Karen Armstrong’s TED wish

Earlier this year, author Karen Armstrong addressed TED conference participants with a plea for the world to embrace the Golden Rule as called for by faith traditions. Her speech was part of TED’s annual conference, which features more than 50 keynotes from influential thinkers and leaders that are then distributed online over the course of the year.

People seem to think — now equate religious faith with believing things. As though that — we call religious people often “believers,” as though that were the main thing that they do. And very often, secondary goals get pushed into the first place in place of compassion — the Golden Rule. Because the Golden Rule is difficult. I — sometimes, when I’m speaking to congregations about compassion, I sometimes see a mutinous expression crossing some of their faces because religion — a lot of religious people prefer to be right, rather than compassionate.

Now — but that’s not the whole story. Since September the 11th, when my work on Islam suddenly propelled 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 hear 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?” And my hosts in Pakistan said, “Look, don’t be too polite to us. Tell us where we’re going wrong. Let’s talk together about where religion is failing.” Because it seems to me that with our current situation is so serious at the moment that any ideology that doesn’t promote a sense of global understanding and global appreciation of each other is failing the test of the time. And religion, with its wide following here in the United States — people may be being religious here in different way, as a report has just shown — but they still want to be religious. It’s only Western Europe that has retained its secularism, which is now beginning to look rather endearingly old-fashioned.

But people want to be religious and religion should be made to be a force for harmony in the world, which it can and should be — because of the Golden Rule, “Do not do unto others what you would not have them do to you”: an ethos that should now be applied globally. We should not treat other nations as we would not wish to be treated ourselves. And these — whatever our wretched beliefs — is a religious matter, is a spiritual matter. It’s a profound moral matter that engages — and should engage us all. And as I say, there is a hunger for change out there. Here in the United States, I think you see it in this election campaign: a longing for change. And people in churches all over — and mosques all over this continent after September 11th, coming together locally to create networks of understanding. With the mosques, with the synagogue, saying, “We must start to speak to one another.” I think it’s time we moved beyond the idea of toleration and move toward appreciation of the other.

Armstrong won one of three annual TED prizes that are designed to fulfill a wish. Hers? The Charter for Compassion:

I wish that you would help with the creation, launch and propagation of a Charter for Compassion, crafted by a group of leading inspirational thinkers from the three Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and based on the fundamental principles of universal justice and respect.

The speech of the video is here, and more information on how to nominate leaders and otherwise help fulfill Armstrong’s wish is here.

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