By , Edward chacha

"Our common differences define us, but our common humanity can redeem us. We just have to open our hearts."-Karen Armstrong.

Psychologist Carl Jung once said that a great deal of institutional religion seems designed to prevent faithful from having a spritual experience. But instead of teaching people how to live in peace, today, religious leaders often concentrate only on marginal issues like: Is contraception permissible? Is evolution compatible with the first chapter of Genesis? Can a non-christian be elected to the offfice? Can a liberal be appointed to a Supreme-court? Instead of bringing people together, these distracting preoccupations actually encourage policies of exclusion, since they tend to draw attention to the differences between "us" and "them".

These policies of exclusion can have dramatic conseguences. Most notably they have given rise to the militant piety that we call fundamentalism, which erupted in every major world religion during the 20th century.

Every fundamentalist movement whether in Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, is convinced that the modern secular establishement wants to destroy it. Fundamentalism is not inherently violent; most fundamentalists simply wants to live what they regard as a good religious life in a world--the world that seems increasingly hostile to faith. But when a conflict has become entrenched in a religion-as in Afghanstan, Sudan, and Chechnya-religious fundamentalists have gotten sucked into the escalating Violences and become part of the Problem.

Even in the United States members of Christian Right believe that their faith is in jeorpardy and that they have a sacred duty to protect it by attacking their Liberal opponents.

When people feel that their back are to the wall, they often lash out aggresively. Hence the hatred that continues to cause so much turmoil around the world.

In fact, such religiously inspired hatred represents a major defeat for a religion. That's because, at their core, all the great world faiths--including Confuciansim, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam---agree on the supreme importance of compassion. That is, their doctrines as whole are designed to teach their followers to cultivate a habit of empathy for all living beings.

Why, then do supposedly "religious" leaders declare war in God's name? And why do some people use "God" to give a sacred seal of approval to their own opinions?

They are just hypocrites!

Golden rule, first enunciated by Confusius in about 500.B.C.E.:"Do not do to others as you would not have done to you. [refrain from inflicting suffering upon other people]

The Buddha also taught the version of the golden rule. He used to advise his monks and lay followers to undertake meditative exercise called 'The Immeasurables.' They had to send positive thoughts of compassion, benevolence, and sympathy to the four corner of the earth, not omitting a single creature (even a mosguito!) from this radius of concern.

Jesus taught the golden rule in this way: he told his followers to love even their enemies and never to judge or retaliate.If someone struck them on the face, they must turn the other cheek. In his parable of the last day, when the king comes to judge the world, those who enter the kingdom do not do so because they have adopted orthodox theology or observed the correct sexual morals, but because they have fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, and visted the sick and criminals in the prison. In other words, Christians could have faith to move mountains, but if they lacked charity it was worth nothing.

Islam also is committed to the compassionate ethics. The bedrock message of the Koran is an insistence that it is wrong to build up the private fortune, and good to share your wealth fairly in order to create a just and a decent society where poor and vulnerable people are treated with respect. On the last Day the question that God will ask the Muslims is whether they have looked after widows, the orphans, and the oppressed, if they have not, they can not enter Paradise.

Why was there such unanimous agreement on the primacy of compassion? Truly religious people are pragmatic.The early prophets and sages did not preach the discpline of empathy because it sounded edifying, but because experience showed that it worked. They discovered that greed and selfishness were the cause of our personal misery. When we gave them up we were happier. Egotism imprisoned us in an inferior version of ourselves and impeded our inlightenment.

The safesty way of combating ego was to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put others there. Perhaps one can explain it this way: we are programmed for self defense; human beings completed their biological evolution during the paleolithic Period, when they became hunters. Aggression is thus deeply written into our nature. If we make a consistent habit of countering this aggresion, we probably do experience a change of consciousness.

The history of each faith tradition represents a ceaseless struggle between our inherent tendency to aggression and the mitigating virtue of compassion. Religiously inspired hatred has caused unimaginable suffering around the world. But secularism has had it failure too. Auschwitz. The Gulag, and autoritarian regimes show the fearful cruelty to which humanity is prone when all sense of the sacred has been lost.

None of these autrocities could have taken place if people were properly educated in the simplest of all principles, the golden rule. We live in one world, and we need to learn to reach out in sympathy to people who have different opinions from us. We need the compassionate ethics more desperately than we ever before.

From: AARP,The Magazine 2005.

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