Karen Armstrong at TED

Karen Armstrong is a brilliant woman, and her books on God are both highly interesting and profoundly insightful. I must admit, however, that as studies of religion have progressed, her focus has centered on compassion. She views this notion as universal, and believes the best elements of religion can be enhanced when the focus is placed on compassion rather than dogma.

It’s a nice notion, but it ignores the fact religions are powerful political institutions that have very little interest in cooperation, let alone universal compassion. They are interested, as any powerful ideology is, in spreading themselves. Religions make claims they alone possess truth, and it is this hubris which allows them the opportunity to act in violent and oppressive ways.

There’s the common perception it is not religion that is the cause of conflict, but is in fact politics. This seems to ignore the fact that for most of civilized history, the two were completely inseparable. Religion is a political system, but it does not have any conventional borders. At its core it demands loyalty, fidelity, and trust from its adherents, and as the world continues to change, the dogmatic and unchanging world of religion loses its relevance.

Her project will ultimately be a failure simply because those who would participate do not speak for their religion as a whole. She’s right in saying we should focus on compassion, but she is wrong in thinking the compassionate elements of organized religion are enough to overcome their flaws. Still, I hope this brilliant writer can prove me wrong.

Comments (1)

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    What are your thoughts on Buddhism? If any religion goes against the grain by preaching compassion, and not pushing it’s agenda on the world, this one fits the bill. I’ve always felt that Buddhism, or elements of it anyway, is less a religion than a philosophy.

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