On February 28, 2008, author Karen Armstrong was awarded the TED Prize. During her acceptance speech, she called on the TED community to help build a Charter for Compassion — to restore the Golden Rule as the central global religious doctrine.
On October 5, 2009, I wrote this Meditation on the Golden Rule, in part inspired by Karen Armstrong’s TED speech.
Today, November 15, 2009, charterforcompassion.org went live.
I encourage anyone reading this to visit charterforcompassion.org and affirm the charter for yourself.
A call to bring the world together…
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. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to 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.
It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.
We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.
We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.
My father recently forwarded to me this video regarding birth rates in Muslim countries vs. the West along with this school prayer written by a 15 year old grade school student. The only comment he included was, “These attachments speak for themselves.”
In fact, there is much to be said about these two documents.
After two weeks of mulling them over, here is the response I sent. I put enough thought into this that I thought I would share it with the world at large.
from Wayne Hastings Dot Net to [redacted] cc [redacted] date Sun, Oct 4, 2009 at 4:41 PM subject Re: Student's New School Prayer & Very Scary Video About "Islam"
I’ve spent the last couple of weeks meditating on these items, and here are some of my thoughts.
As Americans, I hope we all hold dear the principles set forth in the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights, especially in the First Amendment where it says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”. This is the famous “Establishment Clause” that is the basis for our ideal regarding freedom of religion, which logically includes a freedom FROM religion.
Our nation was founded by people seeking the freedom to exercise their religion as they saw fit, without the government imposing a religion on them against their will or persecuting them based on their exercise of religion. This separation of church and state guarantees that all people may worship as they choose without fear. It also means that those with no faith may be free from having religion imposed on them against their will.
Little things, such as adding “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, having been written originally in 1892 without that phrase, was a well intended but misguided effort to inject God into our national identity. Needless to say, not all Americans believe in God, and forcing them to recite this version of the pledge violates their First Amendment right.
Similarly, institutionalized school prayer is also a violation of the First Amendment right of Americans. Have we so soon forgotten that our nation was founded by people fleeing the imposition of the Church of England on the citizens of that nation?
I attended public school after the 1962 and 1963 cases that struck down organized school prayer, though I know many receiving this message did not. The concept of organized school prayer may be customary to you. But from my perspective, I am able to pray at any time I choose, quietly or silently, free to express myself to God as I see fit. Organized prayer violates my sensibilities about my own free exercise. It also violates my sensibilities in that I know there are others with different faiths or with no faith at all, who just as I do, seek the free exercise of private prayer or to be free from the prayer of others.
A 15 year old may lament the fact that everyone can’t be forced to pray as he does, but we are adults, and should be able to judge maturely, to charitably extend the protection that the Constitution and the First Amendment affords to every individual.
Even though the United States may be (nominally) a democracy, that doesn’t mean the majority rules in every instance or that might makes right. One function of the government is to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. So even if Christianity is the predominate religion, I would hope we would agree that our nation is a better place for the diversity of races, cultures and religions that find a home here, and mix peacefully. And even if you don’t agree with the concept of peaceful co-existance with other religions, cultures and races, then you can appreciate the idea that if your religion, culture or race isn’t in power, that every American upholding the Constitution and First Amendment guarantees your right to worship without restriction or persecution.
Any effort to turn the United States of America into a theocracy — a “christian nation” — or to breach the wall of separation between church and state, is anti-American and violates the intent of our Founding Fathers. Our right to pray and worship as we see fit as Christians means we must recognize the rights of others to worship and pray as they see fit, also. If we do not afford others the rights we reserve for ourselves, then what right do we have to call ourselves either American or Christ-like at all?
Or put the shoe on the other foot. How would we react if Christians were the minority, and an Islamic majority in the government sought to impose prayer to Allah on all citizens?
Do we believe the words of the Declaration of Independence where it says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”? If we don’t live these words and allow others their life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then by what right can we expect them to afford us the same?
I was recently listening to a couple of interviews with Karen Anderson on the subjects of faith, the Golden Rule and compassion. Her discussion of the Golden Rule brought to mind these items, as well as my general disappointment with the ultraconservative branch of the church of Christ and, similarly, with the “conservative” Republican Party.
Too often conservatives hide behind convenient legalities to deny affording compassion toward others. John W. Dean wrote a book in 2006 titled, “Conservatives Without Conscience”, and the title expresses what I feel. In the name of Conservatism, people are allowed to suffer, live in poverty and pain, and to die needlessly, under claims such as “healthcare isn’t a human right”, or “X is the responsibility of the individual, not the church (or government)”.
I believe that if the United States foreign policy implemented the Golden Rule more, we would have much less trouble dealing with foreign governments. It is clear we do not afford respect to others yet demand respect from them. We imperialistically seek to impose our values on other cultures while refusing to respect the values of other cultures. Our foreign policy is too often heavy handed, selfish, and disrespectful. We claim to believe in Democracy, yet seek to deny the same when the results of the elections of other governments don’t produce the result we want.
Compassion is lacking in our country and in our people.
Even the Old Law commanded, “But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”
And in the book of Luke we are told, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.”
