Karen Armstrong

Karen
Armstrong
1944

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

Author Quotes

I am not interested in the afterlife. Religion is supposed to be about losing your ego, not preserving it eternally in optimum conditions.

If we want to preserve our humanity, we must make the compassionate voice of religion and morality a vibrant and dynamic force in our polarized world. We can no longer afford the barbarism of hatred, contempt and disgust. At the same time as we are so perilously divided, we are drawn together electronically, economically and politically more closely than ever before. A Quran burning, whenever it is held (it appears to have been delayed for questionable reasons by the pastor behind it), would endanger American troops in Afghanistan and send shock waves of distress throughout the Muslim world. In an age when, increasingly, small groups will have powers of destruction that were previously the preserve only of the nation-state, respect and compassion are now crucial for our very survival. We have to learn to make a place for the other in our minds and hearts; any ideology that inspires hatred, exclusion and division is failing the test of our time. Hatred breeds more hatred, violence more violence. It is time to break this vicious cycle.

Like art, religion is an imaginative and creative effort to find a meaning and value in human life.

All religions are designed to teach us how to live, joyfully, serenely, and kindly, in the midst of suffering.

Do not attach yourself in an exclusive manner to any one creed, so that you disbelieve all the rest: if you do this, you will miss much good; nay, you will fail to realize 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" (Quran 2.109). Everyone praises what he believes; his god is his own creature, and in praising it he praises himself. Consequently he blames the beliefs of others, which he would not do if he were just but his dislike is based on ignorance. It is time to combat the ignorance that inspires hatred and fear. We have seen the harm religious chauvinism can do; now let us bear witness to the power of compassion.

I believe in holiness and sacredness in other people. It doesn't mean that the clouds part and I see God. That's a juvenile way of thinking about it.

If your understanding of the divine made you kinder, more empathetic, and impelled you to express sympathy in concrete acts of loving-kindness, this was good theology. But if your notion of God made you unkind, belligerent, cruel, of self-righteous, or if it led you to kill in God's name, it was bad theology.

Look into your own heart, discover what it is that gives you pain and then refuse, under any circumstance whatsoever, to inflict that pain on anybody else.

All religious language must reach beyond itself into a sort of silent awe, and it was all too easy to end - stop it and say that, well, God is a bit like us writ large, with likes and dislikes similar to our own. And when the Crusaders went into battle in the Middle Ages to kill Jews and Muslims, they cried out: God wills it. This was their battle cry.

Each of the world religions has its own particular genius, its own special insight into the nature and requirements of compassion, and has something unique to teach us.

I believe that what we have is now. The religions say you can experience eternity in this life, here and now, by getting those moments of ecstasy where time ceases to be a constraint. And you do it by the exercise of the Golden Rule and by compassion. And just endless speculation about the next world is depriving you of a great experience in this one.

In [the] early days, Muslims did not see Islam as a new, exclusive religion but as a continuation of the primordial faith of the ?People of the Book?, the Jews and Christians. In one remarkable passage, God insists that Muslims must accept indiscriminately the revelations of every single one of God?s messengers: Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Moses, Jesus and all the other prophets. The Qur?an is simply a ?confirmation? of the previous scriptures. Nobody must be forced to accept Islam, because each of the revealed traditions had its own din; it was not God?s will that all human beings should belong to the same faith community. God was not the exclusive property of any one tradition; the divine light could not be confined to a single lamp, belonged neither to the East or to the West, but enlightened all human beings. Muslims must speak courteously to the People of the Book, debate with them only in ?the most kindly manner?, remember that they worshipped the same God, and not engage in pointless, aggressive disputes.

Mohammed was not an apparent failure. He was a dazzling success, politically as well as spiritually, and Islam went from strength to strength to strength.

And sometimes it's the very otherness of a stranger, someone who doesn't belong to our ethnic or ideological or religious group, an otherness that can repel us initially, but which can jerk us out of our habitual selfishness, and give us intonations of that sacred otherness, which is God.

Even before 9/11 I was gripped by a sense of dread: our lack of criticism about what we were doing in the Middle East - the slagging off of a whole religious tradition.

I had failed to make a gift of myself to God.

In the holy city of Mecca, violence of any kind was forbidden. From the moment they left home, pilgrims were not permitted to carry weapons, to swat an insect or speak an angry word, a discipline that introduced them to a new way of living.

My favorite Golden Rule story belongs to Hillel, the great Pharisee, who was an older contemporary of Jesus. And it said that a pagan came to Hillel one day and promised to convert to Judaism on condition that Hillel could recite the whole of Jewish teaching while he stood on one leg. And Hillel stood on one leg and said that which is hateful to you do not to your fellow man. That is the Torah, and everything else is only commentary. Go and study it. That's a remarkable statement. I mean no mention of the things that we would assume to be central to Judaism, like the existence of God, there being only one God, the creation of the world in six days, the exodus from Egypt, the 631 commandments of the Torah. All these are simply a gloss, a commentary, on the Golden Rule?a deliberately provocative statement. And then at the end, as always in Jewish exegesis, a miqra, a call to action, go and study it. In your study of scripture, make sure that when you read your scripture you make it a commentary on the Golden Rule instead of just picking out bits of hatred here and exclusion there.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, every single leading Muslim intellectual was in love with the west, and wanted their countries to look just like Britain and France.

Even though the disciples were not aware of it, the presence was with them while they were reviewing the scriptures together on the road. Henceforth, we will catch only a fleeting glimpse of it -- in the study of sacred writings, in other human beings, in liturgy, and in communion with strangers. But these moments remain us that our fellow men and women are themselves sacred; there is something about them that is worthy of absolute reverence, is in the last resort mysterious, and we will always elude us.

I have a very sharp tongue, I'm very impatient, and it's a lifelong struggle.

In the past some of the most influential Jewish, Christian and Muslim theologians, such as Maimonides, Aquinas and Ibn Sina, made it clear that it was very difficult to speak about God, because when we confront the ultimate, we are at the end of what words or thoughts can do.

My work has continually brought me back to the notion of compassion. Whichever religious tradition I study, I find at the heart of it is the idea of feeling with the other, experiencing with the other, compassion. And every single one of the major world religions has developed its own version of the Golden Rule. Don't do to others what you would not like them to do to you. . . . Compassion doesn't mean feeling sorry for people. It doesn't mean pity. It means putting yourself in the position of the other, learning about the other. Learning what's motivating the other, learning about their grievances.

Auschwitz was a dark epiphany, providing us with a terrible vision of what life is like when all sense of the sacred is lost and the human being--whoever he or she may be--is no longer revered as an inviolable mystery.

Eventually, with regret, I left the religious life, and, once freed of the burden of failure and inadequacy, I felt my belief in God slip quietly away. He had never really impinged upon my life, though I had done my best to enable him to do so. Now that I no longer felt so guilty and anxious about him, he became too remote to be a reality.

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

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