Saturday, September 24, 2011

Interfaith and Abrahamic Faith

I got an interesting email from an NGO promoting interfaith efforts around the United States. As founder and director of Wisdom House, an interfaith center in Nashville, I am all for such efforts. What I found interesting, however, was the opening line of the promo:

“Religious diversity is an essential value in many faiths, including Christianity, Islam and Judaism.”


The Hebrew Bible makes it clear that there is only one true faith, and the Jews have it. If biblical Jews had any interest in other religions it was to destroy them, and while rabbinic Judaism lacked the power to continue in that vein, and with some amazing Medieval Jewish-Sufi exceptions, I don’t see where the rabbis were all that eager to claim equality with other religions. 

Jesus in the New Testament doesn’t sound like a universalist to me: “I am the way and the truth and the life, No one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6). And the Catholic Church’s extra ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the Church there is no salvation) doesn’t sound all that welcoming of interfaith.

And while the Qur’an does say “Mankind! We created you from a male and female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you might come to know each other,” (The Qur'an , 49:13), Islam still argues that the Qur’an is the only uncorrupted revelation from God, and Judaism and Christianity are less than perfect faiths.

So are interfaith efforts really part of mainstream Abrahamic thinking? I don’t think so.  If religious diversity were really an essential value in Christianity, Islam and Judaism, why would we need an NGO to promote it?

Let’s be honest: no religion is all that interested in any other religion, and authentic interfaith dialogue, dialogue that could lift us out of our respective boxes and into a more universalist frame of mind and heart, is revolutionary and subversive work. Which is why it is so desperately needed.


Maggid said...

Thank you - -g-

Raksha said...

Re The Hebrew Bible makes it clear that there is only one true faith, and the Jews have it. If biblical Jews had any interest in other religions it was to destroy them...

Yeah, sure they did. This is yet more evidence that just like history, Scripture is written by the winners. Or at least it's heavily edited and censored by the winners. I'm currently reading The Hebrew Goddess by Raphael Patai, which paints a VERY different picture of "biblical Judaism" than what the official monotheistic party line tries to tell us has "always" been the case.

Anyone who didn't have at least an inkling of it already would be shocked at how "pagan" the religion of our forefathers and foremothers (very important!) actually was. I don't mean only the folk religion of the villages, but also the royal cult as practiced in Solomon's temple, and later in Herod's temple right up until its destruction in 70 C.E. The archaeological evidence, which can't be edited or censored, bears this out.

One part of the standard disclaimer concedes this point, but condemns the behavior at the same time: "Oh yes, our ancestors did all that pagan stuff, made all those graven images of naked goddesses and stuff like that. The prophets tell us all about how they were constantly backsliding. But they were bad, bad, BAAAADDDD and God punished them for it."

Am I really supposed to accept that kind of simplistic orthodoxy at face value? Pretend I don't know that it was that very same Semitic paganism, which after going through many transformations, eventually became the heart and soul of esoteric Judaism?

But even with all that in mind, I think it's very unfortunate that the commandment is still on the books to wipe out all the seven nations of Canaan down to the last man, woman and child, and that many people still pay lip service to it. Is that in Deuteronomy? Sorry, but I don't know the Torah all that well.

I'm familiar with all the official apologies and disclaimers, such as the fact that by the time that passage was written it was already too late for any such "final solution" to be possible, assuming that anyone had actually wanted it. By the time that passage was written, the Israelites had already been intermarrying and interbreeding with the Canaanites for generations. So what it really amounts to is nothing more than wishful thinking on somebody's part about something that "should have" happened generations earlier. "If only we had just killed them all, we wouldn't have to put up with all this freakin' idolatry now." Sound familiar?

I don't find that kind of explanation very satisfactory or reassuring at all. It still presents what is commonly understood as a divine sanction for genocide--with tragic and bloody consequences I don't have to spell out for anyone. I've had Christian fundamentalists throw it in my face that the Israelites disobeyed "God's" command to wipe out the Canaanites, and that was the beginning of all our troubles for the next 2000+ years. To which I can only answer, "God does not command genocide. Period."

I have no choice but to say that to anyone, Christian or Jew, who cites that as a precedent or rationale. Because anyone with a genocidal mindset is sure to identify their favorite scapegoat as the physical and/or spiritual descendants of the seven nations of Canaan, making it not only necessary but actually virtuous to wipe them out. That's guaranteed, and we can see many examples of that kind of thinking right now.


Raksha said...

Rabbi Rami: I just wanted to let you know I turned that long comment above into a new post on my own blog. I made sure to link back to this one. I don't know doing that will cure me of the bad habit of hijacking other people's blogs, but it should help to get the tendency under control.

בְּשֵם יְהוָֹה וְיֵשׁוּעַ וְרוחַ מִרְיָם said...


Stephen Berer said...

Rami, with all due respect, your comment that "The Hebrew Bible makes it clear that there is only one true faith, and the Jews have it," is utterly false. The Bible states that there is one true GOD, and Jews are the priesthood of that God. The Bible also acknowledges Noachide law and peoples bound by it, who are just. Vis Melchitzedek, Jethro, Ballam (who is called by one midrashic author the 2nd greatest prophet), etc, etc. Indeed, the word religion doesn't exist in the Bible, so the biblical authors could NEVER claim there was only one true religion.
Shame on you. I'm not telling you anything you don't know. I think you were afraid to criticize Christianity and Islam for their supercessionist ideologies, without also criticizing Judaism for being similarly intolerant. But Judaism is, plain and simple, NOT supercessionist, neither in its Israelite form, nor in its rabbinic form.

Rabbi Rami said...

Thanks for the comments. First Raksha--I love The Hebrew Goddess. Everyone should read it.

Second, Stephen-- excellent correction! I think the Bible speaks in multiple voices (as does the NT and Koran), and I didn't think of the Noachide Laws but of the genocide committed against the people who lived in the promised land prior to the Jews.

Raksha said...

Re Thanks for the comments. First Raksha--I love The Hebrew Goddess. Everyone should read it.

I agree. :-)

andrea perez said...

I think all three religions would say: I am right. Why belong to any one religion or group for that matter if at some level you don't believe you got it right? I don't think many people actually "read" the Torah,OT, NT, or the Koran. They sit around letting the "experts" explain it to them. And then go around doing a lot of stupid, harmful things they never would have done on their own without acting out what is best for the mob. Sort of like the way riots start at soccer matches...who really cares who wins, you just pile it on because your crew is in an uproar.
The problem lies in looking at mid-evil( done on purpose) logic and trying to extend it to modern times. Interactions with anyone else should be an evolving process: from we'll give you basic human rights and we'll let you live here as a second class citizen to fully formed equality for all regardless of your religious/tribal affiliations. I don't believe we'll ever get around the arrogance of believing we know it all...but we can get to a space where we can keep it to ourselves and eat some "pork" once in awhile.
And isn't that the simplicity of interfaith talks: getting around to eating some naan once in awhile and seeing each other with some common eyes...I'm just to cynical to believe in Universal peace any longer. I'd be happy with an occasional bread exchange and some civil interactions. I mean, it's gotten to the point for me, that I know you think you are right...let's get over it and try to live next to each other without trying to kill each other.

Unknown said...

Please tell me who some of the Medieval Jewish-Sufi's were?
Your writing informs and inspires me.