Where is the Christ-like attitude in claiming universal health care isn’t a human right? How do we show our Christ-like love for our fellow man letting them suffer and die needlessly, as thousands do every day in this country, not to mention around the world, while the rich get richer treading on the backs of the poor who lack the financial backing to lobby Congress and line the pockets of those in power?
But I digress.
Christians need to be on constant guard, examining their own hearts asking, “What would Jesus do?”, however trite that may sound today. It is an individual’s call to our better nature.
As for the video discussing birth rates around the world… Even though the video doesn’t explicitly equate Islam with terrorism, the undertone is there: more Islam means more danger for the West. This is xenophobic fear mongering.
To quote from religioustolerance.org:
Islam is not a homogenous religion. It is divided into many subgroups, including Sunni, Shi’ite, and Sufi. A very small, radical, hate-filled, extremist, Fundamentalist, terrorist wing does exist. So too does a much larger peaceful, moderate wing. Unfortunately, the former seem to capture all the media’s attention, while the latter is rarely heard from.
Just as Christianity isn’t homogenous, so Islam isn’t either. There are radicals and fundamentalist extremists in every religion and group. We should be just as afraid of and eager to denounce “Christian” religious extremists such as Fred Phelps, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and others who claim to speak for God.
Accepting for a moment that Islamic birth rates are outstripping Western birth rates, how do the video’s creators propose we reverse this situation? Everyone have more babies for Jesus? Taken to its logical conclusion, we could conscript all women of child bearing age and require they produce a certain number of offspring in their lifetime, by force if necessary. Then we would be bringing into reality the world conceived of in Margaret Atwood’s novel “The Handmaid’s Tale”, a world where a totalitarian theocracy has overthrown the U.S. government. I’m fairly sure George W. Bush would have been happy to serve as President of such a nation, given his efforts to erode the wall of separation of church and state during his two terms in office. (I opposed the 2008 candidacies of Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney to a great degree because of the dangers they posed in furthering the Bush efforts of mixing Church and State.)
So I would encourage anyone afraid of the impending Muslim invasion, or who are lamenting the lack of institutionalized school prayer, to remember the Golden Rule. Treat others as you would have them treat you. Live the life that Christ taught us to live. Show compassion if you wish to have any hope of receiving compassion.
Remember the writing of Matthew in Chapter 7, where he warned against hypocrisy:
20. “So then, you will know them by their fruits.
21. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.
22. “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles ?’
23. “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’
Live your Walk.
You may, of course, disagree with me. I invite you to engage in the conversation.
United States Bill of Rights
Establishment Clause of the First Amendment
Separation of church and state in the United States
Pledge of Allegiance
Tyranny of the majority
Declaration of Independence
Fresh Air with Terry Gross – interview with Karen Anderson
Karen Anderson speaking at TED
Ethic of reciprocity
Islam: Is it a religion of violence or of peace?
The Handmaid’s Tale
Matthew, Chapter 7 (NAS)
In this week’s episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, during a discussion of religion, fundamentalism and equal rights for minority groups, I picked up a couple of interesting gems that I thought were quite poignent.
Bill Maher, consistent with his anti-religion outlook, made a statement that religion made people bigots. He said something to the effect that Islam led people to be bigoted, motivating them to cut the heads off of other people.
Two of my favorite parts of the conversation follow:
“People cut people’s heads off … People will use any kind of ideology to promote any kind of bigotry that they already feel. Religion doesn’t make you a bigot. You’re just a (deleted) bigot.” — Raza Azlan
“Anyone who tries to fight the advancement of any particular minority group, you’re going to lose. Whether it’s now or 20 years from now, they’re wasting their time.” — Seth McFarlane
One of Maher’s “New Rules” was good this week, too:
I don’t need to take any more crap about the sanctity of marriage from a single woman with fake tits (Miss California) and a divorced guy (Joe the Plummer).
I love Real Time with Bill Maher.
From Jim Maynard on The Shrinking Republican Party:
It’s hard to see how the Republican Party will become a majority party by denying science, global warming, siding with religious fanatics, supporting and defending torture, and promoting hatred of Barack Obama.
Just finished watching President Obama address the joint houses of Congress, and had a great time using TweetDeck to monitor a couple of hashtags.
TweetDeck makes it easy to use Twitter to filter out just the information you want to watch. In my case, I set up two panes to follow specific subjects: one for #nsotu and one for #obama
When people posted a tweet during the speech, they used one or both of those hashtags to associate their tweet with the topical subject. (#nsotu stands for “not state of the union”)
I was also pleasantly surprised to see people retweeting some of my posts. (Retweet is when you repost someone elses tweet — just preface the tweet with RT and the original poster’s name.) You can see this in action in the above screen capture on the Replies pane.
Using TweetDeck to track these subjects in almost realtime was almost like engaging in a world wide chat room.
Two thumbs up, TweetDeck!
If you’ve been following me on Facebook and/or Twitter, you’ve seen posts about Feb. 25, 2009 being Pink Shirt Day, a day to support anti-bullying worldwide.
This weekend, I was playing around in Photoshop and CafePress, and put together a couple of graphics just for fun. (I realized I was too late to offer the design on CafePress as a t-shirt for sale and I don’t have a pro version of CafePress to offer pink shirts to put the design onto, but it looks nice on a white shirt, IMO.)
But here it is as a desktop wallpaper in four resolutions.
Links in support of Pink Shirt Day: