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As she accepts her 2008 TED Prize, author and scholar Karen Armstrong talks about how the Abrahamic religions — Islam, Judaism, Christianity — have been diverted from the moral purpose they share to foster compassion. But Armstrong has seen a yearning to change this fact. People want to be religious, she says; we should act to help make religion a force for harmony. She asks the TED community to help her build a Charter for Compassion — to help restore the Golden Rule as the central global religious doctrine.

I find the idea that humanity needs religion to encourage or justify compassion incredibly insulting. Religion has contributed to many of the great evils perpetrated over the entire span of human history. We can learn to be nice to each other without some sort of cosmic judge looking over our shoulders. And then it is real compassion – an act of love and respect for our fellows – not an act of fear.

The “charitable works” of the religious are akin to those of people on court ordered public service – no matter what face they try to put upon it, we all know that they are only there because a higher power that they fear has made them. This is distinct from true volunteers who sacrifice their own time, resources, and/or comfort for the greater good of what ever group they identify with – a society, a nation, a race, a species or the “Greater Terran Group of Life Forms” (As far as I know, no-one on Earth is working consciously to help out a group larger than all life on Earth).

We can be nice to each other with worrying about what Yahweh or Zeus or Kwan-yin tell us to do. Listen to your own conscience. Act rationally. Compassion is the end result of rationality. Don’t apologize for religion, just join the rest of us that can see that we have outgrown it.

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