Creating A Shared Moral Compass

Creating A Shared Moral Compass From Many Traditions and Paths

Karen Armstrong’s initiative – ‘The Charter For Compassion’ ( see is a prime example of how people from many points of view, both secular and faith based, can be brought together around a shared moral compass.(i)

Implicit in the Charter is the idea of our personal interdependence with others. By asking each of us to commit to treating others how we wish to be treated ourselves, it demands we seek out and act on the basis of our common humanity. It is the “Golden Rule” at the core of all the major faiths and it is the very opposite of a reductionist Darwinist interpretationAs Karen Armstrong puts it,

Compassion requires that we dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world

This itself is an act of generosity that puts every individual in a position of principled leadership.

Social harmony is unlikely to come through studying dry academic versions of moral education. Instead the Charter for Compassion creates an integrative, common sense perspective through a call to individual action. Some writers on ethics such as Adrian Bishop (ii) have suggested other practical ways forward such as the clear codification and secular adoption of a formal universal moral code distinct from any religious or cultural tradition.

In the past, moral standards have been reinforced through commitment to different faith traditions. In Britain however, this has largely broken down perhaps because, more so than elsewhere, in the context of a sophisticated, secular media, the insularity of mainstream traditional faith organizations has made them unwilling to address the majority of people’s belief (in what is broadly termed ‘Spirit’) rather than what some see as a narrow, political and prescriptive interpretation of faith.(iii)

Whilst most schools take moral education extremely seriously, as soon as children go out into the wider world, if they are not part of a faith community or have not developed a habit of self reflection, they are left to the self serving cultural influences of the media and without a point of reference or of support.

What is missing from our contemporary cultures is a unifying narrative of inner and outer values that offers a touchstone of Honour, Nobility, and Love that affirms the sacredness of life.

Unlike in secular Britain today, where we seem particularly nervous about ‘goodness’, for millennia different cultures have held individuals in high regard who exemplify such attributes. In ancient China, Confucianism referred to a noble man as a ‘Junzi’ which literally meant an exemplary person who would act with Altruism, Justice, Propriety, Knowledge and Integrity- known as The Five Constants. The Buddhists speak of the Four Noble Truths and The Noble Eightfold Path which lead one to Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood. Islam and Sufism speak of the necessity for Greater or Inner Jihad to conquer our temptations to become a true human being. In recent times new inter faith initiatives such as the Oneness movement and Subud have emerged that are congruent with both Buddhist and Sufi values. Sikhism promotes the three pillars of sharing with others, honest living and focusing on God. In the Jewish tradition a person of integrity, honour, and noble character is called a “Mensch”- interestingly an equivalent word is missing from the English Language. In Christianity the icon of the mother and child suggests that Love is both a divine impulse and a universal human gesture. The early Chinese wisdom based on the observation of nature over centuries contains the Taoist concept of Ying and Yang, of the Mother within the Father and the Father within the Mother.

We all intuitively recognise goodness as distinct from self -interest, even when the latter comes in the guise of “giving to get”. There is within the mothers gesture of Love an element of self sacrifice. In writing about his esoteric interpretation of Christianity, the philosopher Rudolf Steiner (iv) says,

“Love is not capable of diminution or amplification…it’s nature is quite different from wisdom and might. Love is the counterweight to wisdom and might”

He goes on to argue that anyone who understands this distinction must be considered Christian. At its heart, Love evokes the golden rule and embodies forgiveness.

In her book called ‘For-Giving’ (v) Genevieve Vaughn reminds us that we are all mothered children and suggests, “ The gift paradigm has the advantage of restoring mothering to its rightful place in the constitution of the human” because as a species our basic nature is giving and nurturing. In the context of her anthropological research, she makes the bold step of re-naming our species Homo Donans – the giving or nurturing species. In a similar vein, various other writers including Caroline Myss, have developed Teilhard de Chardin’s ideas and have renamed our species Homo Noeticus from the Latin Noetic to seek meaning or transcendence. In order to become more truly Human in each of these senses, we need to nurture a shared sense of Honour, and in her essay “Mothering as An Ethical Principle”, Heide Goettner-Abendroth, writes that,

“Honour means priceless and invaluable human contact and cooperation”.

The concept of Honour can unite progressive and traditional views through its generosity and self restraint. Surely we need to re-find and reaffirm this concept in contemporary culture because it is this gesture of honour that understands what is priceless, that holds our world together and which will save the planet. The question is how can we create a contemporary broad based culture in which honour, nobility and integrity are are prized?

(i) Karen Armstrong – 12 Steps to a More Compassionate Life
(ii) Adrian Bishop –
(iii) A European Research Study in Social Values Science & Technology 2005 found 80% of Britons either believed in God or some sort of spirit, the BBC found the figure to be 63% in 2009
(iv) Rudolf Steiner – Love and Its meaning In The World
(v) For-Giving – A Feminist Critique of Exchange – Genevieve Vaughn –
(vi) “Matriarchal Society and the Gift Paradigm: Motherliness as an Ethical Principle” -Heide Goettner-Abendroth
in: A Radically Different World View is Possible, DVD

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