My friend Hugh writes with this fantastic commentary from The Guardian. He notes, “Karen Armstrong is one of the best living writers on religion.” This is such a gem that it’s hard to identify the best paragraph to excerpt:
We no longer require our celebrities to go out into the wilderness to bring spiritual benefit to others. The long arduous quest of the hero is alien to those who seek immediate fame with minimum effort on Pop Idol. You can become a star, a luminary of our time, simply by appearing in a soap opera. We do not expect our celebrities to challenge us, as Socrates did, or, like Buddha, to shock us out of our habitual selfishness by making us aware of the ubiquity of human suffering. We want our stars to distract us from these uncomfortable realities.
It’s an exceptionally well thought-out essay on modern heroes, and how they differ from traditional ones. Its themes reminded me slightly of The Hero with A Thousand Faces. She loses a few points near the end when she says “in this time of unprecedented danger, heroic leadership must question old certainties and chauvinisms”. Unprecedented danger? Maybe I’m misunderstanding her, but, practically speaking, we’ve never lived in safer times. Regardless, some exceptional writing.
To my shame, I listed Ms. Armstrong’s Buddha among the books I gave up on. Coincidentally, Hugh, a very smart man, sent me this email and went on to explain ed that I should “read her books – any of her books, she will enlighten you”. So, I guess Buddha gets another chance.