All Things Possible

The other day, Joi pointed me to the fantastic news that Susan Crawford and Kevin Werbach would head the Obama transition team for the FCC.
(David saw that and exulted, too). I can’t adequately express what a good sign this is for tech-involved people. Even non-U.S.-citizens will benefit from the positive influence Crawford and Werbach stand to exercise; they’re level-headed, insightful practitioners in this area. This is a great first step in the tech arena.
In the same conversation, Joi asked what I had thought about the Charter For Compassion project that he had commended. We’ve talked about this sort of topic before, at great length, so he anticipated what I was about to say. There’s everything to be said in favor of people forswearing coercive violence; amen to that! But this particular project entails some awkward arm-twisting relative to Christian theology (and, I estimate on the basis of relative ignorance, relative to the reflective discourses indigenous to various other communities). I’m not sure I see a way forward for this initiative that doesn’t involve a superficial pan-religiosity that falsifies the deepest convictions of each participating group. “Compassion” for a Christian is not simply the same thing as is Karu?? for a Buddhist — and within Christianity (and other communities) plenty of faithful, ardent people would define key terms in ways inimical to others.
All of which gets at the point of the Charter at the same time it reveals its problematic destiny. The social function of the charter seems to be that “the voice of negativity and violence so often associated with religion is the minority and that the voice of compassion is the majority” — but who determines what counts as “negativity” and what counts as “compassion”? If I believe that everyone who has not been baptized will endure (at the very least) the undesirable consequence of eternal separation from the fullness of divine joy, then it would plausibly be compassionate of me to urge them to abandon their [fill in the religious blank here] ways and unite themselves to Christ. If their precepts entail behavior that seems antithetical to human flourishing on my [Christian] convictions, it’s incumbent on me to resist their precepts — even if that seems “negative” to “the Council of Sages.” (By the way, how come Islam gets academic representatives from Harvard and Oxford, but Christianity and Judaism get administrators and popularizers? And where are the Hindu, Buddhist, Orthodox, Wiccan, Baha’i, Mormon, and various other-interested-party “sages”? And what qualifies one as a “sage” — the imprimatur of Karen Armstrong?)
So, short answer: It’s a great idea for people to abide among one another in peace and harmony, exercising respect even for their neighbors’ spiritually wrong-headed decisions, and eschewing coercion where possible (and acknowledging the spiritual integrity of those who decline to sign on with an agenda that seems to relativize the depth and the absolute horizon of their theological commitments, where the pragmatics of legal discourses seem to require coercion). But the Charter for Compassion hasn’t started out by demonstrating attention to exactly the nuances and intricacies the neglect of which so frequently aggravates religious conflict. So, no thank you; best wishes for that working out.

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