19 November 2009

On the Charter for Compassion

This blog is, in the words of the strapline, "mainly about learning and teaching", and so I don't often draw direct attention to my own beliefs and values. I prefer to pose questions in that area rather than plug answers, although it is not hard to discover from my sites where I am "coming from". For once that cliched phrase is appropriate; I come from a fairly conservative evangelical Christian background. But that is not where I live, as it were. I am an apostate, a "back-slider", in a fascinated state of flux...
That makes it quite ironic that I am cited here in a blog post which represents with amazing precision everything I reject in religiosity, in its expression as well as its content!
A few weeks ago I answered the door to a Jehovah's Witness.

(I should say that I have enormous respect for the commitment and faith (pistis) of JW's. My great-aunt was one. And they have displayed faithfulness under persecution all over the world, not least under Nazism. And they keep coming, despite us slamming the door in their faces. I've experienced quite a lot of that, in both religious and political contexts, and it hursts more than one might think...)

Nevertheless they are "not even wrong", in my book. [Take the rant as read; for once this post is too serious to enjoy cheap shots.]  I can't remember the exact question they asked on the doorstep, but I shall try to do so in future, because their opening questions are actually Socratic in process, if actually meaningless in content. (That is not a cheap shot, it's an observation; and they are framed that way for a purpose. Teachers can learn a lot from them, and despite --or perhaps because of-- eschewing higher education, they do have some very good psychologists working for them.)

Whatever the question, I replied to my own surprise (that's the mark of good Socratic questioning), "Religion is among the highest achievements of the human spirit." (The others of course are science and art. No, not politics.)

And as Karen Armstrong has explored, despite its grotesque distortions which have led to intolerance and persecution and frightened  shit-scared authoritarianism, religious thinking (pace Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris et al) has led from many starting points, to the Golden Rule.
Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you
(Not, actually, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" Why? Think about it.)

The really subversive bit of this, of course, is the demand that one stand in the place of the other, in order to make a decision.

Armstrong wants to make this the basis of a Charter for Compassion, across the world.

Through the auspices of TED, it was launched last week, inviting people to sign up and affirm  it alongside the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Sheikh Ali Gomaa.

The net is known for its vast numbers and surging enthusiasms.

At the time of writing fewer than 18,000 people have signed up.

It's a question, not an answer.

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