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

for Dialogue and Alliance. Please recommend your colleagues

subscribe and contribute, and please be sure the libraries of your institutions

keep Dialogue and Alliance in their respective catalogues so

that scholars young and old have this vital reference available as a

support for knowledge and a peaceful world.

Frank Kaufmann