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Re-evaluating "belief" And Focusing On Compassion

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I thought this might be of interest and generate some friendly, healthy discussion of some aspects of Point 5...

 

2008 TED Prize Winner Karen Armstrong's wish: Charter for Compassion

 

The talk is about 22 minutes in length. Here are some transcribed highlights...

 

I found some astonishing things in the course of my study that had never occurred to me. Frankly, in the days that when I thought I’d had it with religion, I just found the whole thing absolutely incredible. These doctrines seemed unproven, abstract, and, to my astonishment, when I began seriously studying other traditions, I began to realize that belief, which we make such a fuss about today, is only a very recent religious enthusiasm. It surfaced only in the West, in about the 17th century. The word “belief” itself originally meant to love, to prize, to hold dear. In the 17th century it narrowed its focus, for reasons that I’m exploring in a book I’m writing at the moment, to include — to mean an intellectual ascent to a set of propositions — a credo. “I believe” did not mean “I accept certain creedal articles of faith.” It meant, “I commit myself. I engage myself.” Indeed, some of the world traditions think very little of religious orthodoxy. In the Qur’an, religious opinion — religious orthodoxy — is dismissed as
zanna
— self-indulgent guesswork about matters that nobody can be certain of one way or the other but which makes people quarrelsome and stupidly sectarian.

 

So, if religion is not about believing things, what is it about? What I’ve found is that, across the board, religion is about behaving differently. Instead of deciding whether or not you believe in God, first you do something, you behave in a committed way, and then you begin to understand the truths of religion. And religious doctrines are meant to be summons to action: you only understand them when you put them into practice.

 

Now, pride of place in this practice is given to compassion. And it is an arresting fact that right across the board, in every single one of the major world faiths, compassion — the ability to feel with the other, and the way we’ve been thinking about this evening — is not only the test of any true religiosity, it is also what will bring us into the presence of what Jews, Christians and Muslims call “God” or the “Divine.” It is compassion, says the Buddha, which brings you to Nirvana. Why? Because in compassion, when we feel with the other, we dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and we put another person there. And once we get rid of ego, then we’re ready to see the Divine. And, in particular, every single one of the major traditions has highlighted — has said — has put at the core of their tradition — what’s become known as the Golden Rule. First propounded by Confucius five centuries before Christ, “Do not do unto others what you would not like them to do to you.” That, he said, was the central thread that ran through all his teaching and that his disciples should put into practice all day and every day. And it was the Golden Rule would bring them to the transcendent value that he called rén, human-heartedness, which was a transcendent experience in itself.

 

And this is absolutely crucial to the monotheisms, too. There’s a famous story about the great rabbi Hillel, the older contemporary of Jesus. A pagan came to him and offered to convert to Judaism if the rabbi could recite the whole of Jewish teaching while he stood on one leg. Hillel stood on one leg and said, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor — that is the Torah. The rest is commentary. Go and study it.”

 

And “Go and study it” is what he meant. He said, in your exegesis, you must make it clear that every single verse of the Torah is a commentary, a gloss upon the Golden Rule. The great Rabbi Meir said that any interpretation of scripture which led to hatred and disdain or contempt of other people — any people whatsoever — was illegitimate. Saint Augustine made exactly the same point. “Scripture,” he says, “teaches nothing but charity, and we must not leave an interpretation of scripture until we have found a compassionate interpretation of it.” And this struggle to find compassion in some of these rather rebarbative texts is a good dress rehearsal for doing the same in ordinary life...

 

 

 

There’s also I think a great deal of religious illiteracy around. People seem to think— now equate religious faith with believing things. As though that-- We call religious people often “believers, as though that was the main thing that they do. And very often secondary goals get pushed into the first place, in place of compassion and the Golden Rule. Because the Golden Rule is difficult. Sometimes when I’m speaking to congregations about compassion I sometimes see a mutinous expression crossing some of their faces because a lot of religious people prefer to be “right” rather than compassionate. But that’s not the whole story. Since September the 11th, when my work on Islam suddenly propeled me into public life in a way that I’d never imagined, I’ve been able to sort of go all over the world and finding everywhere I go a yearning for change. I’ve just come back from Pakistan, where literally thousands of people came to my lectures because they were yearning first of all to here a friendly Western voice. And especially the young people were coming, and were asking me, the young people were saying “What can we
do
? What can
we
do to change things?”

 

So I ask the same thing - what can we do? What can we do to change things?

