Helps and Hindrances:
Jews, Christians, and Muslims
verything changes. We are going through the single
greatest transformation of human life in all of known history.
Technology has elevated the pace of human productivity to
astronomical and unheard of rates. Communications technology challenges
the very foundations of existence as it encroaches toward “notime,”
and in our social interactions “no-space.” The impact of the
changes through which are living on being human has not begun to
come under serious reflection.
The internet and telecommunications revolution has altered life at
the most basic levels, both for individuals and families, as well as for
nations and the “global human family.” The power of our connectivity
serves at once to intensify and increase our “oneness” as a species on
the one hand, and to cause radical disintegration in human relations on
the other. Through the internet, I can have 20 scholars working on this
page with me as I write, just the right scholars, from any corner of the
world, on the one hand, and on the other I can be surrounded by my
children at the dinner table, all texting friends here and there, utterly
disconnected from where they are and with whom they are.
If I like soccer, I need not watch the local team in the fresh air with
my fellow New Yorkers, because I might be a Tottenham fan choosing
to watch their matches in the solitude (loneliness) of my own kitchen
table. My wife and I might like the movie “Meet Joe Black,” but I like
the 1934 version and she the 1998 remake. She’ll watch her version in
the den. I’ll watch the earlier version upstairs somewhere.
When I was 18, I hitch-hiked for days just to surprise a friend by
showing up unannounced at his door. Today, if my 18-year-old stops
to tie her shoelace in Times Square, 50 Homeland Security cameras
catch the action, and at least some percentage of New York’s thousands
of police will take notice. Google is probably tracking the key
strokes of this introduction as I type it, and my email and Gmail will
carry ads for shoelaces next time I open a “letter.”
We are so connected, and so disconnected. We are everywhere in
the blink of an eye, yet never where we sit, or with whom we sit.
Does anyone gaze out the window of a train anymore? Or just
gaze? Pause. Let one’s thoughts wander, sort themselves out, settle,
find a still resting place like water? In my world, I never see a person
pause and reflect anymore. The cell phone and the ever more
infinite mobile entertainment devices seem to shield human beings
from themselves, from their thoughts, from the settling of their whole
being to oneness and stasis, the foundation to carry on. Lest a fleeting
moment befall a modern in which, God forbid, they actually had
a non-functional thought or reflection, out comes the phone, the iPod,
the “doing,” the consuming, the pursuing, and oh what isolated, roaringly
self-obsessed, self-absorbed, self-serving doing, consuming,
and pursuing it is.
In the few short years since the inexorable march of cell-phone
tyranny began, people have slid into the burden of living three or four
lives at once. Home is never away from us while we are at work.
Work is never away from us while we are home. What happens to
the human spirit in all this? Who or what provides the anchor in the
storm, the still at the center, the breadcrumbs on the path to help find
our way home day by day? What do days, weeks, and years of never
stopping to think, of Blackberry email at funerals, of office mail during
your boy’s first soccer game of the season, do to the human spirit?
Who and what is taking care of being human during this hypersonic,
agitable pace of change in our crowded, confused, and fractured world
People who fail to intuit the importance of spiritual life, and the
need for this to institutionalize itself in religious structures, occasionally,
either from ignorance or from ideological guile, try to bury religions
in the time of their founding and origins, a trick to intensify the
argument of their contemporary irrelevance. Fulminating on things
one doesn’t understand is pretty old too, though. New religions also
succumb to the error of understanding established religions as being
“from long ago.” This of course is not accurate. All major religions
are constantly evolving, constantly struggling to be relevant to any
given time and society in which they operate. The challenge to do so
in the case of religion is acute, however, since origins (which really
ARE from long ago) are sacred, but the pursuit of relevance to the
present, not necessarily so. Suffice it to say, while one errs to think
of contemporary religion as arcane (despite so many arcane trappings
and habits) one must simultaneously ask or seek for the wellspring of
religion in this time, this time of hypersonic, agitable change, that can
pastor the person, the family, and our kind.
The mission to guide humanity through this time must be the
context for interfaith. This is a positive horizon. Most approaches to
interfaith are “curative” oriented, or experiential and sentimental in
orientation. Truth is that stopping fighting is never a sufficient cause
to bring this purpose to pass. People already know that fighting is
no good, both before and while they are fighting. The mere ideal to
develop “harmonious relations” does not suffice. Furthermore, the
delight of people who awaken one by one from the slumber of unexamined
and inherited religious prejudice, while good in itself, also is
insufficient. These folk, who tend not to be ensconced in the power
tectonics of religion, cannot understand why religious conflict persists.
It persists for the same reason all conflict exists whenever power
and resources are at stake.
Where in human affairs exists the example of leaders transcending
self-interest to collaborate for the greater good? The correct answer
is nowhere (though of course there are countless instances of individual
saints and rogues with enough sense and wisdom to do so).
