want to be killed, so I shouldn't kill anyone; I don't want to lose my personal liberty, I should not limit anyone else's; etc.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:04 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's about creating a society in which everyone shares.

No it isn't. It's "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." That has implications regarding sharing, but it is not the bottom line as far as I see it.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:26 PM on November 17, 2009


LooseFilter, apologies. I've been coming down too hard on the Inverse here. Carried to their logical extreme, the Inverse and the Golden Rule meet: Let no one suffer.

FFF, my take on the Golden Rule is heavily influenced by reading the gospels, and they're all about sharing, from John the Baptist to the early disciples in Acts. Frankly, I don't see any way to live by the Golden Rule and not share freely, because I would want others to share freely with me.
posted by shetterly at 9:33 PM on November 17, 2009


LooseFilter, in the interview I heard with Armstrong, that was the Golden Rule she put forth ("Do not do unto others...").
posted by unknowncommand at 9:58 PM on November 17, 2009


how is this different from the Universal declaration of human rights?

Or Seasame Street. Which, let's be honest, is probably a healthier vehicle for the delivery of morality than most religions. Sure, they have the marketing, but I'm not aware of Seasame Street episodes that could be used as parables to justify stoning women for adultery or killing people who watch The Electric Company.
posted by rodgerd at 10:11 PM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


rodgerd: you fail to account for the troubling grouchist heresy.
posted by idiopath at 10:16 PM on November 17, 2009


Trying to find a common ethical ground is a commendable effort.

But just stating how we'd like to be ("urgently"!) doesn't address the issue of why we often aren't.

I think the majority of people live approx. according to the golden rule. It's basically reprocity.
It's just that most people have some caveats:
A it only applies to "our" people, not to "them". And the "us" group is defined relative to a perceived threat.
B it only applies when there are enough resources to go around. In a zero-sum game most people move to a more egoistic model.

Both caveats are sensible in some situations. But a lot of people over apply them.
How can that be addressed?

Personally I think that caveat A can be lessened f.i. by making sure that people are in a position to socialise with the "other" and have a momentary 'us' experience with some of them.
Caveat B can be lessened by stability in society (less need to hoard) and modest ethics of consumption.
That's easier said than done though. Both are based largely on perception and thus are subject to paranoia and propaganda.
posted by jouke at 12:31 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Let's find the finch that best expresses the finchiness of finches and name that "the finch", and kill all the others.

I'm still working on the beetles. Someone must have had an inordinate fondness for the little buggers.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:38 AM on November 18, 2009


No, the Inverse Golden Rule is not doing anything to anyone you wouldn't want done to you.

Which conveniently has a rule of its own! The Silver Rule.
posted by birdie birdington at 4:27 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Your Quasi-Religious Syncretism Sucks.
posted by Aquaman at 8:27 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Which conveniently has a rule of its own! The Silver Rule.

Well, look at that!
posted by LooseFilter at 1:49 PM on November 18, 2009


Well, I'm late to the party... Perhaps it's my MeFi function to be like the Great Prophet Zarquon and arrive just too late to say anything anyone hears. But here's my 2 [units of any currency you choose, since all of them serve the same symbolic function].

Reading metafilter on religion is somewhere between disappointing and really depressing. It's a bit like reading Reader's Digest on political theory, or USA Today on physics. The writers are mostly parroting second-rate, third-hand simplifications they would never allow anyone to express seriously on a topic they knew something about.

The Golden Rule as a theory is pretty empty, and full of contradictions. The Golden Rule as an experience is as transformative as you can possibly imagine.

Karen Armstrong is one of my favourite writers. If you want a renewed understanding of western history, the origins of the world's great religious traditions, the relationship between religion, philosophy and daily life, and the relationship of all of this to contemporary issues, you will treasure her book The Great Transformation (2006).

The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Christianity, Judaism and Islam (2000) is one of the better starting points I can imagine for making sense of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the (recent, unlikely and unprecedented) Bible-as-literal-truth Christianity espoused by the American religious right, and the extreme views of Islamic fanatics — not to mention the rise of the current regime in Iran. It will startle you out of all sorts of easy, sloppy misconceptions.

Her biography of the Buddha (2000) makes an exceptional introduction to Buddhism.

