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Home » 3 Faiths Together

MY WISH FOR THE HOLIDAYS

10 December 2015 One Comment

My Wish for the Holidays
Rabbi Michael Whitman

This year, the Jewish Holiday of Chanukah is in full swing, with the major Holidays of other faiths rapidly approaching. Each Holiday is distinct in meaning and celebration. But there is a commonality I am wishing for in how each of us approaches this significant season.

I urge you to read “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence,” by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. It is a marvelous work that speaks to the crisis in our world today. For a much shorter treatment, please see the essay by David Brooks (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/17/opinion/finding-peace-within-the-holy-texts.html?_r=0) describing the main points of this book.

In Brooks’ words:
“Sacks emphasizes that it is not religion itself that causes violence. In their book Encyclopedia of Wars, Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod surveyed 1,800 conflicts and found that less than 10 percent had any religious component at all.

Rather, religion fosters groupishness, and the downside of groupishness is conflict with people outside the group. Religion can lead to thick moral communities, but in extreme forms it can also lead to what Sacks calls pathological dualism, a mentality that divides the world between those who are unimpeachably good and those who are irredeemably bad…

Sacks correctly argues that we need military weapons to win the war against fanatics like ISIS, but we need ideas to establish a lasting peace. Secular thought or moral relativism are unlikely to offer any effective rebuttal. Among religious people, mental shifts will be found by reinterpreting the holy texts themselves. There has to be a Theology of the Other: a complex biblical understanding of how to see God’s face in strangers…

The great religions are based on love, and they satisfy the human need for community. But love is problematic. Love is preferential and particular. Love excludes and can create rivalries. Love of one scripture can make it hard to enter sympathetically into the minds of those who embrace another…

Alongside the ethic of love there is a command to embrace an ethic of justice. Love is particular, but justice is universal. Love is passionate, justice is dispassionate.

Justice demands respect of the other. It plays on the collective memory of people who are in covenantal communities: Your people, too, were once vulnerable strangers in a strange land.

God frequently appears where he is least expected — in the voice of the stranger — reminding us that God transcends the particulars of our attachments…

The reconciliation between love and justice is not simple, but for believers the texts, read properly, point the way. Sacks’s great contribution is to point out that the answer to religious violence is probably going to be found within religion itself, among those who understand that religion gains influence when it renounces power.”

Each of us, in our separate faiths, has a choice to make as we approach our Holiday – either to reinforce banding together to the exclusion of others, or banding together to respect the other. Today, the voices of exclusion and suspicion and denigration are shrill and constant. Our voices of respect and justice must be louder and more persuasive. Each of us has this voice in our own Holiday, our own texts, and our own celebrations. We must find it and use it. Together, we can make this wish of mine come true!
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