by Jennie S. Bev
On November 12, the Charter for Compassion, a document promoting peace and tolerance, will be officiated and hopefully it will serve as an antidote to religious fundamentalism.
It is the brainchild of religious scholar Karen Armstrong whose breakthrough book A History of God shook the world in 1993 with the assistance of the 2008 TED Prize of US$100,000.
The charter includes ideas and writings from people of all nations, all faiths and all religions, including Abrahamic faiths, and secular-agnostic-atheist non-faiths.
The Council of Conscience serves as the think-tank that shaped the final Charter. It consists of 18 leaders and scholars in religion, philosophy, and humanities: Salman Ahmad, Ali Asani, Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, Sadhvi Chaitanya, Bishop John Bryson Chane, Sister Joan Chittister, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, Mohsen Kadivar, Chandra Muzaffar, Baroness Julia Neuberger, Tariq Ramadan, Rabbi David Saperstein, Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp, Rev. Peter Storey, Ha Vinh Tho, Weiming Tu, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Jean Zaru.
Armstrong’s practical philosophy and reader-friendly writings have been criticized as lacking scholarly rigor and too idealistic in interpreting some holy books.
However, those shortcomings are a small price to pay considering her continued dedication in making the world more compassionate and success in creating ripple effects among regular readers, world leaders, and religious scholars.
This simple principle showcases how a complex philosophy can be stripped down to its bone simply as follows: “good theology” makes people more compassionate, hearts softened, and minds broadened, while “bad theology” makes people more restless, hearts hardened, and minds narrowed. And this simple principle is the backbone of the Golden Rule of the charter.
The Golden Rule it wishes to convey is for all of us to use the power of empathy and to cause no harm to others as we would not want to be harmed. It would serve as the standard upon which religious and secular leaders’ actions and behaviors should be based.
It also serves as a topic for ongoing discourses on various humanitarian, religious, and philosophical debates. Thus, polarizations in religious and antireligious beliefs would be gradually lessened and, eventually, eliminated.
The ultimate wish is to have the charter adopted worldwide in as many communities as possible, just like the Charter of Human Rights. While it is too early to predict how influential this charter would be, we should support it wholeheartedly, considering Indonesia has been capturing the world’s attention for its recent escalation in religious fundamentalism and extremism.
It would be preferable if Indonesia sends several pluralistic leaders and scholars as delegates, if it’s not too late, to express our sincere interest in making the world and our own country less fundamentalistic and more tolerant.
By expressing to the world that Indonesia is committed to eradicating fundamentalism and extremism, we set the bar high enough that we would be embarrassed if we failed to fulfill it.
So far, we should applaud JIL, or the Liberal Islamic Network, leaders and scholars for their dedication in guarding Indonesia’s strain of moderate Islam and religious minorities.
More dedicated moderate clerics, however, are required to ensure Indonesia is not heading into the downward spiral of religious hatred and conscientiasclerosis, crise du conscience.
The challenge for Indonesia is socializing the simple principle of “good theology” at the grassroots level, as without proper introduction and internalization, radicalism and extremism based on fundamentalistic notions of religious righteousness would breed even deeper and wider.
In an article by Mohammad Yazid (The Jakarta Post, October 30, 2009), the author mentioned that many simple-minded Muslims have respect and sympathy for terrorists for their bravery and “jihad” agenda. The notion of dying in the name of one’s religion, apparently, still has its appeal.
While it might sound an idealistic calling, grassroots efforts in socializing the notions of compassion in Islam -rather than fiqh or jurisprudence– should be given stronger emphasis. Now let us be humble enough to be reminded by Armstrong, “Religion is really an art form and a struggle to find value and meaning amid the ghastly tragedy of human life.”
Compassion is the defining virtue of any religion. We should never derail ourselves from it. Not even once and not for any justification, especially not under so-called “Allah’s order.”
The Jakarta Post, November 17, 2009