When Faith “Falls Away”
Born in England in 1944, Karen Armstrong is a TED Prize-winning scholar of comparative religion best known for her bestselling 1993 volume "A History of God." A Catholic nun from 1962 through 1969, she left the order to become a student of English literature at Oxford amidst a struggle with then-undiagnosed epilepsy, a period of her life discussed in her 2004 autobiography "The Spiral Staircase." In 2008 she called for a council of world religious leaders to draw up a "Charter for Compassion" based on the moral principles embodied in the Golden Rule. In November 2009, she unveiled the Charter in Washington, DC and online.
Question: Why did you decide not to remain a nun?\r\n
Karen Armstrong: Well, I didn't leave the faith just when I left the convent. First I left the convent and that was because I wasn't a very good nun. I could see that I wasn't going to make it. It's very difficult to be a nun, or to live a religious life. It's very difficult to live a life of total celibacy or a life without any possessions or material responsibilities at all, or in total obedience to somebody else, and remain a mature whole human being, and I knew that I wasn't going to be one of those. There were some nuns in the convent who were able to do that and were fulfilled by it, but there were a lot of others who weren't and I could see that I was going to go into that category.\r\n
So, with great sorrow, I left. It wasn't a wonderful freeing experience. I didn't leap over the wall, as we say, in order to travel and wear beautiful clothes, and make lots of money and fall in love. I knew it was going to be awful. And it was awful. I'd been in the convent for seven years from the age of 17 years old to 24. That's a very formative period in anybody's life and I had totally missed the 1960's, which were a huge change in western social mores. I entered in 1962 and left in 1969. I had my first Beatles record in 1970, and I had never even heard of Vietnam. I came out of my convent, I was already at Oxford at that time and all of my fellow students were protesting against the Vietnam War, and I had never heard of it.\r\n
There was one time when we had been told about the Cuba Crisis in 1963, which happened shortly after I had left – or after I entered, I should say. And we were told that the end of the world was nigh and so we were all praying. But then they forgot to tell us that the crisis was over. So, for three weeks we sat and were expecting Armageddon. We were very isolated. That made it very difficult for me to make a comeback to the world because I didn't know what had happened. Society was transformed, it was as though I had been like Rip Van Winkle who had gone to sleep for a hundred years and came out and found totally transformed and unrecognizable world.\r\n
So, when I left, there was never any great moment when I stalked out of the Catholic Church. It fell away from me. I had tried, as I thought as a nun, to open myself to God and God seemed totally uninterested in me. The heavens remained closed and opaque. I now realize, of course, that I had a very, very inadequate idea of God. I was expecting clouds to part, a little sort of whisper in my ear, and of course, that's not what God is. God is not another being; we are talking about something much more profound.\r\n
So, I think I just found increasingly the whole weight of theology and theological dogma incredible and God remained distant and unknowable, and I just sort of drifted away from it.
Recorded on November 16, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen
For Karen Armstrong, leaving her convent as a young woman wasn’t an act of rebellion. Instead, she grew estranged from her "inadequate" idea of God.
We take fewer mental pictures per second.
- Recent memories run in our brains like sped-up old movies.
- In childhood, we capture images in our memory much more quickly.
- The complexities of grownup neural pathways are no match for the direct routes of young brains.
A consortium of scientists and engineers have proposed that the U.S. and Mexico build a series of guarded solar, wind, natural gas and desalination facilities along the entirety of the border.
- The proposal was recently presented to several U.S. members of Congress.
- The plan still calls for border security, considering all of the facilities along the border would be guarded and connected by physical barriers.
- It's undoubtedly an expensive and complicated proposal, but the team argues that border regions are ideal spots for wind and solar energy, and that they could use the jobs and fresh water the energy park would create.
Melting ice is turning up bodies on Mt. Everest. This isn't as shocking as you'd think.
- Mt. Everest is the final resting place of about 200 climbers who never made it down.
- Recent glacial melting, caused by global warming, has made many of the bodies previously hidden by ice and snow visible again.
- While many bodies are quite visible and well known, others are renowned for being lost for decades.
The bodies that remain in view are often used as waypoints for the living. Some of them are well-known markers that have earned nicknames.
For instance, the image above is of "Green Boots," the unidentified corpse named for its neon footwear. Widely believed to be the body of Tsewang Paljor, the remains are well known as a guide point for passing mountaineers. Perhaps it is too well known, as the climber David Sharp died next to Green Boots while dozens of people walked past him- many presuming he was the famous corpse.
A large area below the summit has earned the discordant nickname "rainbow valley" for being filled with the bright and colorfully dressed corpses of maintainers who never made it back down. The sight of a frozen hand or foot sticking out of the snow is so common that Tshering Pandey Bhote, vice president of Nepal National Mountain Guides Association claimed: "most climbers are mentally prepared to come across such a sight."
Other bodies are famous for not having been found yet. Sandy Irvine, the partner of George Mallory, may have been one of the first two people to reach the summit of Everest a full thirty years before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay did it. Since they never made it back down, nobody knows just how close to the top they made it.
Mallory's frozen body was found by chance in the nineties without the Kodak cameras he brought up to record the climb with. It has been speculated that Irvine might have them and Kodak says they could still develop the film if the cameras turn up. Circumstantial evidence suggests that they died on the way back down from the summit, Mallory had his goggles off and a photo of his wife he said he'd put at the peak wasn't in his coat. If Irving is found with that camera, history books might need rewriting.
As Everest's glaciers melt its morbid history comes into clearer view. Will the melting cause old bodies to become new landmarks? Will Sandy Irvine be found? Only time will tell.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.