November 15, 2008

Compassion is like wild flowers and not like veal farming

I know this sounds somewhat like me, contrarian that I am known to be: It seems I have come out in opposition to Compassion.

Seems that many of the blogs I follow have posted about an idea that Karen Armstrong [no relation to me] has that a Charter For Compassion be developed.

In an On Faith post called "Calling All Religions to Compassion," Armstrong writes:
The major task of our generation is to build a global community where people of all persuasions can live together in mutual respect. If we do not achieve this, we will not have a viable world to hand on to our children. We must implement the Golden Rule globally, treating other peoples ~ whoever they may be ~ as we would wish to be treated ourselves. Any ideology ~ religious or secular ~ that breeds hatred or disdain will fail the test of our time. The religions should be making a major contribution to this essential task ~ and that is why it is important to sign on to the Charter of Compassion, change the conversation, and make it cool to be compassionate.

We hope that hundreds of thousands of people ~ Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Confucians and atheists all over the world will contribute their insights on line on our multi-lingual website. The world will help to write this Charter to return religion to the spirit of the Golden Rule. Can we make a difference? "Yes We Can!"
The reverend Danny Fisher [of eponymous blog fame] is tentative about the idea. While he is pro-Compassion [surprised?], he is on the fence re the charter idea, being drawn to some negatory ideas he shares with Sharon Jacoby: 1) there is already a Universal Declaration of Human Rights that covers the same ground, and 2) while all major religions believe in something close to the same thing as this compassion thing, not all read it the same way.

In a long, thoughtful post,'s Barbara of Barbara's Buddhism Blog takes stern issue with Jacoby's objections. She writes: "Jacoby's reaction amounts to a knee-jerk recitation of all of her resentments about religion, whether they relate to what Armstrong said or not. Judging by the title of her comment -- 'On The Unreliability of Compassion Without Enforceable Law' -- she equates 'compassion' with 'good behavior,' which is not how I understand compassion. Compassion that must be enforced is not compassion." Barbara seems to like the charter idea, though she doesn't quite say so explicitly.

Rod, the whinny behind "...worst horse," alerts us to the charter thing, but expresses no view.

Bill of Integral Options Cafe writes, "I'm late coming to this, but The Charter for Compassion is a great idea that I think deserves more attention ..." ["More attention," I think it's starting to get.]

Me, I have some discomfort with the effort, beyond just Armstrong's goofy try to snag some of that Obama mojo. "Yes We Can!," indeed.

I hate to see "compassion" become something we hit people over the head with: "Be compassionate, damn it, you vulgarians, you."

Or see a Dogma of Compassion develop. To get compassion you must meet our regulations for compassion.

And what about the slippery slope!? Sure, a bunch of fat-hearted people want compassion universalized now -- but what next!? Love? Kindness? No meat eating? A reversal of California's Prop. 8!? Rush Limbaugh taken off the radio? Universal health care? Storming the Winter Palace?

Nah. Compassion is like wildflowers and not like veal farming. We must allow it to sprout where it will.

As for Barbara's objection to Sharon's objections: IMHO, if we "charterize" compassion, then it becomes a code, a rule, a command. It morphs into a regulation mandating behavior: Compassion made remorseless -- that is, incompassionate.


~C4Chaos said...

FYI. PZ Myers also poo-pooed the idea


Tom said...

Yeah, thanks, c4.

First off, here's that link to PZ Myers's words. [The URL you provided was cut off on my narrow monitor.]

I mostly have to agree with Myers. I don't think that we should suppose to drag all religious faiths to some utopian somewhere where we suppose they're supposed to be.

Leave it to the faithful to read their dogma however they might! While that might sound dangerous, it is more dangerous for heathens to a faith to nose in with their wayward ideas.

K. Armstrong's idea is an impossible and silly one-world notion. It's not really going to get anywhere, and certainly not with the radical Fundies. Worse would be if the idea DOES catch on. Then the Fundies would rally supporters decrying it.

~C4Chaos said...


i partially agree with Myers'. but this part is just full of arrogance an ignorance of developmental stages:

"The way to change the world is to work to free people of religion, rather than inventing more rationalizations for it."

i had a lively discussion over at Friendfeed about this as well. see


P.S. even wildflowers can be cultivated ;)

NellaLou said...

Hi Tom. Thanks for bringing this to attention. The notion of a charter is utterly unworkable IMHO. It is naively idealistic and presupposes that compassion is the principal goal of most religions. It is not. For many religions the principal goal is personal salvation. Other major goals include transcending everyday existence by negating material reality (including the body), enforcing codified dogmatic moral order, enforcing hierarchy which specifically denies rights to others by assigning roles at birth(caste system), etc. There was a good article in the NYT about Evolutionary Psychology on Jan. 13, 2008 by Stephen Pinker. The Moral Instinct that discussed some of the differences in "morality" in various religions and tied them to an evolutionary basis.

In any case if such a charter were adopted the following questions come up for me:
-what would the definition of compassion be?
-would it be enforceable?
-if so who would enforce it?
-what do you do about non-compassionate behavior?

Both the idea of forcing a religious notion on people or "freeing" them from religion smack of so much arrogance and self-righteous bullshit its almost unbelievable that people with an allegedly functioning brain could say such things.

It is a type of fundamentalism (not to mention ethnocentrism) that is becoming all too common lately. Do-gooders spewing about "saving the superstitious and ignorant "others" from themselves"

The imposition of an individual opinion on a group, and further attempting to codify it is the start of fascism whether it is Buddhist, Atheist, Christian or Other.

This whole load of crap just gets me real hot under the collar. Do-gooders do as much damage in the world as those that at least deliberately set out to do-no-good. They are utterly blind to the real consequences of their actions and are only fulfilling their own self-righteous agendas.

(There are many examples but I will say here in India Christian missionaries are being killed and threatened in some places and it is not because "Hindus hate Christians"-as one said in the press-its a detailed topic I won't go on with but you get the idea)

So unless there is a compassion gene that some world body is willing to inject into everyone to enforce this charter it's just another one of those naive Utopian new-age nonsense schemes that will float on by with the rest of the detritus.

Mumon said...

Not to pimp blog entries (heh!) but this seems related to the "5 Wishes" (and my post regarding said wishes) that the "Death Process" spews out if you have to deal with Serious Medical Stuff.

They call him James Ure said...

Yeah you can't market compassion.

Sean said...

I'm not sure I agree with your view 100 percent, but I do think you've nailed it with this:

Compassion is like wildflowers and not like veal farming. We must allow it to sprout where it will.

Well said. I'd only add that we have to put some effort into helping it sprout by sowing some seeds on our own. (Sounds corny, but you get my drift!)