Leaning on the wisdom of disparate faiths and belief systems, Armstrong lays out a pluralistic and, ultimately, secular way to spread compassion that's easy to believe in. The challenge lies in following it.
The Washington Post
The prolific, well-informed, and passionate Armstrong (The Case for God) writes a somewhat different book this time out, stemming from her winning a ,000 prize in 2007 to promote an idea worth spreading. She always has a thesis in her books as she sweeps over the historical development of world religions, but this is a book with an agenda: you ought to be more compassionate, and here’s how. So instead of being her usual somewhat academic teacher of religious history, she is more of a personal spiritual teacher, in the vein of the Dalai Lama. That task, and corresponding tone (“Be patient with yourself during this meditation”), is not her long suit. Still, this slightly self-help-y book is deeply grounded in what Armstrong knows, and presents, well: the core teachings of all religions that can make us better, more compassionate humans. The former nun pulls ideas and references from religions Eastern and Western with aplomb and respect for all sources. This counter to the religion-is-homicidal-and-superstitious school of invective passing for thought is well-informed, welcome, and practical. (Jan.)
Rich with wisdom and provocative ideas that stimulate deeper thinking and encourage individuals to identify a particular contribution to the global effort.” —Christian Science Monitor
“Leaning on the wisdom of disparate faiths and belief systems, Armstrong lays out a pluralistic and, ultimately, secular way to spread compassion that’s easy to believe in.” –Washington Post
“Charming. . . . Exquisitely intelligent.” —Financial Times
“Impressive. . . . She seeks to retrain us from an ego-fuelled outlook of partiality and prejudice to an informed, expanded humanity.” —The Globe and Mail
“When I hear that Karen Armstrong, the widely respected religion scholar…has a new book called Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, I figure it’s about big stuff—and she does not disappoint.” —Laurie Abraham, Elle
“[An] important and useful book that will help many readers take on humanity’s most important task: creating a better, more compassionate world.” —Tricycle
In early 2008, religious historian/New York Times best-selling author Armstrong was awarded a substantial cash prize from the nonprofit TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) to promote an idea that could "make a difference" in people's lives. Late the following year, after seeking input from leading thinkers of various faiths, she unveiled the Charter for Compassion (www.charterforcompassion.org), a collaborative public project calling for the restoration of "compassion to the heart of religious and moral life." Here, she lays out 12 steps she feels are necessary to cultivating and expanding our capacity for compassion, e.g., "learn about compassion" and "love your enemies." Part religious exploration and part self-help tract, this timely and engaging work, gracefully read by the author herself, is a very important addition to all library collections. [The Knopf hc also received a starred review, LJ 1/11; the Anchor pb will be released in December 2011.—Ed.]—Beth Farrell, Cleveland State Univ. Law Lib.
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.