I write this at a time of escalating violence in Israel and Gaza. This is not the place to discuss the violence. But this is a time to discuss why I created this blog.
This blog considers questions of religious difference and identity. I describe religious identity as a good thing, and religious difference as a catalyst for personal and spiritual growth. But the violence in Israel and Gaza is the product of religious difference, at least in part. Some believe that religious difference leads to religious war. This is not my point of view, but now is a time to seriously consider that point of view.
I would like to view interfaith dialog as an anti-war effort. It is a commonplace notion that dialog leads to peace. But dialog can end in deadly violence; nothing prevents this. I would like to argue that it’s more difficult to seek the destruction of an enemy once one has engaged the enemy in dialog. But I’ve had occasion here to examine the dialog from major Jewish-Christian disputations during the Middle Ages, as well as that accompanying modern-day Christian efforts to proselytize Jews, and such dialog did and does not promote peace.
So I’m tempted to argue that dialog promotes peace when it is the “right” kind of dialog. I might argue that the “right” kind of dialog is one that celebrates diversity, promotes tolerance and teaches the value of difference. But others might argue that the “right” kind of dialog is the one that seeks truth, or is aimed at some other worthy goal. Moreover, agreement on the “right” kind of dialog itself requires dialog. I suspect that when two people agree in advance on what kind of dialog is “right”, they also agree in advance on other fundamental issues. Such people are not likely to come to blows in the first place. If what we seek is a peace-promoting dialog between two potential combatants, we must proceed with the dialog even without agreement on what kind of dialog is “right”.
As much as I wish it were otherwise, I have no grand plan for how to talk our way to peace.
But I have one tactic in mind: continue the dialog. I’ve already admitted, dialog can end in violence. This being the case, we might avoid violence by not ending the dialog. Sure, it is possible for war to continue while peace talks drag on. But peace talks can lead to peace; the end of peace talks inevitably leads to war.
And I have one strategy in mind: promote mutual understanding. I hope we’re less likely to wage war on people we’ve come to know. But at least let’s understand our enemies. Let’s understand when a rocket fired in this direction will produce the deterrence we seek, or when a rocket fired in the other direction will affect morale in the way we seek.
You may wonder why I discuss these matters here, on a blog devoted to Jewish-Christian dialog. Jews and Christians are at peace today – in fact, we enjoy today what may well be the most favorable relationship in 2,000 years of shared history. But the Jewish-Christian relationship has not always been so friendly. The current Jewish-Christian relationship is the product of many years of difficult dialog, and at the outset there was no assurance that the dialog would bear fruit – just as there is no assurance that the Christian-Jewish relationship will continue to be a positive one.
When we speak here, we affirm our desire for lasting Christian-Jewish peace. We affirm that religious difference does not inevitably lead to war. We demonstrate that our difference is not complete, that we share in common many of the same values and a similar desire to connect to the sacred and divine. The Christian-Jewish dialog may also serve as a source of hope for all those who engage in Jewish-Muslim dialog – some in the very heart of Jewish-Muslim hostility.
The conflict in Israel and Gaza is a reminder of what we have at stake when we talk across a religious divide.