As whole enterprises and institutions, collaboration transcending self
interest where power and resources are at stake do not exist, no matter
how high minded the enterprise is, the arts, science, the academy,
and so forth. All these “enlightened” “higher-minded” “sensitive”
communities are every bit as divided and intolerant. The reason why
interreligious discord stands out as an abomination is because it is the
mission of religion to mediate God and God’s peace. This is the great
conundrum and great challenge. Here we have an enterprise that deals
in absolutes, in non-negotiables on matters of ultimate concern, where
compromise is not a virtue, and in fact not possible or proper, on the
one hand, yet it is meant to be the wellspring of peace, charity, kindness,
and all manner of virtue on the other.
We have never lived well with this paradox, and the history of
religious war, violence, and atrocities can testify to that. But now,
as our world is being folded in onto itself in the kiln of forced oneness
wrought by transportation, communications, and all manner of
technological advance, the paradox of religious tension and conflict
screams out as all the more abhorrent.
The horrible carnage that fills our lives these days, so much of
which has a “religious” (admittedly perverted religion) undercurrent,
makes the need for interfaith pressing in our time. But the religious
world faces every bit the challenge of our race as a whole.
We are being thrust more profoundly into the conditions of one
world, but we have not transcended our inner darkness that makes us
comfortable with hatred and separation. It is for this reason that families
are disintegrating, if not substantially then in heart, as technology
creates other more virtual “oneness-possibilities.” In the same way,
religions (like all else in the world) are being thrust into the conditions
of one world, but these too have not transcended their ease with
separation. Some part of the human being and some part of human
life must be the unifier in the face of disintegration. In the person it
is spirit, in world affairs it is religion. This is the mission of interfaith
For this reason we are proud and pleased to bring to your attention
five important articles reflecting on and guiding our horizons and
consciousness to better harmonize the word of religion. This issue
ventures forward through four points of orientation and inquiry. Three
articles study the relationship among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam,
one introduces a broad and universal concept for interreligious relations
across the board, one examines Muslim and Christian relations
in a bilateral conversation, and finally one explains matters internal to
the multiform reality of contemporary Islam in the present world. Of
special excitement for us here in this issue is the presence of preeminent
leading lights, and celebrated pioneers from the interfaith world.
The first article in this issue is that of Darrol Bryant, a fine piece in
the forefront of interfaith reflection. Now that interfaith has become a
widespread phenomenon, it transpires on a very wide range of sophistication
and expertise. Interfaith discovery is so exciting and rewarding
that there is a tendency for newcomers to suddenly feel the expert.
But perhaps interfaith relations are like marriages. It looks and feels
rosy and infinite in its first stages, but in fact has a long way to go
through many ups and downs. Dr. Bryant’s work is mature and seasoned;
it pushes into the more demanding areas in pursuit of harmony.
Dr. Bryant makes the astute observation and asks the scary question:
Do the shared characteristics and common theology and history of
what he calls “the children of Abraham.” help or hinder the likelihood
of greater harmony and cooperation? Dr. Bryant takes us through a
provocative but hopeful tour of the different approaches to some of the
key shared points of contact among these three closely tied religions.
Another great interfaith pioneer and champion, Reverend Dr.
Marcus Braybrooke graces our pages in this issue with his article
“Reflections on Three Faiths,” in which he focuses on what interfaith
dialogue, can contribute to good Community Relations and Social
Cohesion. The context through which the larger implications of these
relationships are examined is the complicated debate about multiculturalism.
Martin Forward, a British ex-pat, now Executive Director
of the Wackerlin Center for Faith and Action at Aurora University,
offers the article “To Tell the Truth: An Interfaith Vocation.” This is a
good piece. It is personal and engaging. It shines a bright light on live
dialogue and even some of the more highly esteemed occasions of interfaith
writing, such that it calls for a much more profound and vulnerable
encounter, and greater integrity among those who would presume to
write on the faith of others, or theorize about how religions can better
cooperate. Forward, like Braybrooke and Bryant, is deep and long into
the labor of interfaith relations and so brings our readers into a genuine
avant garde in the field. All three take up questions pertaining to relations
across all three faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Melanie E. Trexler, a new and highly promising young scholar
moves beyond reflection particular to the three “faiths from Abraham”
to more universal propositions applicable to the entire enterprise of
interfaith, and attendant issues surrounding the fact of religious pluralism.
Trexler incorporates feminist viewpoints into the conversation on
pluralism. She argues that in the context of a world of radical plurality
and one becoming more so with globalization, modernization, and
technological innovation, it is time that feminists focus on issues of
religious pluralism, adding their distinct opinions to the discussion at
large. Trexler draws upon the implications of Christian feminist theologian
Sallie McFague’s conception of the world as the body of God
for religious pluralism, arguing that conceiving of the world as the
body of God can aid Christians in understanding the world organically,
recognizing the interconnectedness and interdependency prevalent in
human-human and divine-human relationships.
The final three papers in this issue come from distinctly Muslim
starting points. Shaheed Satterdien writes in direct bilateral conversation
and dialogue in the frame of Muslim-Christian understanding.
Ameer Ali performs a most valuable work for our readers by explaining
three centers of power within Islam that influence how Islam interacts
interreligiously in the contemporary world.
This issue of Dialogue and Alliance is especially strong since its
contributors are among the most experienced interfaith leaders writing
in the world today.
As always, we wish to thank you for your steady and constant support
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