The one thing needful

I was amused to see that former bishop Richard Holloway has the same objection to Karen Armstrong’s book on compassion that I do.

The bishop:

The second plank in her platform is that compassion is, as it were, the distilled essence of the world’s great religions…

But is she correct in suggesting that, au fond, the essence of the main religions boils down to compassion? It is probably correct where Buddhism is concerned and it is from Buddhism that her best insights and examples come. I think she is on shakier ground when she applies it to Christianity and Islam. Christianity and Islam are redemption religions, not wisdom religions. They exist to secure life in the world to come for their followers and any guidance they offer on living in this world is always with a view to its impact on the next.

Yer humble servant:

The categorical assertion of the Charter for Compassion is very strong: “The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical, and spiritual traditions.” The problem with that should be obvious: it is not true. The principle of obedience to God lies at the heart of many religious traditions, and it is a modern illusion to think that is identical to compassion.

See? Same thing. Redemption religions; obedience to God. The important (really very important indeed) point is that there is something in religions of that type that trumps (earthly) compassion. That means it’s just a mistake, and a dangerous one, to pretend otherwise.

Meanwhile, comment on the New Humanist review, so that Caspar will think I’m wildly popular and ask me to do more reviews.

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