As she accepts her 2008 TED Prize, author and scholar Karen Armstrong talks about how the Abrahamic religions — Islam, Judaism, Christianity — have been diverted from the moral purpose they share to foster compassion. But Armstrong has seen a yearning to change this fact. People want to be religious, she says; we should act to help make religion a force for harmony. She asks the TED community to help her build a Charter for Compassion — to help restore the Golden Rule as the central global religious doctrine.


  1. #1 Richard
    April 2, 2008

    I’m not a fan of Armstrong’s scholarship — in fact I have come to be very skeptical of it because she has an agenda that flows through all of her books. That agenda is to emphasize the liberal-humanist aspects of the particular faith in question, arguing that that is the “true” characteristic of that religion, and the nastier bits are a corruption. If she had a blog, it would be called “Framing Religion”. If, as she says, “religion has been hijacked”, I would ask her, when has it not been so? Lately, her goal has been to buffer religion from the onslaught of the uppity atheists, and from Dawkins in particular. I’m afraid she is just another apologist.

  2. #2 Jim Thomerson
    April 2, 2008

    There is the real golden rule “Them as has the gold, they makes the rules.” But I suppose she is referring to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This sounds good and works well within a culture, but it is narrow and ethnocentric. It assumes that everyone in the world wants to be treated as I want to be treated. That is not the case, and as globalization progresses, we will run into more and more situations where the golden rule should be, “Do unto others as they want to be done unto.”

  3. #3 paiwan
    April 3, 2008

    If the analog of religion as a tree, and politics as the wind, the natural phenomenon as the foundation of civilization; when the wind blows hard, the big tree waves tremendously. Chinese proverb says that is a common phenomenon. The big tree maybe would have died and has been born again like Hinduism to Buddhism, Judaism to Christianity; nevertheless many small trees had stayed or perished without much notice.

    Religion as a tree has seed and soil to grow up. In the future, religions are diversifying and evolving based on soil types. Wind as challenge is to make religion growing stronger; the transplanted trees look tall but very vulnerable- such as the evangelical Christianity in developing countries in Asia.

    Atheism dislike trees, therefore they plant grasses. It is OK. Some vicious atheists deny the need to have plants on this earth; they cut everything, but never plant something, eventually the place convert into desert- an obsolete civilization.

    Anticipate the coming of recovery of religions with diversity, no kidding!

  4. #4 Russell Blackford
    April 3, 2008

    In other words, try to be kind.

    But you don’t need religion to tell you that, and the main feature of religious morality is that it is so often cruel.

    So often, religion teaches that there are objectives that are more important than being kind. The biggest religious cults – Islam and Roman Catholicism – have been especially bad in that regard, but the same applies to plenty of others. Too often, dubious virtues such piety, chastity, self-abnegation, or sexual modesty are considered important, while kindness takes a back seat. Too often, the dubious “interests” of entities (such as blastocysts) that cannot feel joy or suffering or fear or hope are elevated over those of actual suffering human beings. Too often, the barbaric ideas of morality preserved in the words of holy books and religious traditions are allowed to prevail over considerations of what might actually reduce suffering in the world.

    There are many reasons to be cynical about religion, and I don’t think there’s much that Karen Armstrong can do about it.

  5. #5 paiwan
    April 3, 2008

    The development of civilization is directing at that all religions will be judged under the same measures. The past religious programs and performances would be public treasure of human beings. This treasure includes the mistake and the path; all would be the symbol and a path for us to create.

    For instance, “Thy Kingdom come!” is the symbol that nothing is perfect now, nevertheless we put the hope that all the human beings can cry directly to the founding Spirit who is ahead of us to inspire us to go forwards to receive the perfect realization together.

    So, my point is instead of going atheism, we need to have the courage to experiment and syntherize; sort of the encouragement to respect the religious experiences here and now.

    The respect includes doing unto others and kind and humble, of course.

  6. #6 FO
    April 3, 2008

    Unfortunately paiwan, for a lot of people “Thy kingdom come!” actually comes closer to “Let God come and rain fire and brimstone on the heathens (read: everyone but us)!!!” or “Slaughter them all!!!”.

    If you say you have the courage to “experiment and synthesize”, why not “experiment” by being an atheist for, say, a year? Then you can come back and lecture us all on the evils of atheism.

    PS: My one year as an atheist was far more “spiritually” fulfilling than my 15 years as a Xian.

  7. #7 paiwan
    April 3, 2008

    FO: Thanks for the comment.
    First, I would like to state that I didn’t use evil this term. We assume that people both from religious and atheist stances have decent and vicious performances.

    In fact, I stated that the same measures would judge all religions, perhaps applied to atheists as well.

    My stance perhaps had many years as an agnostic, and now I believe that all religions should serve the humanity and are entitled to have the common ground. For instance, the monks in Burma have demonstrated a living faith last December by showing their courage of suffering for Burmese people in spite of the threat of being killed.

    If I could use the analog of family planning (birth control) to describe the situation of religious impact and development; birth control is effective in developed communities, not so well in less educated communities. Atheism movement now prevails in democratic communities but not in coercively religious communities. Even Catholic has surveyed and reported that the population of Catholic is behind Muslim’s.

    I thought that everyone has different journey in developing individual spiritual growth, I admitted that decent atheism is one of the paths.

    The case of Burmese monks has inspired many people which include me to look at the positive side of spontaneous religious contribution, especially in the places where people have encountered despair. They deserve the encouragements from global communities; the latest example perhaps could extend to Tibet.

    I look forwards to the reconciliation development and ever more convergent coherency between science and religion groups, especially the debate of creation and evolution in the United States. Hopefully the outcome would bring the best benefits for the majority. I guess that this was K.Armstrong’s intention also.

  8. #8 dan
    November 9, 2009

    I see religion not as a tree but like a fence. It is constructed by man to keep men thinking the proper way. The winds come and knock it down and somebody else builds a bigger and stronger fence. Some atheists might want to knock down a fence or so people will be free to think what they will but mostly they don’t care how people fence in their minds as long as they leave them alone.