Compassion a Value All Faiths Share

Religion scholar Karen Armstrong is asking the world to write a Charter for Compassion, based on her premise that compassion … Continued

Religion scholar Karen Armstrong is asking the world to write a Charter for Compassion, based on her premise that compassion is central to all religions. Do you agree? If so, what has gone wrong?

A lot of people say that the deeper you go, the more all religions are the same. Based on my study and experience, that statement strikes me as potentially quite misleading. I think there are profound differences among religions at many levels. And not only that, there are equally profound differences within religions too! Just think, within Christianity, of televangelist John Hagee, and then of Desmond Tutu … or of Pat Robertson and then of Jim Wallis … or of Mother Teresa and then of … well, you get the idea. It’s hard to believe that these vastly different voices could all be speaking from within the same religion. So if within religions there are such striking differences, we shouldn’t minimize the differences between religions.

But when it comes to ethics, there’s a lot of truth to Karen Armstrong’s premise about compassion. The golden rule or something like it is inherent to the ethical vision of all major faiths. But sadly, many religious communities become preoccupied with something other than their core theological mission and ethical values. They get caught up in other narratives … narratives of revenge, domination, victimization, accumulation, isolation, scapegoating, and so on. That’s why I think Karen Armstrong is wise and right to call us all to compassion.

The word itself suggests “to feel or suffer with the other.” As a follower of Christ, I see how compassion is evoked by Jesus’ words, “As you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me,” or “love your neighbor as yourself”. And I see how compassion is evoked by the apostle Paul’s words as well … “weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice,” or “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you,” or “If you have any … compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” Similarly, the apostle James evokes compassion through words like these: “Faith without works is dead,” and the apostle John, through words like these: “This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. … If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no compassion on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”

And my Muslim friends could bring similar quotes from the Qur’an, and my Jewish friends from the Hebrew Scriptures, and my Buddhist and Hindu and Native American friends from their traditions as well. So I want to uphold the freedom of each religion to be unique and true to its own story, and simultaneously I want to uphold each religion’s responsibility to be faithful to its own internal call to compassion. Thank God for voices like Karen Armstrong’s, reminding us of that beautiful shared value of compassion.

Brian D. McLaren
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  • ThomasBaum

    DanielintheLionsDen You wrote, “Christianity as a poltiical movement, and of individual Christians is not very loving and not very compassionate.”.First off, even tho it is obvious both now and in the past that Christianity has been used as a political movement that is not what Jesus taught.Second, your statement about individual Christians being not very loving and compassionate is to say the least very bigoted in the sense that not all individual Christians act that way yet by the way you wrote it you present it as a blanket condemnation and it just isn’t true.Yes, there are some people that call themselves, “Christians” that wouldn’t know a Christian if they spit on one after kicking them out of the way but to say that all people that call themselves “Christians” are that way is bigotry in the first degree.Actually to be a Christian is to look at Jesus and at least attempt to follow Him, not to look at someone who calls themself a “Christian” and to follow that person.Jesus did say, “Come follow Me”, He did not say come follow My Church, He did not say follow the bible, He did not say follow Peter, He did not say follow a follower of Me but He said, “COME FOLLOW ME”.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • TerryLakeGeorge

    Indeed, to feel and suffer celebrate and know joy with others must surely be the highest goal of Christians. Only when we know and share compassion and joy can we truly learn to love ourselves and learn to love one another – 0nly then will we begin to approach the issue of loving justice and living in a mercy giving manner.

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    TerrylakegeorgeYour words do not match up to the reality of Christian practice. Thinking about compassion and love is not enough. Preaching about compassion and love and talking about and debating compassion and love is not enough.After all of this talk, talk, talk, actions speak louder than words, and the actions of Christianity as a poltiical movement, and of individual Christians is not very loving and not very compassionate.Intolerance is a mark of conservative Christianisty, intolerance of everything except hypocrisy; that is well tolerated.

  • jamil51

    Your comments are impressive.

  • jbrinkmeyer

    Well said, Brian. The problem with Karen Armstrong’s approach is the same problem with John Hick’s approach. Both have a tendency to be dismissive of what is unique to each faith community. But this is to be expected from Armstrong given the thesis of her first book, A Short History of God, which is that God is little more than a creation of vivid imaginations. With such a low opinion of religions it’s not at all surprising that she would be dismissive of their unique claims. Yes, let’s stress compassion. But not with Armstrong’s dismissiveness. That’s not compassion. That’s arrogance, the kind of arrogance that drives people deeper into the kind of exclusivism Armstrong abhors.