In a way I'd just like to hand today's sermon over to Karen Armstrong. Actually I do. Here is her TED talk, Let's Revive the Golden Rule. It's about ten minutes long. My sermon is basically a House Of Everything annotation of this talk, along with the text of the Charter of which it speaks. I'll be brief - watch the video!
I spoke of the 'Golden Rule' briefly in Soteriology; The Gospel of Everything. As I indicated there, although it is the very heart of Christianity, it happens to be the very heart of every major world religion. And this is where The House of Every finds solidarity with all world religion, for it is the heart of the House of Every as well. I hope I don't ever neglect it at the expense of the more critical and innovative (ie identifying) aspects of this religion, as the Golden Rule is more central and more important than anything I will ever have to say. All religion should mobilise around this principle, in my (very strongly held) view.
There are many ways to express the principle and Armstrong more-or-less uses the word 'compassion' to mean what I have often meant by 'empathy' (I note they are both rooted in the word pathos). I admit I still love the King James version, "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you," (Matthew 7:12) for its positive thrust ('do the good thing' rather than 'don't do the bad thing') and its literary elegance. The Parliament of the World's Religions also proclaims the principle in its positive form: "We must treat others as we wish others to treat us." The House of Every will sign that; no worries.
The Charter for Compassion is an expanded and very well considered version of the Golden Rule. Before I go further, here is the text:
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 indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.Karen Armstrong did not write this Charter alone but she did initiate the process which brought it about, and she did so from (in my view to date) a very sound, informed, modern theological position. One thing I love about it is that it was done via the secular and academic TED foundation, and then engaged a very broad and global religious alliance, just as if there was no contradiction in doing so, which there's not. The 'Council of Conscience' who reviewed hundreds of thousands of submissions and comments, are responsible for the final draft. It includes some extraordinary people.
I don't want to say much more as I want the document to speak for itself. But I shall draw attention to one thing which for me distinguishes this document from many 'calls to compassion'. It is a critical document. That is, the call is not for us to ignore obnoxious beliefs for the sake of 'harmony', but to test all of our ideology according to the test of compassion, and to be critical of spiteful, demeaning or chauvinistic forms of engagement wherever we observe it. Compassion is a criteria for good theology. In Armstrong's own words, "Any ideology that preaches hatred, suspicion or exclusion is failing the test of our time."
It is my deepest prayer that the House of Every, wherever it may go, passes this test.
Theological questions are begged of course. If a religion is resulting in judgement and violence, we may have evidence thereby that there is a theological problem but, apart from the absence of compassion, where did it go wrong? This is the material of other sermons past and future.
Although The House is at this stage merely an idea rather than an actual religion, The House of Every endorses the Charter for Compassion 100% and has a view to not merely promote it but to discover means to enact it. I have personally added my name to it and encourage others to do so, to promote it and to encourage the leaders of their institutions to do so as well. This is not fluffy stuff. This is high stakes material with compelling universal importance.
I have no doubt I'll talk more about Karen Armstrong in the future. I think I should read a few of her books first, and I intend to. But already I find myself looking up to her as an elder of Everything, a teacher I can learn enormously from and be challenged by for a long time. Apart from her religious knowledge, her various accolades, publications and achievements, which are formidable enough, she asks the big questions, without illusions. I dearly hope she doesn't mind me naming her an honourary teacher of Every.
Here's another song from the 'Playing for Change' people. I just love them. Enjoy.