Reflections from Pastor Erik: The Charter

Several years ago, I was introduced to Karen Armstrong, a leading author on the history of religion. We were both at the Chautauqua Institute in New York: her for a speaking engagement, and me to meet with other young clergy. While there, Armstrong took time to meet with our clergy group for an afternoon to discuss her new project, the Charter for Compassion.

Since then, I have enjoyed reading several of Armstrong’s books. But for me, the Charter is her most significant work. It is timely, and yet it is timeless. It reminds us what religion is meant to be, and what it is not. So, this month, I share the Charter with you here. Read, reflect, and embrace compassion.

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.

 You can learn more about the Charter at charterforcompassion.org.