iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong

Posted: November 12, 2009 01:16 PM

Perhaps every generation feels that it is standing at a crossroads of history, but our problems seem increasingly intractable. Our financial institutions are in crisis; there is a growing and shameful gap between rich and poor; our world is dangerously polarized and in the Middle East there are signs that people are losing faith in the ordinary political process; and our hearts are filled by the tragedy of Fort Hood. Sometimes it is easy to lose heart but we simply cannot afford to do so. We need dedicated action to turn the situation round.

One of the chief tasks of our generation is to build a global society where peoples of all persuasions can live together in peace and mutual respect. And the faith traditions, which are often seen as part of the problem, should be making a major contribution to this endeavor. Every single one of the world faiths has developed its own version of the Golden Rule ("Always treat all others as you would wish to be treated yourself") and insists that this -- not orthodox belief or ritual devotion -- is the test of true spirituality and that it is this that brings us into relation with what we call God, Nirvana, Brahman or Dao. The only way we can create a just and viable world is to apply the Golden Rule globally, so that we treat all nations, all peoples, as we would wish to be treated ourselves and create a global democracy, where all voices are heard and taken as seriously as those of the rich and powerful.

But all too often the voices of religious extremists drown those that speak of compassion, the disciplined effort to put oneself in somebody else's shoes and 'experience with' the other. All the faith traditions insist that you cannot confine your benevolence to your own group. You must have "concern for everybody," honor the stranger and love even those we regard as enemies. We need to make the compassionate voice of religion a potent force in our troubled world, develop a religious and moral discourse to counter those that speak of hatred and disdain.

The Charter is essentially a call to translate the Golden Rule into practical, positive action. It will empower those who object to the hijacking of faith by extremism. It will enable people of moderate views to work together. At a time when the religions are popularly seen to be at loggerheads, the Charter is a cooperative project. Thousands of people from all over the world contributed to the Charter on a multilingual website: it is a grassroots movement not imposed from above. The Charter was put together by a panel of leading thinkers in six different traditions: they took the public's findings very seriously. We now have over 100 partners worldwide, who have their own website and will be able to network and share ideas and projects in the future. As the Charter is launched, 135 events focusing on compassion are taking place all over the world.

At this moment of history, we have a choice: we can either emphasize those aspects of our traditions, be they religious or secular, which breed hatred, chauvinism and exclusion, or we can bring to the fore those that stress the importance of compassion and the Golden Rule. The launch is only the beginning.