Religion was implicated in the 9/11 atrocities.
On 9/11 there was an outpouring of sympathy for America all over the world, even in Tehran and Gaza. But now, ten years on, the world is even more dangerously polarized and religion, for obvious reasons, religion is seen not as part of the solution but as part of the problem.
It is certainly true that men and women have behaved cruelly and violently in the name of religion, but we also know that this is not the whole story. Each of the world faiths developed originally in a world where violence had reached unprecedented heights. True, this violence was puny compared with what we face today. But the great sages - Confucius, the Buddha, the sages of the Upanishads, the prophets of Israel, Jesus, and Muhammad - were not prepared to sit back and do nothing. They all worked hard with the religious traditions they had inherited and made them address the problem. They were innovative, creative and daring. They worked as hard to find a solution to the problems of their world as we do today to find a cure for cancer. The solutions they came up with were all different - our religious traditions are not all the same; they are all significantly and wondrously varied. But each of them evolved an ethic of compassion and respect for others and tried to help human beings from their violent, selfish and greedy influences. Each world faith has developed its own version of the Golden Rule: Never treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself; sometimes expressed positively: Always treat others as you would wish to be treated.
We have to learn to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, look into our own hearts; discover what gives us pain; and then refuse under any circumstance whatsoever to inflict that pain on anybody else. And now we have to apply this ethic globally or we will not have a viable world.
The world faiths also insist that we cannot confine our compassion to our own group; we must have “concern for everybody,” love the stranger, love even our enemies and reach out to all tribes and nations. An early Buddhist prayer says: ‘ Let us cherish all creatures as a mother her only child.’ The Hebrew and Arabic word for compassion (rahma; rehem) also evokes mother-love, since it is related etymologically to the word for womb. But mother-love is hard. A mother has to get up every night to her crying child, putting her own exhaustion and frustration on the back burner; she has to have responsibility for that child every second of the day. Then the cute little baby grows up and may become a horrible disappointment. But the mother never gives up. That Buddhist prayer tells us that we too must have responsibility for all creatures, all human beings, however disillusioning they may be, not omitting a single one from that radius of concern. The Sanskrit karuna (compassion) calls us to take responsibility for the pain of all creatures and work energetically to end the suffering we see all around us.
So if religious people really got active and implemented this ethic, we could turn the world around. This is the chief task of our time: to create a just global society where people of all ethnicities and ideologies can live together in peace and mutual respect. And it is hard work. Muslims are right to call religion a jihad, which, of course, does not mean ‘holy war’ but ‘struggle, effort, endeavour’. Two years ago we launched the Charter for Compassion and yet the people who have come forward to help us have not been religious leaders but business men and women. This is great, because business people know how to strategize and work practically. And they are doing so - in the United States, Pakistan, and the Middle East. We have launched a ten year campaign to build an international network of compassionate cities. This doesn’t mean that these cities are already compassionate, but that they are working hard to implement the ethos of compassion realistically, practically and creatively in the difficult circumstances of the 21st century. Fifty cities worldwide are now going through the process. Come and join us. Go on the Web site and find out how you can make your city join this network.
We cannot afford to sit back and allow the global situation to deteriorate still more. We do not need a new religion. We know what we have to do. We have a choice: We can either allow those aggressive doctrines and practices that exist in all faiths to come to the fore; or we choose to implement those that speak of justice, respect for human dignity, and peace to become a dynamic force for good in our troubled world.
More On Faith and 9/11:
Desmond Tutu: Our post-9/11 failures
Thomas Monson: Rebuilding our souls
T.D. Jakes: Spirituality after the attack
Feisal Abdul Rauf: Radical Islam on its way out
Donald Wuerl: Peace begins internally
Katharine Jefferts Schori: Live the memorial
Mark Driscoll: Death and the hope of resurrection
Karen Armstrong: Unite through compassion
Deepak Chopra: Divided hearts, divided world
Yasir Qadhi: Americans still don’t know Islam
Karen Armstrong | Sep 8, 2011 11:08 AM