Charter for Compassion seeks unity against division and violence

By staff writers
14 Nov 2009

Moral, spiritual and cultural leaders from around the world have launched a global call for compassion among followers of different beliefs, religious and non-religious.

To celebrate the launch, 123 international partner organisations have created 175 events in 32 countries, on every populated continent.

"The Charter for Compassion is a summons to action, not just a feel-good thing," British religion scholar Karen Armstrong told news agencies on 12 November 2009.

She continued: "It calls upon people to find creative ways of implementing compassion and work[ing] energetically for the good of humanity in one's own community."

The initiative has been funded out of the Ted Prize, awarded every year to three "exceptional individuals," which includes $100,000 and the granting of "one wish."

When Amstrong won the prize in February 2008 her acceptance speech included the desire "that you would help with the creation, launch and propagation of a Charter of Compassion crafted by the three Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and based on the fundamental principle of The Golden Rule."

However she ended up expanding the project well beyond the Abrahamic traditions, including leading thinkers from most of the major faiths as well as leading figures from humanitarian groups on a Council of Conscience.

The goal was to create a movement among all people who want to reclaim ground from extremists, religious and non-religious, who are hijacking or misrepresenting the human-friendly values of different belief systems.

"The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves," the Charter declares.

"We therefore call upon all men and women to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion."

The 330-word statement also contains commitments to promote understanding, shun violence, and "return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate."

It wishes "to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures."

The Charter encourages the countries of the world to develop the value of diversity in the minds of future generations, in order "to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings — even those regarded as enemies."

The Charter is being hung at prominent locations in several global cities, including New York, Cairo, London, Ramallah, Melbourne, and Buenos Aires.

It is also being made available online in seven languages, with the list to be expanded at: http://charterforcompassion.org/

The list of affirmers so far includes Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, the author Sir Ken Robinson, the musician Paul Simon, Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, Queen Noor of Jordan and the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Ali Gomaa.

Both individuals and organisations are being encouraged to sign up and take action.

The organisers point out that the Charter does not assume that 'all religions are the same', that compassion is the only thing that matters in religion, or that religious people have a monopoly on compassion.

Instead it emphasises that the Golden Rule ('do as you would be done by') "is our prime duty and cannot be limited to our own political, religious or ethnic group. Therefore, in our divided world, compassion can build common ground."

The Charter for Compassion declares itself to be "a global collaborative document involving the participation of people of all nations, backgrounds and religions."

Throughout the autumn and winter of 2008-2009, thousands of people around the world wrote submissions to the website to add their ideas and messaging into the collective conscience that would form the heart of the Charter.

From 24-26 February 2009 the Council of Conscience gathered together outside Geneva to discuss and write the final version of the Charter. Each Councillor received workbooks filled with the world’s submissions and comments to read and remark upon. The submissions served as the basis of the meeting and the writing.

The Councillors determined the words and insights which best served the vision of the Charter for Compassion to ensure as far as possible that the message is "truly reflective of the world’s diversity" while promoting common commitment.

The Charter is being publicised and promoted by Global Tolerance (http://www.globaltolerance.com), a team of communications specialists who value the power of the media to inspire positive social change.

Simon Barrow, co-director of the UK-based religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, commented: "The launch of the Charter, which we will be endorsing and promoting, is a truly hopeful sign that the great majority of people on this beautiful and fragile planet want to reject violence, bigotry, contempt for others, hatred and extremism.

"It is incumbent upon all traditions of belief, and all people who feel the call of compassion, whether religious or non-religous, to work against alienation and antagonism within their own communities, too. Blaming someone or something else will not do.

"Compassion is not a 'soft liberal idea'. It is tough. It means a deep empathy based on a mutual understanding of suffering. It is through recognising each other's woundedness that genuine personal, communal and political change comes. This involves acknowledging our temptation to wound others when we are hurt or offended, or when we simply do not understand them.

"Ekklesia will be inviting the great variety of people we work with - from evangelical Christians and secularists through to people of others faiths - to join us in signing the Charter for Compassion and looking at how our work can be adapted and transformed by recognition of each other, despite our differences and disagreements."

To find out more about the Charter, go to: http://charterforcompassion.org

Frequently asked questions about the Charter: http://www.globaltolerance.com/faq

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