Karen Armstrong speaks at Aga Khan University – Mixing religion with dogma opposed

Mixing religion with dogma opposed
Armstrong says real enemy of any religion is the ego which instils dogmatism

By Asra Pasha

KARACHI: “No definition of God is adequate enough to describe the entity that is so purely beyond any limits. In our religion, we are always searching for ecstasy, and the best way to achieve ecstasy is to practice compassion. Religion does not know the boundaries of tribes and land, said the British theological expert, Karen Armstrong, during her exclusive lecture here at the Aga Khan University on Tuesday.

She also said that religion does not demand its followers to exercise violence in any way, be it Judaism, Christianity or Islam. “We need to employ this golden rule globally at the moment in order to rid the world of violence and hatred.”

She began her speech titled ‘What is Religion?’ by elaborating on the beginnings of religion and incorporating with it how Islam has always been there at the centre of this evolution, in the most balanced manner that one barely expects from a Western scholar.

She started by telling how revolutionary thinking sprouted during 800 BCE to 200 BCE, the Axial Age, a term coined by the German Philosopher, Karl Jaspers, to describe the era in four different regions of the world namely, China, India, Israel and Greece.

Although this revolutionary thinking was generating in regions geographically asunder, they resembled remarkably in their soul and were almost similar. The Axial Age sages who were formulating these characteristics which were later to be called the roots of religions, only focused on the things that gave them a feeling of enlightenment and insight while contemplating on them, and were not interested in things that did not fulfil this.

“These religions did not develop inside mountain caves or in the wilderness of jungles but inside civilized and modern cities of those times,” said Armstrong, rejecting the widespread belief that spiritual ecstasy could only be attained when in wilderness.

“With changing times there have to be different ways to bring about change. Religion, on the contrary, is considered something inherited and passed on to the next generation intact, while it should be treated as a phenomenon that addresses the parallel situations we face,” commented Armstrong.

She pointed out how religion has become a source of strife, conflict and some of the worst catastrophes of our time by being associated with dogmatism. She said that the real enemy of any religion is the ego, which instils dogmatism.

She said that Muhammad (PBUH) told the converts in Mecca to prostrate themselves when praying, which is a manifestation of surrender of the ego, and is the perfect physical position which helps attain spiritual ecstasy which is the real drive behind praying.

Quoting Confucius on his famous doctrine, ‘What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others’, she said that carries a strong lesson for the West in the present times.

“The Muslims currently are in a very uneasy and antagonistic position whereby they have to defend their religion at every step and face a lot of opposition for things they are not yet proved to be responsible for entirely,” she said.

She pointed out that one of the doctrines of the Axial age teaches us that if we step into the position of our enemy, we would definitely feel sympathy towards them and may consider putting an end to the enmity.

“Would we be ready to consider the atrocities we render to our enemy, we would not help but empathize with them,” she added.

Writer and broadcaster Karen Armstrong spent seven years as a Roman Catholic nun in the 1960s, but then left her teaching order in 1969 to go to Oxford to study Literature. She now regularly appears on radio and television to comment on religious affairs in England and the United States, is a frequent contributor to conferences, panels, newspapers and periodicals on both sides of the Atlantic and is a regular columnist for the Guardian newspaper.

The News International Pakistan

Author: ismailimail

Independent, civil society media featuring Ismaili Muslim community, inter and intra faith endeavors, achievements and humanitarian works.

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