Just finished a study guide to Karen Armstrong’s new book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, which we are going to look at in Lent at Holy Trinity, Stirling. (I’ve uploaded it on to our website here if you’re interested.) It was a bit of an effort, boiling down 209 pages to 12, for 5 sessions, but it makes you think about what her essential point is.
Armstrong is desperate to counter fundamentalism and intolerance, war and persecution. She has already done marvellous work in the area of inter-faith relations, trying to get us to think openly about religion. Now, she wants to take the best essence of all religions and show that they agree – and the basis of this is, she says, the Golden Rule: ‘Always treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself’.
There are wonderful insights from the different religious traditions, and exercises in compassionate thinking, based heavily on Buddhism. She looks at compassion radiating out in concentric circles from the self, to those nearby, to others we may dislike and then finishes with ‘love your enemy’.
I guess my main question to her is: should we be compassionate because (as she suggests) it makes us more peaceful and content and stops wars and their damage to us, or because we follow a divine person who calls us to be compassionate? That is: is compassion a strategic move to make our lives better, or something that takes over our hearts as God’s love grows within us?
It’s to do with the ultimate motivation for our moral behaviour. If we talk about strategy, or rules, or benefits, they can always be challenged by a ‘better’ strategy or rules and so on. If we follow a person and are moved by love, we may be compassionate because that is simply who we have become – whether it ‘benefits’ us or not.
I need the discussion group to help me think through this! Roll on Lent.