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by Karen Armstrong

Pub Date: Jan. 7th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-59559-1
Publisher: Knopf

A call for compassion based on the teachings of the world’s religions.

After a fruitful career studying and writing about comparative religion, Armstrong (The Case for God, 2009; etc.) attempts to synthesize what she has learned in one manageable and practical volume. Her goal is to increase awareness that compassion is at the heart of all major world religions and to encourage her readers to practice this virtue. Compassion, she writes, is “an attitude of principled, consistent altruism,” most often expressed in some variation of the Golden Rule. As the unifying tie of the world’s religions, compassion is the one practice most able to bring about peace in the world. Armstrong structures her book as a 12-step guide toward becoming a more compassionate person. The author begins by giving readers the task of learning more about compassion and how it is practiced across the world and across time. She exhorts readers to become more self-aware and to love oneself (“The Golden Rule requires self-knowledge; it asks that we use our own feelings as a guide to our behavior with others”), and she encourages the realization of how little we really know about other people and other cultures, and to use that insight to more fully practice empathy. Armstrong also calls upon society to practice more effective communication: “We need to ask ourselves whether we want to win the argument or seek the truth, whether we are ready to change our views if the evidence is sufficiently compelling.” Her steps conclude with the appeal to love one’s enemies. Though the author realizes that her book may not result in a newly enlightened populace, she hopes to inspire readers to at least begin the process of becoming more compassionate. For those committed to the task, she cautions that “the attempt to become a compassionate human being is a lifelong project.” As always, Armstrong weaves together the teachings of diverse religions in a graceful, approachable manner.

A commendable effort well-executed.