I have aways liked the description of a humanist outlook as one based on evidence, reason and compassion. The compassion is particularly important because, as humans, we need more than just to know the world. We also need a way of relating to each other and to other species. I think that compassion is an inherent quality of humanity – and probably of many other species.
Compassion is not dependent on specific political, religious or philosophical beliefs. In fact, a world view that argued otherwise would, by definition, not be compassionate. How could you be compassionate if you deny this attitude to other humans?
This idea for a charter was explained by Karen Armstrong in her 2008 TED Prize wish.
“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.”
On the surface this appears noble and I have no doubt about Armstrong’s sincerety. But why restrict the writers of the Charter to just “Judaism, Christianity and Islam?”
Armstrong calls for nominations “of religious leaders, from all three monotheisms, who will agree to this charter and add their signature.”
Are not people from other traditions compassionate? Is the Dalai Lama not compassionate? Are the great atheist and humanist thinkers not compassionate? Should not leaders from all traditions, non-religious as well as religious, be involved in drafting and approving such a charter.
One of the contributors to the discussion of this wish made this very point (after nominating a number of non-religious thinkers):
“I’d love for religion to align with Karen’s vision! I think religion needs to be saved from itself. Karen’s vision is noble and out of alignment with a Fundamentalist view from any of the three religions. Most people that have left religion already align with her vision though. The people I’ve suggested are leaders of various alternatives to religion that are aligned with people’s needs, not with some imaginary God’s needs.”
“Many of the ideas and organizations for compassion and focus on people’s needs are coming out of the non-religious end of the spectrum. She should reach out to the people I’ve listed and include them in the dialogue in order to bring the trio of “violent” religions (in their fundamentalist incarnations) together to focus on compassion and seeing the other as self. Tapping them and including them will keep her wish and mission from being an exercise in exclusion”
I think this call for a Charter for Compassion suffers from the same exclusive approach that many “interfaith” actions do. At best they limit their effectiveness by denying a role to the non-religious (as for example in New Zealand’s Statement on Religious Diversity). At worst they can be used as a way of isolating, or campaigning against, the non-religious (for example Saudi Arabia King Abdullah’s Interfaith Dialogue to fight atheism).
Karen Armstrong’s wish blog
read a transcript
nominating 12 leaders to help write the charter
How should the right group of twelve leaders be chosen?
Charter For Compassion
Karen Armstrong – A case for compassionate religion and where it has gone wrong!
Freedom of expression and human rights
Interfaith dialogue to fight against human rights
Freedom of expression and offence – religious or otherwise
Beyond Tolerance – Toward Understanding and Respect
Religious diversity and human rights
Atheism and religious diversity I: Diversity in New Zealand
Human rights for the non-religious