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Michael Lerner on the Saudi interfaith dialogue

July 25, 2008

Rabbi Michael Lerner, founder of Tikkun Magazine and the Network for Spiritual Progressives was among the Jewish delegates invited to the recent Saudi Interfaith Dialogue in Madrid. He submitted the following report of his conversations with the Saudi hosts at the conference.

Key quotes:

“The king went on to explain that it should be the task of the various religious communities of the world to work together to overcome … spiritual crisis. But that will require religious cooperation, which must begin with mutual respect and tolerance. We need to emphasize what all religions have in common — the ethical message that permeates every major religion. That message is that hatred can be overcome through love. We in the religious world need to choose love to overcome hatred, justice over oppression, peace over wars, universal brotherhood over racism.”

“To me, this didn’t sound like the King I had come to expect from Western media …I can’t remember hearing either Bush or Carter speaking like this or, for that matter, any Israeli Prime Minister including Rabin.”

“He was introducing a new language into the Islamic religious discourse, and it was a language that has in the past largely been rooted in Western humanism and human rights. Many Muslims in the room mentioned to me or to others that they felt that this speech was actually a significant breakthrough…”

“Wouldn’t it be better if we really wish to build a future of peace that we stop trying to get a triumph on the issue of guilt? There are two national discourses here, and each has lots of facts to back it up, but it is futile and destructive to follow the path now being followed in which each side tells the story as though they are the righteous victims and the other side are the evil oppressors!”

And Lerner’s bottom line:
“For those of us who despair about Christianity or Judaism having gone astray so far from the loving elements in their founders’ visions that they now embody, in at least part of their practice, exactly the opposite values from those that made these religions catch fire in the hearts of their adherents (that may be what it means to see the Burning Bush), the notion that Islam might be the spark that generates a new religious revival based on mutual respect and spiritual intensity could dramatically expand our understanding of the endless potential for God to surprise us, un-do our conceptual certainties, and open our hearts to each other.”

But the whole story is worth a read, as it does contain some interesting twists and turns. To me, the key aspect is that although the protagonists disagree, they are talking and learning more about each other. God willing, this will form the basis for honest negotiation for a lasting peace based on real understanding, justice, and the common values that we Jews, Christians, and Muslims hold dear.

Enjoy …


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