This tolerant view of spirituality is no doubt informed by Armstrong's research and investigations into other religions. Her capacity to critically accept and understand belief systems and open them to general readers has certainly granted her an important voice in religious studies. For example, she recently visited Pakistan ("What's an old wine-loving woman like me doing there?" she joked) where she spoke to assemblies of thousands and met with President Mushareff. The people who attended her lectures are "desperate for a friendly western voice; there's a real hunger in the Muslim world for a friendly western voice." What pains Muslims the most, she said, is the west's denigration of Islam. President Mushareff made this clear to her when he stressed above all else that the west must stop trampling on other people's traditions.
We should use our religious traditions to build community, said Armstrong, and I agree. Most of us do, I think. 350 people showed up to a suburban bookstore to hear someone talk about religious tolerance; clearly there is a need, in a time of declining faith, war, and election-year rhetoric, to find some common ground. When common ground is suffering, as it is in Iraq and Afghanistan, then fundamentalism can take root, and intolerance can follow. When a democracy fails itself and asserts the ancient code of “might makes right,” what follows is a divided and suspicious citizenry, an angry and oppressed population, a reversion to the principle of lex talionis, and the rising of religious and political voices calling for either-or choices framed in agitprop: “You’re with us or you’re against us;” the “Axis of Evil;” “God Bless Our Troops.” And that’s just in the aggressor country, not in those destroyed by bombs, or forced into poverty by propped-up governments, or bullied into submission by economic sanction and saber-rattling. Armstrong didn’t go so far as to say this, but she did offer hope – an ancient message, found at the heart of all the world’s religions, and the one thing we can all agree we need more than ever.