One thing that fairly leapt out at me from the SOF interview was Armstrong's mention of creeds, which of course brought directly to mind the recent show featuring Jaroslav Pelikan.
Religions are forms of ethical alchemy: you behave in a compassionate way and this changes you. What keeps us from a knowledge of the divine--which has been called variously "God", "Nirvana", "Brahman", the sacred--what keeps us from this ultimate reality is our own egotism, our greed, that often needs to destroy others or denigrate others in order to preserve it's sense of self. Compassion makes us de-throne ourselves from the center of our world and put another there. And it's this, they all teach, that leads us into the presence of the divine. Not believing in creeds, not undertaking weird penances.
Religious faith needs creed. [Just] religious faith "in general," prayer addressed "To Whom It May Concern..," sentiment about some transcendent dimension otherwise undefined, has no staying power. It's OK to have that at ten o'clock on Sunday morning, when you're out with your friends somewhere. But in the darkest hours of life you've got to believe something specific. And that specification is the task of the creed. Much as some people might not like it, to believe one thing is also to disbelieve another. To say "yes" is also to say "no." Clarifying what the "yes" is, and what that "yes" implies for the "no", within the boundaries of a particular religious tradition and in relation to other traditions... That task of setting up the alternatives and then finding a way to say what it is we believe [is the function of the creed].
If only SOF could have gotten these two together! Now THAT would have been a show!
Personally, I come down on Armstrong's side far more than Pelikan's. I look forward to reading more about Armstrong's views on compassion and how it can stand, in some sense, in opposition to creeds and fundamentalism.
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