 

:)

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I love the above post! I think the answer to your questions will be a personal one, since everyone has different gifts and interests. I think if we make a conscious choice not to separate ourselves from others' pain in the world, we will quickly have MUCH to do. For example, I have taken an interest in disadvantaged kids at a school across town and wanted to help them -- now that ministry has grown to include many members of my church, neighborhood, boy scout troop, and my own kids' schools. I coordinate their volunteer efforts, and have recently learned that some people can give time, others things, and that both help! If you give up your life to help in the pain of others, there is so much pain in the world I have found we will eventually need to learn to prioritize according to where we prayerfully decide God is "calling" us -- where our passions and skills take us. That is not ruling out becoming involved in something you believe is important even if you don't have the skills and you think the job is awful. One of the 8 Points is "what we do is the fullest expresssion of what we believe." It is in response to our love for God that we want to change the world.

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Religion and Faith are two different things. Religion comes from the outside and consists of creeds, documents, traditions, writings, what we are handed and told, 'This is Christianity. This is what you will accept as your religious beliefs.' But what about a belief in that which originates on the inside? This is as individual to each of us as our fingerprints. There is an Inner Faith, something Within that we know or suspect...something that is More...something that is Deep. It could be a yearning or longing. It could be the feeling of something missing in our lives. And, unknown to us perhaps, we are on a Journey to quench that thirst, to fill that 'hole in the soul'. We search for what we may suspect and that which we can only guess. We search for God. When we begin to connect with God, regardless of how...no matter when...we begin to discover Another Life...an Inner Life, that we all have since our birth but may also have ignored. Even the most religious person is lost without this Inner Life that glows within each and every one of us on our own Inner Hearths. To look for the answer in this arguement or that, to debate this reality or that true nature, to wrestle with terminology and versions of books and writings...all of these external activities cannot bring one closer to God. Remember what Jesus said about the Kingdom of God being at hand? It is...as clsoe as our own breathing...as near as our own hands and feet. The Kingdom of God is within each and every one of us. All we have to do is close our eyes and look Within. There we will find the place where Deep seeks Deep...where the Universe opens before us....that Place where God is.

Edited by Russ

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I love the above post! I think the answer to your questions will be a personal one, since everyone has different gifts and interests. I think if we make a conscious choice not to separate ourselves from others' pain in the world, we will quickly have MUCH to do. For example, I have taken an interest in disadvantaged kids at a school across town and wanted to help them -- now that ministry has grown to include many members of my church, neighborhood, boy scout troop, and my own kids' schools. I coordinate their volunteer efforts, and have recently learned that some people can give time, others things, and that both help! If you give up your life to help in the pain of others, there is so much pain in the world I have found we will eventually need to learn to prioritize according to where we prayerfully decide God is "calling" us -- where our passions and skills take us. That is not ruling out becoming involved in something you believe is important even if you don't have the skills and you think the job is awful. One of the 8 Points is "what we do is the fullest expresssion of what we believe." It is in response to our love for God that we want to change the world.

 

Yeah, and for the record (not that anyone asked) I don't think orthodoxy is a boogey-man, and while I agree that simply giving intellectual assent to a set of historical propositions itself is a poor basis for religion or co-pilot of faith, even the more expansive view of faith described in the TED talk requires that we do believe in the sense of accepting the reality of something, in this case, of a Higher Power that orients, inspires, and sustains us. Otherwise what is one loving, prizing, holding dear, committing oneself to, or engaging with? A comforting abstraction? A ungrounded set of ideals? As Christianity and so many other sacred traditions teach, we find the Divine in every experience, the sacred in all phenomena, God in everyone we meet.

 

It takes a true disciple of Jesus, a genuine Bodhisattva, to open themselves to the reality of their own pain and suffering, let alone that of the world. Bless you and everyone like you. I am just a half-believing idealist who is struggling to regain his faith and practice.

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Interesting book review on the link.

I agree with you about orthodoxy not being a boogey man.

I wish you and Russ would speak up more.

And as Janet said, everyone has different gifts.

There was an article in a religious magazine not long ago, on a young American woman who chose to work helping the suffering people in Darfur. From the interview: "The place God calls you to is where your own deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger."

Edited by rivanna

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I should add that the article was in Response magazine, Fall 2007-- and Allison Hosley’s words were actually a quote from Frederick Buechner: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

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What can we do?

 

I have been asking myself that same question lately. I love the above quote. One of my mentors abbreviated it a bit, but the same concept applies. "You should be in the place where your God given talent meets humanity's needs." I'm still looking for an answer to that one.

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tinythinker

It takes a true disciple of Jesus, a genuine Bodhisattva, to open themselves to the reality of their own pain and suffering, let alone that of the world.

I think you are right what following Jesus looks like.

Thanks

Dutch

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