Thursday, February 28, 2008

More on Inter-Religious dialog/relations

I am a little disappointed in the joint series Children of Abraham on dialog and relations. I expected something more robust. I was especially looking forward to Dr. Mark Swanson's presentation since his credentials included being a leader in the world of Christian-Muslim dialog. Though I am not sure exactly what I expected. Perhaps it will help to simply summarize what I have heard from the three Lutheran(ELCA) speakers. I have heard that we should find projects (community, charity and social justice) to work together to better our world and local communities and work for justice. Then the specific project (which is also an official project of the ELCA) is to attempt to come together with Jews and Muslim's to encourage a peaceful and just solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. This requires seeking to understand and humanize both sides in the conflict, and admitting Christian failings, important both to be clear about our own history and Christian violence but also to not stand in judgment. Lastly, that we are called to inter-religious relations out of the call to be hospitable (Hospitality is a key component to all three faiths) and that the Scriptures are full of the positive role of the other and difference.

The above points were all presented with the utmost sincerity and earnestness. Clearly those who have come to speak were genuine in their fervor for interfaith relations. Yet, I find myself unmoved because they have said the easy things and the obvious things to say about inter-religious relations when your neighbors and co-workers are simply of another faith. When the communities of a society are no longer homogeneous. But as was pointed out by a Muslim participant in the discussion in the first session, the above things should simply be said and encouraged no matter what the others belief and even if they are not religious at all. My disappointment then comes because the series has not been about inter-religious relations but has been about how Christians (well ELCA Lutherans) and Muslims and Jews can together be good citizens in our pluralistic cities and neighborhoods and good internationalists and citizens of the "Global Village". But that has little to do with our faiths per se and more admitting a fact of our existence. It took three sessions to tell us don't isolate yourselves be hospitable to those of differing faiths and acknowledge that those of other faiths want good things are not horrible people and we are all human. Perhaps people needed to be remind of this, certainly one woman who seems to have come from very conservative protestant churches, certainly found what was being said to be new and encouraging.

However, the series was supposed to be not about being good citizens in a pluralistic environment but about inter-faith relations, which I had assumed would mean some conversation about what our faiths actually teach us to believe. To put things in the starkest possible light and at risk of offending(I feel that risk needs to be taken if true dialog and conversation and cooperation will take place) I will begin with the definition of God and who that God is. For the Christian God/Allah is Trinity Father Son and Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ is God and human and as such is the final revelation of god to humanity. There has been no one who knew god more intimately and there will be no one after Jesus of Nazareth who can lead us to that knowledge of God. Jesus of Nazareth's death on the Cross brought a new reality into existence. If I understand Islam at all, God/Allah is singular and any introduction of divisions into that unity would according to Islam create multiple deities. Similarly to Christianity and Judaism, God/Allah wishes to Reveal God's self to humanity and have us rightly know the truth about God. While Abraham and Moses, the prophets and Jesus all were prophets of god they either only had a partial understanding (or others have distorted the original Revelation given to each) Mohamed is the last and greatest prophet and the Koran is the final and complete revelation of God/Allah. This revelation includes how to organize society according to the will of God/Allah. As I understand Judaism in this very stark and brief summary would be that God/Allah has revealed God's self in the Torah. It is in keeping the Torah that one knows and follows God. Jews are chosen to show the world the will of God through this observance of the Torah. The messiah and thus God's final word and revelation have not yet come to us, and so we wait. My hope is to show in this stark brief outline of the basis of these three religions that the motivations, the rational and even how we might understand a better world, what is good for our communities and the nature of social justice will and should differ between these three religions.

Thus even working together requires not only admitting in some vague way that we are different but talking specifically about how Jesus' death resurrection and ascension has inaugurated the Eighth day, that is we are already at the end of history and have been so effects Christian understandings of why we seek after justice and explains why certain sects of Christianity believe that we should rejoice in the world getting worse. I will not here presume to speak for Islam or Judaism and how their basic beliefs affect what working for a better world would mean. This sort of line of question and thought is what I had expected from this series. I had expected a robust assertion of the difference and incommensurate truth claims about divinity and even possibly our place as humans in the world, but with an encouragement and exploration about how given our very real and significant differences we can live together share in acts of charity and justice together and argue together about the nature of divinity and truth and ultimate things. Instead we were told to be nice and to play together without insulting one another. A word I suppose needs to be heard in our larger context, but I am not sure our people needed that and certainly I do not think we need three highly educated people to tell us this three times in three different ways and always talking about difference but never directly addressing those differences and their significance.