Compassionate Justice: Source of Convergence between Science and Religion - Part 2
Dr. Robert Dickson Crane
TABLE OF CONTENTS Due to limitations on the length of articles on The American Muslim site, this important article has been put online in a serialized format. The Table of Contents link gives the links for all chapters.
The Spiritual Wisdom of Rebbe Abraham Isaac Kook
God revealed in Deuteronomy 16:20, “Justice, justice, thou shalt pursue.” Pope Paul VI wrote that, “If you want peace, work for justice.” God revealed in the Qur’an, “The word of your Lord is fulfilled in truth and in justice.”
This has been the common teaching of all the Abrahamic peoples, both the Muslims and the so-called People of the Book, meaning the Jews and Christians, since the very beginning. Thus the Qur’an states in Surah Ali Imran 3:199: “And among the People of the Book are those who believe in God, in the revelations given to you, and in the revelation given to them. They bow in humility to God. They will not sell the Signs of God for a miserably gain. For them is a reward from their Lord, and God is swift in taking account (of all good deeds).”
Further, in Surah Ali Imran 3:113-115: “Not all are alike among the People of the Book. There are those who stand for the right, they rehearse the signs of God all night long and they submit to God in adoration. They believe in God and the Last Day. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong. They hasten with emulation in all good works. They are in the ranks of the righteous. Of the good that they do, nothing will be rejected for God knows best those who do right.”
Of course, those radical Muslims who have invented their own religion and dare to call it Islam insist that the above verses of the Qur’an have been abrogated and no longer apply and that those Muslims who disagree with them are kafirs who have abandoned Islam and no longer represent it. This radical rejection of traditionalist thought in all three of the Abrahamic religions in favor of modernist pseudo-religion poses the real threat to global civilization because it is a universal phenomenon.
Perhaps the greatest spiritual leader in the world during the twentieth century, Rebbe Abraham Isaac Kook, taught that every religion contains the seed of its own perversion, because humans are free to divert their worship from God to themselves. The greatest evil is always the perversion of the good, and the surest salvation from evil is always the return to prophetic origins.
Though his modern followers have reversed much of his teachings, the entire life of Rebbe Kook, who was the chief Rabbi of Palestine from 1919 to 1935, spoke his message that only in the Holy Land of Israel can the genius of Hebraic prophecy be revived and the Jewish people bring the creative power of God’s love in the form of justice and unity to every person and to all mankind. “For the basic disposition of the Israelite nation,” he announced, “is the aspiration that the highest measure of justice, the justice of God, shall prevail in the world. … The Jewish people’s commitment to the Oneness of God is a commitment to the vision of universality in all its far-reaching implications … whose vocation is to help make the world more receptive to the divine light … bearing witness to the Torah in the world.” This, he taught, is the whole purpose of Israel, which stands for shir el, the “song of God.” It is schlomo, which means peace or wholeness, Solomon’s Song of Songs.
The great spiritual leaders of the world have long perceived that justice in the Holy Land is the pivotal issue in the modern world. Any solution that can guarantee the permanent legitimacy and security of Jews in the Holy Land must proceed from dialogue between equal peoples, which means that if one party is sovereign so must be the other. Each must recognize the other as existing in international law but with a vision to transcend the exclusiveness of legal sovereignties in order to build over time a federation of equal peoples, united economically and in their role as facilitators of civilizational enrichment.
They must recover their lost identities in which the historical role of the many peoples that enriched the population of Palestine was to serve as a bridge among cultures. Only in this way can the Jews and Muslims in the world overcome the role that the Holy Land played occasionally in the past not as a civilizational conduit but as a block against civilizational interchange and as a source of rivalry and warfare between hostile empires.
Rebbe Kook, like all great spiritual leaders, was a warner. “By transgressing the limits,” he prophesied, the leaders of Israel may bring on a holocaust. But this will merely precede a revival. “As smoke fades away, so will fade away all the destructive winds that have filled the land, the language, the history, and the literature.” Always following his warning was the reminder of God’s covenant. “In all of this is hiding the presence of the living God. … It is a fundamental error for us to retreat from our distinctive excellence, to cease recognizing ourselves as chosen for a divine vocation. … We are a great people and we have blundered greatly, and, therefore, we suffered great tribulation; but great also is our consolation. … Our people will be rebuilt and established … through the divine dimension of its life. All the builders of the people will come to recognize this profound truth. Then they will call out with a mighty voice to themselves and to their people: ‘Let us go and return to the Lord! And this return will be a true return’.”
At this time, prophesied Rebbe Kook, who always sharply defended the validity of both Christianity and Islam as religions in the Plan of God, “The brotherly love of Esau and Jacob [Christians and Jews], of Isaac and Ishmael [Jews and Muslims], will assert itself above all the confusion … [and turn] the darkness to light.
Taproot to Terrorism
Careful analysis of the Qur’an reveals that the worst of all sins is arrogance. Arrogance almost by definition is incurable because it denies itself. This is why the most insidious cause of terrorism, and the one least amenable to rational discussion, is the hubris or arrogance of those who justify a new international law of unilateral preemption by proclaiming America, the world’s self-proclaimed sole hyper-power, to be a model of material success and moral virtue.
Despite its wealth gap, perhaps the worst in the world, and the continuing institutionalization of barriers to broadened capital ownership, America is indeed in macro-economic indicators a model of material success. Its standing in moral virtue is probably second to none, though this has been deteriorating ever since the Civil War a century and a half ago. The major moral challenge is to reverse this decline by overcoming the solipsistic and even autistic refusal to recognize its shortcomings by accepting virtue beyond itself.
