As a fan of the writer Karen Armstrong -- a former nun who has become one of the leading authorities on religion and its deformation in the modern world -- I was intrigued to learn of an initiative she has just launched: no less than a global charter calling for the restoration of the principle of compassion. It is backed by the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and other world worthies.
There's a danger that such all-inclusive single ideas aimed at uniting the world melt into glibness: is there a hint here of the Enlightenment project, which sought to create a universal "reasonable" religion, and ended up eviscerating all that was best in faith?
Actually I think the Charter -- read it here or watch it being voiced in a clever video -- escapes this danger, because it is written by a woman who deeply respects and understands religion.
One part of it, and I suspect the main motive for the Charter as a whole, is aimed at fundamentalism. The Charter calls for a "return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate".The website invites religious leaders to organize a religious service on the principle.
A wise monk once told me that the two core principles of faith were gratitude and compassion. Gratitude is the realisation that all is gift, and therefore we possess nothing in, of or by ourselves. Compassion is the recognition that we are not the centre of the world and that our fulfillment lies in the service of others.
To reduce faith to a set of principles is reductionism. But to detect in all true faiths these core principles -- that's something different. That's the basis of peaceful coexistence.