Karen Armstrong


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

Author Quotes

Fundamentalism represents a rebellion against modern secular society, the separation of religion and politics. Basically, fundamentalists want to drag religion and/or God from the sidelines to which they've been relegated in modern secular society and bring them back to center stage. And, in this, they've enjoyed considerable success in some ways, though in other ways... it can represent a defeat for religion.

If it is written and read with serious attention, 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.

It was not the weather religious rituals in the world before the modern product of religious ideas but on the contrary was the product of ideas ritual

A personalized God can be a mere idol carved in our own image- a projection of our limited needs, fears, and desires. We can assume that he loves what we love and hates what we hate, endorsing our prejudices instead of compelling us to transcend them. When he seems to fail to prevent a catastrophe or seems even to desire a tragedy, he can seem callous and cruel. A facile belief that a disaster is the will of God can make us accept things that are fundamentally unacceptable. The very fact, as a person, God has a gender is also limiting: It means that the sexuality of half the human race is sacralized at the expense of the female and can lead to neurotic and inadequate imbalance in human sexual mores. A personal God can be dangerous, therefore. Instead of pulling us beyond our limitations, he can encourage us to remain complacently within them; he can make us cruel, callous, self-satisfied and partial as he seems to be. Instead of inspiring the compassion that should characterize all advanced religions, he can encourage us to judge, condemn, and marginalize.

Compassion is not a popular virtue. Very often when I talk to religious people, and mention how important it is that compassion is the key, that it's the sine-qua-non of religion, people look kind of balked, and stubborn sometimes, as much to say, what's the point of having religion if you can't disapprove of other people?

Fundamentalists are not friends of democracy. And that includes your fundamentalists in the United States.

If professional religious leaders cannot instruct us in mythological lore, our artists and creative writers can perhaps step into this priestly role and bring fresh insight to our lost and damaged role.

It's a great event to get outside and enjoy nature. I find it very exciting no matter how many times I see bald eagles.

A theology should be like poetry, which takes us to the end of what words and thoughts can do.

Compassion is the key in Islam and Buddhism and Judaism and Christianity. They are profoundly similar.

Geniuses are not always pleasant people.

If this God is omnipotent, he could prevented the Holocaust. If he was unable to stop it, he is impotent and useless; if he could have stopped it and chose not to, he is a monster.

Jesus did not spend a great deal of time discoursing about the trinity or original sin or the incarnation, which have preoccupied later Christians. He went around doing good and being compassionate.

After a time I found that I could almost listen to the silence, which had a dimension all of its own. I started to attend to its strange and beautiful texture, which of course, it was impossible to express in words. I discovered that I felt at home and alive in the silence, which compelled me to enter my interior world and around there. Without the distraction of constant conversation, the words on the page began to speak directly to my inner self. They were no long expressing ideas that were simply interesting intellectually, but were talking directly to my own yearning and perplexity.

Confucius said, it's quite simple, you seek to establish yourself, then seek to establish others. You want to turn your merits to account, then make certain that other people also have the ability to turn their merits to account. Never treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself. And that, he said, has brought you into the presence of the Dao. I'd like to call your attention to the phrase "all day and every day." In England we have a habit of when we've done something nice for somebody, we often say, well that's my good deed for the day, as though we could then return to the next 23 hours to our usual lives of selfishness and greed and ego. But no, all day and every day putting yourself in the shoes of others.

He was decisive and wholehearted in everything he did, so intent on the task at hand that he never looked over his shoulder, even if his cloak got caught in a thorny bush. When he did turn to speak to somebody, he used to swing his entire body and dress him full face. When he shook hands, he was never the first to withdraw his own. He inspired such confidence that he was known as al-Amin, the Reliable One.

If we don?t manage to implement the Golden Rule globally, so that we treat all peoples, wherever and whoever they may be, as though they were as important as ourselves, I doubt that we?ll have a viable world to hand on to the next generation.

Jewish, Christian, and Muslim theologians have insisted for centuries that God does not exist and that there is 'nothing' out there; in making these assertions, their aim was not to deny the reality of God but to safeguard God's transcendence.

After I left the convent, for 15 years I was worn out with religion, I wanted nothing whatever to do with it. I felt disgusted with it. If I saw someone reading a religious book on a train, I'd think, how awful.

Dawkins is an extreme exponent of the scientific naturalism, originally formulated by d?Holbach, that has now become a major worldview among intellectuals. More moderate versions of this scientism have been articulated by Carl Sagan, Steven Weinberg, and Daniel Dennett, who have all claimed that one has to choose between science and faith. For Dennett, theology has been rendered superfluous, because biology can provide a better explanation of why people are religious. But for Dawkins, like the other new atheists ? Sam Harris, the young American philosopher and student of neuroscience, and Christopher Hitchens, critic and journalist ? religion is the cause of the problems of our world; it is the source of absolute evil and poisons everything. They see themselves in the vanguard of a scientific/rational movement that will eventually expunge the idea of God from human consciousness. But other atheists and scientists are wary of this approach. The American zoologist Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) followed Monod in his discussion of the implications of evolution. Everything in the natural world could indeed be explained by natural selection, but Gould insisted that science was not competent to decide whether God did or did not exist, because it could only work with natural explanations. Gould had no religious axe to grind; he described himself as an atheistically inclined agnostic, but pointed out that Darwin himself had denied he was an atheist and that other eminent Darwinians - Asa Gray, Charles D. Walcott, G. G. Simpson, and Theodosius Dobzhansky - had been either practicing Christians or agnostics. Atheism did not, therefore, seem to be a necessary consequence of accepting evolutionary theory, and Darwinians who held forth dogmatically on the subject were stepping beyond the limitations that were proper to science.

Human beings have always been mythmakers.

If we want to create a viable, peaceful world, we've got to integrate compassion into the gritty realities of 21st century life.

Let's use our stories to encourage listening to one another and to hear not just the good news, but also the pain that lies at the back of a lot of people's stories and histories.

Alas, all traditions lose their primal purity and we all fail our founders.

Deeds that seemed unimportant at the time would prove to have been momentous; a tiny act of selfishness and unkindness or, conversely, an unconsidered act of generosity would become the measure of a human life

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