Sunday, September 30, 2012

3 Religions, 1 God? (Part 2)

This is the second in a series reviewing a forthcoming book, Do Jews, Christians, and Muslims Worship the Same God? by Jacob Newsner, Baruch Levine, Bruce Chilton, and Vincent Cornell.  In Part one, we reflected on Baruch Levine's perspective on the question from a more inclusive Jewish perspective.  In Short, he argued:  Everyone who worships God with sincerity worships the same God.

Jacob Neusner also writes from the Jewish perspective, but with a more orthodox (and exclusive) interpretation.  I am grateful that this book includes his perspective, because too often interfaith dialogue only occurs between people who are more committed to getting along with people of other faiths than remaining to to their own faith tradition (more on that at the end of this series).

Neusner cuts off the question as to whether or not we worship the same God at its premise, arguing that the assumption is that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all monotheistic religions.  From his perspective, this is not true--only Jews are monotheistic.  True to his faith, Neusner points out there can be no discussion about "religion in general" because
'Monotheism' generalizes about the nature of God and speaks of the oneness, the unity, the uniqueness of God.... But when we wish to speak of classical Judaism, we turn to its ancient cannon of Scripture and Rabbinic tradition, and that tradition does not frame its conceptions in abstraction and generalization.
From this he argues that monotheist religions worship the same God only if the one particular monotheist religion recognizes the other religions in question as truly monotheistic.  Since he is Jewish, this is done from the Jewish perspective, and the question becomes, does a classical understanding of the Jewish scriptures recognize Christianity and Islam as truly monotheistic.  Then dealing in greater detail with the scriptures, Neusner argues that neither Christianity nor Islam are truly monotheistic.  In that way, he says Judaism stands in judgement against Christianity and Islam, and that this position must be the beginning of any true interfaith dialogue.

1.  I appreciate Neusner's commitment to faithfulness in his tradition.  I agree with him that true interfaith dialogue must deal with the fullness of each faith's commitments or else the particularities of different faiths are sacrificed for something entirely other than any of the three faiths.  In other words, we can't decide that the goal is to believe we all worship the same God then start the conversation or else we run the risk of creating some fourth God in the middle of three otherwise distinctive religions.
2.  My fundamental disagreements with Neusner would be on whether or not Christianity is the natural and accurate fulfillment of Judaism.  I get the sense that Neusner is interested in that discussion.  That is true interfaith dialogue.  A Christian is unappologetic about the way in which Christianity is the fulfillment of Judaism and the Jew disagrees or comes to agreement.  This is precisely the nature of the conversation between Paul and his Jewish counterparts.  Sometimes there was agreement, sometimes there was disagreement, sometimes there was violence.  It seems logical to me that you can condemn the violence without condemning that style of dialogue (more on that in a future post).

Are you comfortable engaging in conversation with those that may disagree?  How do you share your faith with people who believe differently (as we are called to do) without becoming offensive or responding defensively?

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