The Wellington Council of Christians and Jews held its public symposium on “Activating the Charter for Compassion in our Religions and Wider Society” on Wednesday 13 July 2011 at the Kilbirnie Mosque.
Karen Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion launched just over a year ago, and has received tremendous support globally. A simple document of 300 words, it reaffirms the “golden rule” – that we should treat other people as we would like to be treated – and expands this into the basis for building a compassionate world based on justice, equity, respect, nonviolence, diversity, and ultimately to enlightenment, a just economy, and a peaceful global community.
Three speakers were invited to address the audience on their perspectives from their own religious traditions on the charter. Below you’ll find audio recordings of the addresses, and summaries of the key points.
Rabbi Adi Cohen – Wellington Progressive Jewish Congregation
Recently arrived from Congregation Brit Olam in Israel where he was the congregational rabbi, Adi has taught courses in Jewish Law and Ethics, special education, and worked as a storyteller.
Listen to or download the audio:
- The Jewish ethos starts not with heroism and bravery, but rather with the story of an enslaved people rebuilding their identity, nationality and religion. We are also commanded that there is one law for the Jews and the people living among them. The take-out from this is that we are all human.
- We know that we are not perfect – one day a year, Yom Kippur, we ask God to forgive us, but we have forty days during the year when we stand in front of our fellow people to ask them for forgiveness. And every minute, every hour, we must face ourselves.
- A different perspective is given to us by Martin Luther King’s civil rights march at Selma. Next to him was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, walking with a Torah scroll in his hands. When asked, “What does a Jewish rabbi have to do in an Afro-American protest?” Heschel responded, “Today, we are praying with our legs”. We were once slaves, and we cannot take freedom for granted. We pay our price for freedom by standing up for the rights of others who are oppressed.
- In the Jewish world, we do not pray for evil people to perish from the earth, we pray for evil deeds to perish from the earth.
- In our tradition, there are many lists which tell us how to be a good person. One is in Micah [6:8], “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God”. There are many other lists, but none of these lists talk about worshipping, praying, holidays, or how we practice our religion. All of them talk about the way we treat each other. These are the deeds which we take from this world to the world to come.
- Each day we wake up and we pray that we are grateful for what we have. Each person comes to this world with a mission to do something, to heal something, but we don’t know what it is. So we need to do everything to the best of our abilities. “It is not for you to complete the work, nor are you free to desist from it.” Be being compassionate, and doing what we’re expected to do, together among all religions we can change the world a bit at a time.
Nick Borthwick and Daniel Eyre – NZ Catholic Bishops committee for Interfaith Relations
Daniel has a double degree in law and theology, and Nick works for Caritas, the Catholic agency for justice, peace and development.
Listen to or download the audio:
- The Charter transcends religious, ideological, and national difference, and activates the Golden Rule. In Christianity, the Golden Rule is embodied in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
- God sent Jesus to feel our suffering with us. He shows compassion to enemies and recognises the good in their hearts. All people can be compassionate, and have goodness, and one day the person you mistrust might be the person who saves you.
- The charter tries to activate the following principles within us:
- That no one is unworthy of compassion
- Everyone has compassion in their hearts regardless of their nationality or faith
- There is a selflessness in compassion that transcends any boundaries
- It is important to acknowledge, treasure, and learn from the steps that have already been taken toward making compassion the heart of our religious experiences, eg the works of Suzanne Aubert’s Sisters of Compassion
- The Charter asks us to acknowledge that “we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.” The Catholic Church acknowledges the failure of the church through the ages, and specific apologies and requests for forgiveness have been made for the role of the Catholics in slavery in Africa, the Spanish conquest of Latin America, the Holocaust, and local relations with indigenous peoples.
- Interfaith activities are an important way to reinforce the principles of the charter, sharing meals and getting to know each other, and standing in solidarity in the face of injustice. It is especially important to help educate our co-religionists about other faiths and the legitimacy of their faith and practice.
- Compassion must begin with us within our own communities. We must reclaim compassion from institutions.
- The criminal justice system is ripe with opportunities for us to show greater compassion to both perpetrators and victims. We should look to restorative justice as a better model.
Aarif Rasheed – The Centre for Interfaith Dialogue and Education (Auckland)
CIDE’s vision is to encourage “all community groups and individuals to participate in sincere and respectful discourse and dialogue and the inculcation in them of mutual respect and love towards other people.” In addition to his work at CIDE, Aarif is a Referee at the Disputes Tribunal, a Trustee at the Rasheed Memorial Trust, and an active member of Auckland’s Muslim community.
Listen to or download the audio:
- The starting point for all projects in our respective communities should be universality and a common textual reference, that textual reference being the charter
- We must look beyond servicing our own communities exclusively
- As humans we are created to learn from each other, for the benefit of human civilisation, not just from our own selves or or own community
- There is a concerted effort needed to revive the concept of properness in manners, behaviour, courtesy, and compassion in the interpersonal sense
- The other key area for work is care of children and the elderly. Today’s rat race is not conducive to neighbourly relations. We should be applying the principles of our faiths, rather than being enslaved by particular interpretations.
- We must not think from the perspective of our own communities, but rather from the perspective of humanity. Our articulation needs to be grounded in the local needs of our own neighbourhood, and should use the Charter as a universal and tangible reference point.
- The Charter tests our ability to apply the principles of our faith using a document reference point that has no religious authority. It tests our loyalty to the good, rather than to a religious group… that does not mean ignoring or diluting our religion, but it does test our sincerity and dedication to good. Our quest for good is ultimately a quest for God.
- The Charter does not intend to dilute religion, but perhaps to leave behind some of the baggage rightly or wrongly associated with religion in the interests of improving the overall human situation. It is a truly universal reference document that takes us well beyond our faiths.
- None of the faith groups has an exclusive monopolistic claim to compassion, it is a universal human value; it forms part of the innate goodness of every human being. According to the Islamic prophetic tradition, “All creatures are all God’s children, and the best of you are those who are best to His children.”
- The journey to God is really about the journey of purification of one’s soul. In God’s presence, only purity presents itself. “Be firm, steadfast and balanced; know that your actions alone will not be the cause of your entry to Paradise, and that the most beloved actions to Allah are those that are done continuously and persistently even if they be few.” The good deed is an affirmation of God rather than one’s self.
- Focussing on God as the ultimate end allows us to use all means possible to reaching him, whether they be articulated in the texts of our faith or in a different way.
- Mercy is for all, and not just those who are followers or believers.
- We will appreciate our faiths through the articulation of these great virtues even more.
- This is about challenging our communities to self-critique our motivations. As an interfaith activity, the Charter gives us a chance to affirm something rather than look for the lowest common denominator, a common criticism of interfaith.
- In the end, we are calling people towards good; that is the proselytisation that we need not be ashamed of.
- So the key question is: How do we better articulate principles which honour and activate the Charter while as much as possible honouring and not distracting ourselves in any way from the focus on our respective faiths?