Last night I was fortunate enough to hear Karen Armstrong speak at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London. The occasion was the World Congress of Faiths' annual Younghusband lecture, and she spoke for an hour, entirely without notes, sharing her passionate belief in the sovereign importance of compassion as a force for good in the world.
Karen defined compassion as "the ability to dethrone yourself from the centre of your world and put another person there." This is promulgated in the Golden Rule, which was first formulated by Confucius in the 5th century BCE "Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself." Its positive counterpart appears in Matthew's Gospel, when Jesus says: "In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets." Most of the world's religions have their own version.
In 2008, Karen Armstrong won the TED prize - a sum of money and the means to make "a wish for a better world" come true. She knew immediately what she wanted to do. In her work as a religious writer and broadcaster, she had come to realise that the Golden Rule was a common thread running through all religions, but it didn't seem to be spoken about in the modern world much. So she determined to set up a Charter for Compassion "to restore compassion to the heart of religious and moral life." An invitation was sent out to leading theologians and religious thinkers from across the world's religions, and between them, they formulated the Charter for Compassion, which was launched in November 2009. Two short years later, it has over 80,000 signatories and nearly 200 Partner Organisations, including my own General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.
The message of the Charter for Compassion is one that all human beings should heed. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone followed it! If every person genuinely tried to behave to the rest of humankind with a concern and care for how they would feel. As it says in the Charter for Compassion "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." We live in a global community, and we need to recognise this, and put aside our petty differences and work to create a world in which all human beings can live together in peace and freedom.
Oh let us live to make it so.