Thursday, December 29, 2005

Karen Armstrong in Cairo

This morning, Tom Vinson sent me an Aljazeera article about Karen Armstrong in Cairo. I first discovered Armstrong when I was living and working in Cape Town and an agnostic friend sent me a copy of her A History of God. She is a scholar of the world's great monotheistic faiths and someone who speaks out eloquently against fundamentalism in all its forms. Here are some excerpts from the article: What is the common denominator linking all the faiths you have studied?

: I would say compassion and the Golden Rule, ("don't do to others as you would not have done to you") which is what they all teach. I was with the Dalai Lama a couple of months ago and he said all religions teach kindness. He said: "My religion is kindness."

Compassion doesn't mean we have to feel warm affection for people - we have to learn to feel with them, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there.

We have to do that globally to learn other nations, other people, are as important as ourselves. If we don't like people speaking against our culture, bombing or terrorising us, we shouldn't do it to others.
In your book, [The] Battle for God, you wrote that fundamentalist religious movements claim God as their own. What are the similarities and differences between the various fundamentalist movements?

I've concentrated only on the ones in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Most of them began in fear - a fear of annihilation. All groups are convinced that modern secular liberalist society is going to wipe them out.

This is true across the board.

When they feel that their backs are against a wall, that's when they become aggressive, defensive and worried.

A profound hinging on this is a loss of identity - people not knowing where they are and feeling their values have been marginalised and kicked out of the way.

This produces a sense of frustration and impotent rage. They have a desire to bring God and all religion back to centre stage.

This expresses itself in an exaggerated vision of the enemy; all of them have cultivated blown-up versions of the enemy which reflects a great deal of their own sense of menace.

In some cultures, this fear and dread is hardening into rage and it was quite clear when I finished this book; some fundamentalism was becoming more extreme and moving into a new phase.

The whole article is interesting if you have time to click through and read it.

If you haven't discovered Karen Armstrong yet, I really recommend that you spend some time with her works. They are truly good. And she's branched out from the monotheistic religions and written a fascinating book about Buddhism too.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:47 PM

    Karen Armstrong's writings have been very eye opening for me. Much of the reason is her attitude towards the search for meaning in religion and spirituality which is summed up in the last paragraph of the interview.
    "So have I found God? As the Chinese would say: "I am on the way." The Now is the point; what's important is the why you're actually on the way and not to be so concerned by the destination."
    Carolyn L.


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