Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Intertwined Paths: Christians, Muslims, Jews Part Two - Paul Morris

Major Dr. Harold Hill

My aim, as usual, is to try to provide a counter to the voices of Islamophobia and help them to realise that there are alternative points of view; in Winston Churchill's words, that "Jaw-Jaw is better than War-War!"

Part Two - Conclusion

One recent example of this new approach is David Nirenberg’s new book, Neighboring Faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism in the Middle Ages and Today (Chicago University Press, 2014). He emphasises their “overlapping geographics”, and writes: “Islam, Christianity, and Judaism have never been independent of each other: that is as neighbors, in close relation to one another, that they have constantly transformed themselves, reinterpreting both their scriptures and their histories. Their pasts are not discrete, independent, or stable”, and the most important consequence of this for him, is that, “neither are their presents or their futures”. (12). He calls this interdependence, “coproduction,” that is, the religions coproduce each other in a dense network of identification and dis-identification. His notion of “ambivalent neighborliness” is intended to capture something of the array of responses to the neighbour “ranging from love and toleration to total extermination” (2).
Back to Abraham: Jews, Muslims and Christians have overlapping but very different traditions concerning Abraham – a topic for another lecture (see, Carol Bakhos, The Family of Abraham (Harvard University Press, 2104)) and like all our traditions each of us implicitly and at times explicitly, debates or challenges the teachings of the other two faiths. We should not fear this. We should not fear that not everything is similar and that they are real differences and acknowledge that these differences, in part, allow us to understand ourselves and each other.

Abrahamic religions allow us to recognise both our distinctiveness and differences and the realities of our historical interactions and their profound impact on our histories. We cannot return to the past – and anyway it was very different from what we image it to be – but we can create the future together.

Tonight is an opportunity to move beyond our separate histories to create a living reality in which we – Jews, Christians and Muslims – acknowledge our special relationships, something that is not an alternative to broader interfaith relationships but the recognition that our sacred theological histories, so often seen as parallel lines are in fact intertwined and actually intersect in the figure of Abraham/Avraham/Ibrahim and again and again thereafter through time, calling us to understand ourselves and each other as Children of Abraham; Benai Avraham; Banu Ibrahim.

Let me end with the blessing from Numbers (6:26) from the Bible:
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם

Dr. Paul Morris
Professor of Religious Studies at Victoria University, Wellington, NZ

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