Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The task of our generation

I was listening to a fascinating podcast of the most recent Bill Moyers Journal. His guest is Karen Armstrong, a former Roman Catholic nun turned Islamic scholar and author of several bestsellers on religious themes (more info available here).

When she was researching her recent book The Bible: a Biography, a question formed in her mind: what if the Golden Rule were the lens used in interpreting scripture?

Well, this is one of the things that really intrigued me: how frequently the early rabbis, for example, in the Talmudic period, shortly after the death of Jesus, insisted that to any interpretation of scripture that read hatred or contempt for any single human being was illegitimate.

Rabbi Hillel, the older contemporary of Jesus, said that when asked to sum up the whole of Jewish teaching, while he stood on one leg, said, "The Golden Rule. That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the Torah. And everything else is only commentary. Now, go and study it."

St. Augustine said that scripture teaches nothing but charity. And if you come to a passage like the one you just read, that seems to preach hatred, you've got to give it an allegorical or metaphorical interpretation. And make it speak of charity.

Shades of Deuteronomy and the synoptic Gospels!

He answered,
‘You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart

and with all your soul,
and with all your strength,
and with all your mind;
and your neighbor as yourself.’
--Luke 10:27

Last year she received the TED prize, which grants $100,000 and a wish. Karen's wish was for "help with the creation, launch and propagation of a Charter for Compassion--crafted by a group of inspirational thinkers from the three Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and based on the fundamental principle of the Golden Rule."

She's getting her wish. Check it out.

The task of our generation,
whether we are religious people
or secular people,
is to build a global community
where people of all persuasions
can live together
in peace and harmony.

--Karen Armstrong


Cecilia said...

That's wonderful. Thanks C.

Pax, C.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I like that last quotation.