When Karen Armstrong left the convent after 7 years, she was done with religion. The last thing she wanted was to be involved with religion ever again. British television sent Armstrong to Jerusalem however. There she encountered Judaism and Islam, and realized how little she knew about them. Armstrong began to investigate. It led to more than 21 books on religion and a transformation in her perspective on faith and religion.
According to Armstrong, religion has been regarded as an explosive element in politics since the age of Enlightenment. It was considered primarily responsible for the carnage of the so-called “Wars of Religion”, it was rigorously excluded from public life. This perception is now central to our secular consciousness in the West. Today Islam is depicted as an inherently violent faith and the main source of the terrorism that endangers us all.
But how accurate are these perceptions? Historians of warfare and experts on the phenomenon of terrorism have repeatedly insisted that other crucial factors are involved but their views are ignored by the popular media. We seem to be making what we call “religion” – a concept that needs decoding – a scapegoat for some less palatable truths. We are living in dangerous times and it is essential that we take all the ingredients of our current predicament into account and make a more accurate and rational assessment of the relationship between “religion” and violence.
Armstrong launched the Charter for Compassion as a global peace initiative in 2009. She says we tend to focus to much on doctrines or orthodoxy and too little on religion and faith as commitment to practice. In compassion, we feel with another person, as is highligthed by every religious tradition.
After Armstrong’s lecture “Is religion really violent” change agent Salmaan Sana, reverend Ad Alblas and Monica Neomagus van Stichting Handvest voor Compassie NL share how the Charter for Compassion inspired them.
Karen Armstrong is in The Netherlands to receive an honorary doctorate from VU University Amsterdam.