Karen Armstrong and the Charter for Compassion

I love rationality. Seriously, for me, it’s like a nice, warm shower on a bitter, cold day; or a snow cone at the beach when it’s a hundred degrees outside. Rationality cuts through the oppressive wrongness and makes me believe that everything just might be okay. When things go wrong, rationality helps us process why they went wrong and how we can fix them. Sometimes it takes it some time to jumpstart—a few minutes, a couple of days—while we take out the emotional garbage and moan about how unfair life is. But, if we’re trained to make use of it, rationality always does jumpstart our competence, and helps us make things better.

IF we’re trained to make use of it.

If we’re not? Well, we tend to panic, to get angry, to make stupid decisions and, generally, to make things a whole lot worse.

A lot of people don’t consider religion to be the province of rationality. Religion, to them, seems like a superstition, or a set of commands to be memorized by rote and practiced out of reflex, without thought. For some other people, religion is exactly that, and, when they’re in its hold, and things go wrong, they tend to panic, to get angry, to make stupid decisions and, generally, to make things a whole lot worse.

Karen Armstrong is neither of those kinds of people. She’s a very rational person, a scholar who has devoted a huge chunk of her life to understanding religion—all kinds of religions—and to telling others how it can fit into a rational worldview and a rational life practice. When she speaks or writes about religion, she makes it make sense, even to someone who has no interested in practicing it.

In this TED talk which my Sunday School class watched yesterday (yes, I go to Sunday School!), she talks about the thing that many of our religions—Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Wicca, Islam—have in common, and that’s the Golden Rule. She advocates for us to approach our differences and our problems with compassion, and she so damn smart that she doesn’t even seem to know that she needs to mention rationality—probably because it’s just built into her operating system.

If you don’t know Ms. Armstrong’s work, let this short video serve as an introduction. Whether you follow one of the religions mentioned above, or another, or you’re an atheist, she’s got something to say that you might like to hear.


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