By Dr. Debbie Weissman
On 8 June 2014, the Presidents of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas, joined Pope Francis for a program of prayer in the Vatican Garden. The three gentlemen, from three monotheistic traditions – Judaism, Islam, and Christianity – recited prayers for peace, found in each of their traditional sources.
But in many religions, prayer is a verbalized commitment to certain values and goals for which the individual or the group is praying – a commitment that must be followed up with actions. In building a lasting peace, what is most important are the actions; but praying together may be a step in the right direction.
The International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ), a framework for dialogue that arose in Europe in the tragic wake of World War II and the Holocaust, has promoted positive inter-religious relations among majorities and minorities for almost seven decades.
Currently there are member organisations on almost every continent. In recent years, the ICCJ also revived its International Abrahamic Forum for trilateral dialogue among Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Throughout the world, the situation of minorities – religious, ethnic, linguistic and others – is precarious, unless grounded in the democratic rule of law with recognition of minority rights. On all continents the threats are apparent, although in democratic societies they are generally far less acute.
In 2009 the ICCJ, meeting at its annual conference, adopted the Berlin Document, A Time for Re-commitment, a pioneering statement about inter-religious dialogue. Within this can be found the following, as part of the 12 calls to all people:
“We commit ourselves to the following goals and invite Jews, Christians and Muslims, together with all people of faith and goodwill, always to respect the other and to accept each other’s differences and dignity.
“9. To enhance interreligious and intercultural education
- By combating negative images of others, teaching the foundational truth that each human being is created in the image of God.
- By making the removal of prejudices against the other a high priority in the educational process.
- By encouraging mutual study of religious texts, so that Jews, Christians, Muslims and members of other religious groups can learn both from and with each other.
- By supporting common social action in the pursuit of common values.
“10. To promote interreligious friendship and cooperation as well as social justice in the global society
- By rejoicing in the uniqueness of each person, and promoting everyone’s political, economic and social well-being.
- By recognizing as equal citizens members of faith traditions who have migrated to new homelands where they may have become part of a religious minority.
- By striving for equal rights for all people, regardless of their religion, gender or sexual orientation.
- By recognizing and grappling with the fact that feelings of religious superiority—and an accompanying sense that other religions are inferior—are present in each tradition, including one’s own.”
The full document, together with an educational guide, can be accessed at www.iccj.org.
The basis for respect for the other, we believe, lies in a multi-pronged approach, hinted at in Point 10, bullet 1. First, we must recognize in each and everyone a being no less human than ourselves. For some of our traditions, this is symbolized by the notion that all human beings are created in the Divine Image. As the 2nd century Jewish text, the Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5, states:
” …a single person was created to proclaim the greatness of the Holy One, blessed is He; for people stamp many coins with one seal and they are all like one another; but the King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed is He, has stamped every person with the seal of the first man, Adam, yet none of them is like his fellow. Therefore every one must say, ‘For my sake was the world created.'”
At the same time that we search for commonalities, we must respect differences. People are members of particular families, communities, religious and ethnic groups, etc. As philosopher Michael Walzer has put it: “The crucial commonality of the human race is particularism…”
A universalized human being is, in a sense, a dehumanized one.
We must, therefore, see the uniqueness of each individual, our common humanity, and the great cultural diversity of humankind. Only if we acknowledge all three of these levels can we truly create a human community, nourished by its religious and spiritual traditions, working for peace.