Karen Armstrong

Karen
Armstrong
1944

British Author and Commentator on Comparative Religion, formerly Roman Catholic Sister

Author Quotes

Of the millions of people we might call fundamentalists in all these major religions, only a tiny, tiny proportion take part in acts of terror or violence. The vast majority are simply trying to live what they regard as a good religious life in a world that seems increasingly hostile to religion.

Some people simply bury their heads in the sand and refuse to think about the sorrow of the world, but this is an unwise course, because, if we are entirely unprepared, the tragedy of life can be devastating.

Theology is-- or should be-- a species of poetry, which read quickly or encountered in a hubbub of noise makes no sense. You have to open yourself to a poem with a quiet, receptive mind, in the same way you might listen to a difficult piece of music... If you seize upon a poem and try to extort its meaning before you are ready, it remains opaque. If you bring your own personal agenda to bear upon it, the poem will close upon itself like a clam, because you have denied its unique and separate identity, its inviolate holiness.

Well, the idea of God as a supreme being means that he is simply like us, writ large, and just bigger and better, the end product of the series; whereas this divine personality that we meet in the Bible was, for centuries, regarded simply as a symbol of a greater transcendence that lay beyond it.

Pain is something that's common to human life. When we ignore it, we aren't engaging in the whole reality, and the pain begins to fester.

Storytelling is fine as long as you can encourage people to act on the stories.

There are some forms of religion that are bad, just as there's bad cooking or bad art or bad sex, you have bad religion too.

Western liberal humanism is not something that comes naturally to us: like an appreciation of art or poetry, it has to be cultivated. Humanism is itself a religion without God?not all religions, of course, are theistic. Our ethical secular ideal has it's own disciplines of mind and heart and gives people the means of finding faith in the ultimate meaning of human life that were once provided by the more conventional religions.

Pascal's scientific achievements, therefore, did not give him much confidence in the human condition. When he contemplated the immensity of the universe, he was scared stiff:

Surely it's better to love others, however messy and imperfect the involvement, than to allow one's capacity for love to harden.

There is a danger in monotheism, and it's called idolatry. And we know the prophets of Israel were very, very concerned about idolatry, the worship of a human expression of the divine. Not just a statue, but simply even an idea or a thought about God. And there's always a danger that we will mistake this symbol for the absolute, for the reality to which it's supposed to point.

What seems wrong to you is right for him. What is poison to one is honey to someone else. Purity and impurity, sloth and diligence in worship, these mean nothing to Me. I am apart from all that. Ways of worshipping are not to be ranked as better or worse than one another. Hindus do Hindu things. The Dravidian Muslims in India do what they do. It's all praise, and it's all right. It's not I that's glorified in acts of worship. It's the worshippers! I don't hear the words they say. I look inside at the humility. That broken-open lowliness is the Reality, not the language! Forget phraseology. I want burning, burning. Be Friends with your burning. Burn up your thinking and your forms of expression!

People worship different things; there must be 'no coercion in matters of faith!

The causes of warfare and violence, often hatred and greed and fear, all too often it's true. These self-serving emotions have often been given a religious justification. And yet, each one of the major faiths, I discovered, has at its core the ethic of compassion. Every single one of them has developed its own version of the Golden Rule, never to treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself, and has said that this is the test of spirituality; that it is this which takes us beyond the prism of ego and selfishness and greed, that enables us to enter into our best selves and into the presence of what some have called God, others Nirvana, Brahmin or Dao. And yet, so often you don't hear about it. Often when religious leaders come together they talk about a particular sexual ethic or an abstrused doctrine, as though this, rather than compassion, was the test of spiritual life. And yet it seems to me, quite clear, that unless we now learn to implement the Golden Rule globally so that we treat all peoples, all nations, as we would wish to be treated ourselves, we're not going to have a viable world. This is the task of our time, to build a global community where people of all persuasions can live together in harmony and respect.

There is no ascent to the heights without prior descent into darkness, no new life without some form of death.

When I see the blind and wretched state of man, when I survey the whole universe in its dumbness and man left to himself with no light, as though lost in this corner of the universe, without knowing who put him there, what he has come to do, what will become of him when he dies, incapable of knowing anything, I am moved to terror, like a man transported in his sleep to some terrifying desert island, who wakes up quiet lost with no means of escape. Then I marvel that so wretched a state does not drive people to despair.

Religion is a search for transcendence. But transcendence isn?t necessarily sited in an external god, which can be a very unspiritual, unreligious concept. The sages were all extremely concerned with transcendence, with going beyond the self and discovering a realm, a reality that could not be defined in words. Buddhists talk about nirvana in very much the same terms as monotheists describe God.

The constant reprimands made me hyperconscious of my own performance, and so instead of getting rid of self, I had become embedded in the egoism I was supposed to transcend. Now I was beginning to understand that a silence that is not clamorous with vexation and worried self-regard can become part of the texture of your mind, can seep into you, moment by moment, and gradually change you.

There is something wrong with any spirituality that does not inspire selfless concern for others.

When the horror recedes and the world resumes its normal shape, you cannot forget it. You have seen what is really there, the empty horror that exists when the consoling illusion of our mundane experience is stripped away, so you can never respond to the world in quite the same way again. from Coleridge: Like one, that on a lonesome road Doth walk in fear and dread, And having once turned round walks on, And turns no more his head; Because he knows, a frightful fiend Doth close behind him tread

Religion is not about accepting twenty impossible propositions before breakfast, but about doing things that change you. It is a moral aesthetic, an ethical alchemy. If you behave in a certain way, you will be transformed. The myths and laws of religion are not true because they they conform to some metaphysical, scientific or historical reality but because they are life enhancing. They tell you how human nature functions, but you will not discover their truth unless you apply these myths and doctrines to your own life and put them into practice.

The endless speculation about the next world is depriving you of a great experience in this one.

This was the scientific age, and people wanted to believe that their traditions were in line with the new era, but this was impossible if you thought that these myths should be understood literally. Hence the furor occasioned by The Origin of Species, published by Charles Darwin. The book was not intended as an attack on religion, but was a sober exploration of a scientific hypothesis. But because by this time people were reading the cosmogonies of Genesis as though they were factual, many Christians felt--and still feel--that the whole edifice of faith was in jeopardy. Creation stories had never been regarded as historically accurate; their purpose was therapeutic. But once you start reading Genesis as scientifically valid, you have bad science and bad religion.

When violence becomes imbedded in a region, then this affects everything. It affects your dreams, your fantasies and relationships, and your religion becomes violent, too.

Religion is supposed to be about the loss of the ego, not about its eternal survival.

Author Picture
First Name
Karen
Last Name
Armstrong
Birth Date
1944
Bio

British Author and Commentator on Comparative Religion, formerly Roman Catholic Sister