Karen Armstrong Reflects on the State of Religious Faiths, Five Years Later

September 16, 2006

Source: The Star


On September 16, 2006 The Star reported, "For years, she was tagged the 'runaway nun,' the rebellious ex-Catholic with outspoken ideas about religion — comparing, for example, Pope John Paul II to a Muslim fundamentalist. Karen Armstrong's first book, Through the Narrow Gate, described her seven years as a nun in a Roman Catholic order, which she quit in 1969. She has since published numerous bestsellers, including A History of God, The Battle for God, Islam: A Short History, Buddha, The Spiral Staircase and most recently, The Great Transformation. Among the most-quoted experts on religion today, Armstrong, 61, and based in London, was a keynote speaker at the interfaith 'World Religions After September 11' conference in Montreal, which ended yesterday. The interview has been edited for length. Q: What is your assessment of the state of religious faith five years after 9/11? A: Well, there's good news and bad news. The bad news is there is still an immense amount of bigotry and rage on all sides. The rise of extremist forms of Islam are producing distorted visions of the West. Similarly in the West, there is a lot of talk that demonizes Islam and equates it all with violence and terror. That is one part of the story. The other part of the story is a reaction ... (to) this narrow perspective. People are seeing where that narrowness has led and that it produces no cure for the ills of humanity. All the world religions have a core of compassion ... that is absolutely central to all the world's great traditions. And this pluralism, this new appreciation of other world faiths, has been developing since the 20th century. It is a very important religious development. Q: How has Islam itself changed, both in the West and in the Islamic world? A: You have to understand that what the (Sept. 11) terrorists did was against all the tenets of Islam. What we call fundamentalism — whether it's Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Sikh — is profoundly unorthodox. It is actually often anti-orthodox. So what happened on 9/11 was in no way representative of Islam. It was largely dictated by politics. Politics are at the heart of this. In the West, unfortunately, the events that have unfolded since 9/11 have tended to attract more people toward this extremist, unorthodox, politicized form of so-called Islam."