Karen Armstrong was born in 1944 and at the age of 18 she entered the Roman Catholic convent of the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus where she became a teacher for 7 years. She says she was abused in the convent and suffered mortification with whips and was required to wear a chain with spikes around her wrist, as well as suffering strange punishments. She left the convent and continued as a teacher. She began her literary career by writing about her convent experience.
She states that religion is a practical discipline that teaches us to discover new capacities of the mind and heart. “Some theologians call this the God beyond God. And this God isn't just a being like you or me, or the microphone in front of me, or even the atom, an unseen being that we can find in our laboratories. What we mean by God is, some theologians have said, is being itself that is in everything that is around us and cannot be tied down to one single instance of being.”
Armstrong says she has been inspired by the Jewish tradition's emphasis on practice and faith. She says, "I say that religion isn't about believing things. It's about what you do. It's ethical alchemy. It's about behaving in a way that changes you, that gives you intimations of holiness and sacredness."
She believes that fundamentalism is a product of our current culture that has forgotten compassion. She has said, "We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community."
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