Karen Armstrong

Karen
Armstrong
1944

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

Author Quotes

We have domesticated God's transcendence. We often learn about God at about the same time as we are learning about Santa Claus; but our ideas about Santa Claus change, mature and become more nuanced, whereas our ideas of God can remain at a rather infantile level.

Zionism was originally a rebellion against religious Judaism and the PLO Charter was essentially secularist. But because the conflict was allowed to fester without a resolution, religion got sucked into the escalating cycle of violence and became part of the problem.

Religious people often prefer to be right rather than compassionate. Often, they don't want to give up their egotism. They want their religion to endorse their ego, their identity.

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 honor the inviolable sanctity of every single human being treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

We have seen that a myth could never be approached in a purely profane setting. It was only comprehensible in a liturgical context that set it apart from everyday life; it must be experienced as part of a process of personal transformation. None, of this surely applies to the novel, which can be read anywhere at all without ritual trappings, and must, if it is any good, eschew the overtly didactic. Yet the experience of reading a novel has certain qualities that remind us of the mythology. It can be seen as a form of mediation. Readers have to live with a novel for days or even weeks. It projects them into another world, parallel to but apart from their ordinary lives. They know perfectly well that this fictional realm is not 'real' and yet while they are reading it becomes compelling. A powerful novel becomes part of the backdrop of lives long after we have laid the book aside. It is an exercise of make-believe, that like yoga or a religious festival breaks down barriers of space and time and extends our sympathies to empathize with others? lives and sorrows. It teaches compassion, the ability to 'feel with' others. And, like mythology , an important novel is transformative. If we allow it do so, can change us forever.

Now, of course, God meant nothing of the sort, but what these Crusaders were doing were projecting onto an imaginary deity that they were creating in their own image and likeness, and giving him a seal of absolute approval. And today, terrorists do the same. So theologians and priests were very much alert to this. And so they devised spiritual exercises, not just for mystics, not just for an elite group, but for all the faithful to make them realize that when we talked about God, when we said God was good, we were doing this in a very inadequate way - that God couldn't be good like you or me, when we talk about a good person or a good meal or a good dog. We have an idea of what we're talking about, but God was, as the Muslims say, allah hu akbar - God is always greater than anything we can understand. And in the Quran, for example, God is continually saying, look, everything I'm saying to you is an ayia(ph), a parable, a sign. Even the great statements like paradise or talk about creation or the last judgment, these are ayia. They're parables, symbols of realities that we, with our finite, earthbound minds, can't grasp.

Respect only has meaning as respect for those with whom I do not agree.

The values of Islam are expressed by Muslims clearly. September 11 changed the world, and put Muslims on the spotlight.

We need myths that will help us to identify with all our fellow-beings, not simply with those who belong to our ethnic, national or ideological tribe. We need myths that help us to realize the importance of compassion, which is not always regarded as sufficiently productive or efficient in our pragmatic, rational world. We need myths that help us to create a spiritual attitude, to see beyond our immediate requirements, and enable us to experience a transcendent value that challenges our solipsistic selfishness. We need myths that help us to venerate the earth as sacred once again, instead of merely using it as a 'resource.' This is crucial, because unless there is some kind of spiritual revolution that is able to keep abreast of our technological genius, we will not save our planet.

Oedipus had to abandon his certainty, his clarity, and supposed insight in order to become aware of the dark ambiguity of the human condition.

Saint Augustine? insisted that scripture taught nothing but charity. Whatever the biblical author may have intended, any passage that seemed to preach hatred and was not conducive to love must be interpreted allegorically and made to speak of charity.

Theologians in all the great faiths have devised all kinds of myths to show that this type of kenosis, of self-emptying, is found in the life of God itself. They do not do this because it sounds edifying, but because this is the way that human nature seems to work. We are most creative and sense other possibilities that transcend our ordinary experience when we leave ourselves behind.

Well, logos is science or reason, something that helps us to function practically and effectively in the world, and it must therefore be closely in tune and reflect accurately the realities of the world around us.

A God who kept tinkering with the universe was absurd; a God who interfered with human freedom and creativity was tyrant. If God is seen as a self in a world of his own, an ego that relates to a thought, a cause separate from its effect. He becomes a being, not Being itself. An omnipotent, all?knowing tyrant is not so different from earthly dictators who make everything and everybody mere cogs in the machine which they controlled. An atheism that rejects such a God is amply justified.

Clashes and vitriol only make it worse. I think what we must learn to do is to read the imagery. We need to analyze and understand the subtext.

For centuries, the Muslims were able to co-exist perfectly well with Jews and Christians in the Middle East.

Ibn al-Arabi gave this advice: Do not attach yourself to any particular creed exclusively, so that you may disbelieve all the rest; otherwise you will lose much good, nay, you will fail to recognize the real truth of the matter. God, the omnipresent and omnipotent, is not limited by any one creed, for he says, 'Wheresoever ye turn, there is the face of Allah' (Koran 2:109). Everyone praises what he believes; his god is his own creature, and in praising it he praises himself. Consequently, he blames the disbelief of others, which he would not do if he were just, but his dislike is based on ignorance.

It is always tempting to try to shut out the suffering that is an inescapable part of the human condition, but once it has broken through the cautionary barricades we have erected against it, we can never see the world in the same way again.

A love that is based on the goodness of those whom you love is a mercenary affair.

Compassion doesn't, of course, mean feeling sorry for people, or pity, which is how the word has become emasculated in a way.

For Dawkins, atheism is a necessary consequence of evolution. He has argued that the religious impulse is simply an evolutionary mistake, a ?misfiring of something useful?, it is a kind if virus, parasitic on cognitive systems naturally selected because they had enabled a species to survive.

If it is not tempered by compassion, and empathy, reason can lead men and women into a moral void.

It is, therefore, a mistake to regard myth as an inferior mode of thought, which can be cast aside when human beings have attained the age of reason. Mythology is not an early attempt at history, and does not claim that its tales are objective fact. Like a novel, an opera or a ballet, myth is make-believe; it is a game that transfigures our fragmented, tragic world, and helps us to glimpse new possibilities by asking 'what if?' -- a question which has also provoked some of our most important discoveries in philosophy, science and technology.

A novel, like a myth or any great work of art, can become an initiation that helps us to make a painful rite of passage from one phase of life, one state of mind, to another. A novel, like a myth, teaches us to see the world differently; it shows us how to look into our own hearts and to see our world from a perspective that goes beyond our own self-interest.

Compassion is a practically acquired knowledge, like dancing. You must do it and practice diligently day by day.

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

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