After I left the convent, for 15 years I was worn out with religion, I wanted nothing whatever to do with it. I felt disgusted with it. If I saw someone reading a religious book on a train, I'd think, how awful.
Compassion is not a popular virtue. Very often when I talk to religious people, and mention how important it is that compassion is the key, that it's the sine qua non of religion, people look kind of balked, and stubborn sometimes, as much to say, "what's the point of having religion if you can't disapprove of other people?" And sometimes we use religion just to back up these unworthy hatreds, because we're frightened too.
Compassion is not a popular virtue
"My thoughts are not your thoughts. For as high as the heavens are the above the earth, so are my thoughts above your thoughts, my ways above your ways." should be written over every pulpit. Because so often we think that God's ways are our ways. God's thoughts are our thoughts. And we created God in our own image and likeness saying, "God approves of this. God forbids that. God desires the other." This is where some of the worst atrocities of religion have come from. Because people have used [it] to give a sacred seal of a divine approval to some of their most worst hatreds, loathings, and fears. Whereas to the great theologians what I found when I was studying for A History Of God the great theologians in all three of the monotheistic religions, Jewish, Christian, Muslim all insisted that yes, God was personal. But God went beyond the personal. You shouldn't speak glibly about God in Judaism you may not speak God's name as a reminder that any human expression of the divine is likely to be so limited as to be blasphemous. But God should challenge your assumptions you shouldn't imagine you've got Him in your pocket.
It's not easy to talk about transcendence, just as it's not easy to play or listen to a late Beethoven quartet You have to practice quite hard, like you do with any art form. Religion is hard work.
Newton and Descartes started to try and prove that God existed in the same way as they would try and prove something in the laboratory or with their mathematics And when you try and mix science and religion you get bad science and bad religion. The two are doing two different things. ... Science can give you a diagnosis of cancer. It can even cure your disease, but it cannot touch your grief and disappointment, nor can it help you to die well.
People like Thomas Aquinas would say we can't talk about God as a creator because we can only have in our heads the idea of a human creator and that can't apply to God. We can't even say that God exists because our notion of existence is too limited to apply to God. People were instructed to think about this in those terms.
The cosmology of the ancient world was telling you about the nature of life here and now. Genesis is not about the origins of life. There were many other creation stories current in Israel at that time and no one was required to believe in that one.
A lot of the arguments about religion going on at the moment spring from a rather inept understanding of religious truth Our notion changed during the early modern period when we became convinced that the only path to any kind of truth was reason. That works beautifully for science but doesn't work so well for the humanities. Religion is really an art form and a struggle to find value and meaning amid the ghastly tragedy of human life.
Religion is hard work. Its insights are not self-evident and have to be cultivated in the same way as an appreciation of art, music, or poetry must be developed.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, every single leading Muslim intellectual was in love with the west, and wanted their countries to look just like Britain and France. Some of them even said that the Europeans were better Muslims than they themselves, because their modern society had enabled them to create a fairer and more just distribution of wealth, than was possible in their pre-modern climates, and that accorded more perfectly with the vision of the Quran. Then there was the experience of colonialism under Britain and France, experiences like Suez, the Iranian revolution, Israel, and some people, not all by any means have allowed this ... these series of disasters to corrode into hatred. Islam is a religion of success. Unlike Christianity, which has as its main image, in the west at least, a man dying in a devastating, disgraceful, helpless death. crucified, and that turned into victory. Mohammed was not an apparent failure. He was a dazzling success, politically as well as spiritually, and Islam went from strength to strength to strength. But against the West, it's been able to make no headway, and this is as disturbing for Muslims as the discoveries of Darwin have been to some Christians. The Quran says that if you live according to the Quranic ideal, implementing justice in your society, then your society will prosper, because this is the way human beings are supposed to live. But whatever they do, they cannot seem to get Muslim history back on track, and this has led some, and only a minority, it must be said, to desperate conclusions.
There are some forms of religion that must make God weep. There are some forms of religion that are bad, just as there's bad cooking or bad art or bad sex, you have bad religion too. Religion that has concentrated on egotism, that's concentrated on belligerence rather than compassion. But then you have to remember that this is what human beings do. Secularism has shown that it can be just as murderous, just as lethal as religion. Now I think one of the reasons why religion developed in the way that it did over the centuries was precisely to curb this murderous bent that we have as human beings.
I say that religion isnt about believing things. Its ethical alchemy. Its about behaving in a way that changes you, that gives you intimations of holiness and sacredness.
A project like Pangea, which enables us to enter in to the situations of others, imaginatively, is fulfilling what the religions call the Golden Rule... going into one's own experience, and going into other's experience, and seeing the world from another perspective that's what we desperately need in our dangerously polarized world.
I tremble for our world, where, in the smallest ways, we find it impossible, as Marshall Hodgson enjoined, to find room for the other in our minds. If we cannot accommodate a viewpoint in a friend without resorting to unkindness, how can we hope to heal the terrible problems of our planet? I no longer think that any principle or opinion is worth anything if it makes you unkind or intolerant.