Sixth Parliament of the World’s Religions
Part Four of Five
We are often plagued by the notion that religion wounds and divides people instead of bringing them together, partly because we see sacred texts abused and interpreted violently. One workshop I attended at the Sixth Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City put these texts in a more historical and healing context.
Dr. Jonathan Brown, Chair of Islamic Civilization at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, represented Islam in a presentation too elaborate for me to summarize well. His major point was this: “No Islamic school read the Qur’an literally until the 20th century.” ISIS and other Muslim extremists take Qur’anic verses out of context to support their false jihadist position.
A Torah of Non-Violence
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb believes her Jewish people have not recovered from genocide. She insisted that the revered rabbinic tradition has rejected the violent passages of the Torah. She teaches “a Torah of non-violence” and began Muslim-Jewish Peace Walks in Albuquerque, which spread across the U.S. Young Muslim and Jewish kids who sit around the campfire with her ask, “Why can’t the world be like this?”
Dr. Karen Armstrong, a religious historian and former Roman Catholic nun (pictured here with me), was the Christian voice. “We read scripture today with a literalness unparalleled in history,” she said. We cannot make religion the “scapegoat for the sins of secular society.” Our scriptures are violent because “we’re violent and we’re state builders… All states are founded and maintained by violence.” We need to incarnate what our scriptures teach: the Golden Rule, respect for others. “And this can’t be confined to your own congenial group.”
Responding to questions from the audience, all three panelists became more impassioned and prophetic. “Greed is not kosher,” said Rabbi Gottlieb. “We are guilty, America. Give up the male notion of self-defense.” “I’m very troubled by the gun culture here,” said Dr. Armstrong, urging America to “get this right before you address Muslims about violence.”
“ISIS did not exist before 2003,” insisted Dr. Brown. “ISIS is the result of our unjust war in Iraq.” The audience applauded as he concluded: “Preoccupation with ISIS keeps Americans from reflecting on our government’s misactions.”
Charter for Compassion International
How do we respond to this? “I’m filled with dread and sorrow,” said Dr. Armstrong, “so I do the work of compassion. Compassion is not a nice idea, but an urgent global necessity.” She is the inspiration behind the Charter for Compassion International, a global network to connect individuals, organizations, cities and communities around the world, who make compassion their prime motivation, caring for others and relieving suffering wherever it is found. You can sign the Charter for Compassion here.