On November 12, 2009, a new Charter for Compassion was unveiled by writer, historian, and spiritual teacher Karen Armstrong to a global community poised to embrace this spiritual practice as a way of transforming ourselves and our world. The Charter aims to restore not only compassionate thinking but, more importantly, compassionate action to the center of religious, moral and political life. Compassion is the principled determination to put ourselves in the shoes of the other; it lies at the heart of all religious and ethical systems.
The challenge faced by all human beings is, according to Armstrong, "to withstand the me-first mechanisms of the old reptilian brain." Easier said than done, as many religious and spiritual practitioners have discovered over the centuries. She believes humans have natural capacities both for cruelty and for compassion. She hopes that the Charter for Compassion can provide the spur to retraining ourselves to be more loving, empathetic, and kind.
In Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence, Armstrong sets out to refute the erroneous notion that "religion has been the cause of all major wars in history." In part she is addressing the New Atheist writers, such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, but mostly she is speaking to the general reader who is depressed and sickened by the fanaticism that drives genocide, the killing fields, the senseless wars, murderous crusades, and jihads.
What lies behind the bloody insanity that animates human beings to do such atrocious things to each other? In 400 pages of detailed and astute commentary, Armstrong sails through 7,000 years of history and mythology from Gilgamesh to the present-day war on terrorism revealing the complex relationships between all the world's religions and violence. "Modern society has made a scapegoat of faith," she writes, whereas the real culprits are the politics, power plays, and the human ego with its bloodlust and "reptilian ruthlessness." What we are witnessing in the 21st century is a religiosity of war that dominates both America and its enemies, specifically Muslim terrorists who act upon a warped view of global jihad. Both sides are imprisoned in a dualistic battle of "us versus them."
Armstrong concludes on a note of hope with these words:
"When we confront the violence of our time, it is natural to harden our hearts to the global pain and deprivation that makes us feel uncomfortable, depressed, and frustrated. Yet we must find ways to contemplating these distressing facts of modern life, or we will lose the best part of our humanity. Somehow we have to find ways of doing what religion — at its best — has done for centuries: build a sense of global community, cultivate a sense of reverence and 'equanimity' for all, and take responsibility for the suffering we see in the world. We are all, religious and secularist alike, responsible for the current predicament of the world."