Her short biography of Muhammed (2006) is only a starting point, but will shatter the historical ignorance of anyone whose understanding of Islam comes from the caricatures in post-9/11 media chatter.

Armstrong writes as someone who was badly wounded early in life by the empty promises, archaic practices and tired dogmas of literal, institutional, mythic religion, and walked away, expecting never to return. And then she unexpectedly discovered what was at the heart of all the misrepresented stories.

Religion has levels of depth. Armstrong's Charter for Compassion is not a word-game, or a naive exercise in wishful thinking, or a conflation of incompatible, even antagonistic particularities. It's an expression of a core experience that is common to the contemplatives in every religious tradition. These are people who recognize each other instantly across traditions.

Armstrong's autobiography, The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness (2004), is as rich a description of a person's inner development as I've read.

Her TED Talks address in 2008, which won her the major prize that resulted in the Charter for Compassion, is just a tiny taste of what she has to say, but she warrants that much of your consideration.
posted by namasaya at 1:16 PM on November 19, 2009


Armstrong has a well-received body of work on a popular level.
Her approach has its defenders but it's not the only way to look at religious diversity, or what might be shared by everyone regardless of history, culture, or religion.

I recognize that she has her fans who have put her views of religion to some use in their lives. But, having read several threads on religion on metafilter, I think this:

"Reading metafilter on religion is somewhere between disappointing and really depressing. It's a bit like reading Reader's Digest on political theory, or USA Today on physics. The writers are mostly parroting second-rate, third-hand simplifications they would never allow anyone to express seriously on a topic they knew something about."

Is too harsh.

The defense of Armstrong and her work is not necessary as far as I can see. Presumably she is trying to appeal even to people who haven't researched her, or read the major works of every world religion.

It's a bit ironic to look down on mefi posters opinions, insult them and then promote the great
new Charter of Compassion, no? Like maybe everyone could have valid insights on this issue if it's as fundamental and basic to everyone as is being suggested by the charter.
posted by ServSci at 12:56 PM on November 20, 2009


It's a bit ironic to look down on mefi posters opinions, insult them and then promote the great new Charter of Compassion, no? Like maybe everyone could have valid insights on this issue if it's as fundamental and basic to everyone as is being suggested by the charter.

Of course not. This sort of behavior is part-and-parcel of the Charter of Compassion.

Think about it: when you say "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," you are deliberately eliding religious, ethical, and spiritual traditions for which this is not so (and yes, they do exist -- there are some which entirely deny the Golden Rule, and many which give other values precedence). This Charter is a lie of monumental proportions (care to point out how it is possible "to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate", when that principle hardly existed historically?)

The "Charter of Compassion" is itself discriminatory, and very deliberately so -- it attempts to limit human discourse and expression to a narrow subset of possible values. It's one thing to say that we should take compassion as our primary value, but quite another to make the bald-faced claim that every tradition on Earth does.

How exactly can we "dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect" when we can't even admit that many people and traditions are not primarily compassionate? How can we meet everyone with "justice, equity, and respect" when we must, by necessity, begin by marginalizing their "violent", "hateful", and "selfish" beliefs?

Again, the Golden Rule offers no satisfying answer to these obvious questions... and, apparently, Armstrong's own formulation of the Rule does not even recognize that they exist.
posted by vorfeed at 12:15 PM on November 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


I agree with you vorfeed, the historical claims being made in the Charter about the history of religions are demonstrably false. I assumed they rest on an attempt to redefine "authentic religion" into something that reflects Armstrong's values, and then leave out anything non-compassionate.

It's unfortunate Armstrong didn't mimic some feminist scholars and make the explicit recognition that the process of reclaiming religion means re-interpreting texts with meanings they perhaps never had... a clear, political statement about a forceful re-reading of the history of religions to give the Golden Rule a new emphasis... You'd still have the problem of ellision, and still have the problems with the application of the GR itself, but at least the wording about the motivation would be more honest.

Instead of playing the conservative card of "returning to the (imagined) pure original", she could have made the more honest progressive point and said, "Regardless of how things have been, we are going to try to read every religion through this filter, because the world needs more compassion, and to break with old patterns. Look we are trying to find some common ground, here, and we think this GR thing is the way to go, is there anything in your already existing belief-system that you can interpret in a way that let's you contribute?"
posted by ServSci at 7:37 AM on November 23, 2009


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