One of the best explorations of this challenge in the realm of interfaith relations is William R. Hutchison’s seminal book, Religious Pluralism in America: The Contentious History of a Founding Ideal, which was published in 2003 by Yale University Press. The well-known scholar, David Hollinger of U.C. Berkeley, writes that, “This is the most ambitious book yet from the dean of historians of religion in the United States: a wonderfully discerning exploration of how Americans have variously confronted and tried to evade the challenge of religious diversity.” The conclusions of this book are directed toward America’s failings toward its own citizens, but the framework of analysis fits also America’s failings toward the rest of the world.
The thesis of Hutchison’s book is that pluralism has never been institutionalized in America, much as Americans like to pride themselves on being a model of religious freedom. In a single sentence, this book can be summarized in the assertion that America leads the world in naivete about its own superiority as a pluralistic society.
Like all seminal writers, Hutchison presents his thesis in the form of a new paradigm for analysis. Calling for “new models for understanding,” Hutchison distinguishes “between a fact or condition called diversity and an ideal or impulse for which the best term is pluralism.” Diversity is what happened to American religion in the first half of the nineteenth century. “Radical diversification” started to occur only in the last half of the twentieth century. The term pluralism was coined in the 1920s to denote “a state of society in which the members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain an autonomous participation in and development of their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization.” This reflected awareness of a new state of society and of the world or new awareness of an old state, just as other terms have, witness liberalism in the 1820s, imperialism in the 1850s, and racism in the 1930s.
The modern definition of pluralism as signifying an actual welcoming of diversity is a modern concept, which modern historians like to project back, without evidence, into American history. Hutchison writes in his introduction, “Quite obviously, many diversified societies, throughout history, have either lacked pluralist ideals entirely, or have trumpeted such ideals and failed to make good on them. But surely the United States, the champion of religious freedom and scorner of establishments, was famously not that kind of society.” Hutchison’s latest book answers this question decisively, and in the negative.
He observes that the very ideas of religious freedom and pluralism have evolved throughout American history in stages, of which the major ones in this “quietly persistent process of redefinition” are “pluralism as toleration, pluralism as inclusion, and pluralism as participation.”
Hutchison does not dwell on the colonial history of America, which was marked by people who fled the intolerance of Europe only to impose their even worse intolerance in the New World. Summing up the first century of the American Republic, he writes, “Through much of the nineteenth century, a positive response to diversity entailed legal tolerance and social tolerance – each of which could sometimes be little more than an absence of persecution. According to this definition of acceptance, a deviant person or group should be accorded the right to exist and even to thrive, but in general to do so only as an outsider to the dominant religion and culture.” He concluded that the ‘inclusionist” ideology developing during the 19th century “clearly was a move forward in any pluralist perspective,” but “rarely granted to the newly included an equal or proportional right to share in the exercise of cultural authority.” In the field of religion this meant by analogy that, “the newly included sat at the back of the bus.”
Perhaps Hutchison’s most controversial conclusion, because it results in recommendations, is that the “melting pot” ideal “operated to suppress differences far more than to respect and utilize them.” He clearly details the lack of freedom inherent in pressures for “assimilation,” which amounts to both individual and community suicide. Although he has no specific recommendations, the thrust of the entire book advocates what should be called “integration.” This term, which he does not use, means that individuals of each group in society proactively bring the wisdom of their tradition to enrich the overall society in which they live. Hutchison instead uses the term “participation.” “Pluralism by participation,” he writes, “implies a mandate for individuals and groups … to share responsibility for the forming and implementing of the society’s agenda.”
His other important definitional innovation, which is always the mark of seminal thinking, involves the dynamic nature of the very concept of religious freedom. Why have Americans always prided themselves as offering a model of religious freedom, when in fact they never have done so? When the standard was mere tolerance in the negative sense of not persecuting people who were not mainline Protestant, Americans could argue, because of their ignorance of the world outside of Europe, that they were the most tolerant in the world. Later when diversity gave rise to the concept of inclusion, he writes, “Americans could generally congratulate themselves on the society’s inclusiveness even though ‘inclusion’ involved forms of subordination that many were already viewing as patronizing and generally unacceptable.”
Perhaps the most extreme case of patronizing intolerance in the contemporary world, because it best illustrates the reversal of truth and falsehood brought out in the metaphor of the Anti-Christ, was Michael Novak’s seminal article in the April 2003 issue of America’s leading journal on religion in public life, First Things. Its founder, Bishop Richard John Neuhaus, a convert from Lutheranism to Catholicism, changed the environment in Washington by his enormously influential book, The Naked Public Square. This not only introduced the popular term “the public square” but used this to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of American society and later of the entire world. This first introduced the religious element into the Neo-Conservative movement and prepared the way a decade later for an alliance with the so-called Christian Right. This journal and its elite pundits are today the world’s most influential force in shaping policy toward the role of religion, including Islam.
Michael Novak’s article, entitled “The Faith of the Founding,” represents an entirely new approach to Islam, because it is based not on generalizing from the action of extremist Muslims but on denial of the basic fundamentals of Islam as a religion. The newest strategy is to single out the essential truths of Islam, deny that they exist, and assert that their absence constitutes the Islamic threat. This sophisticated strategy may be more effective over the long run than are the simplistic claims of Pat Robertson and Franklyn Graham that Muslims are bandits and are programmed by their vicious cult to kill the infidels, meaning anyone who opposes their plans of global conquest.
In this lead article of the April 2003 issue, Novak writes that all of America’s founding documents “depend for their intelligibility and their credibility upon a distinctively Jewish and Christian view of man’s relation to God that each individual conscience stands in the presence of its Creator by virtue of having been created from nothing.” His one, two, three punch then follows: “Only Judaism and Christianity among all world religions developed, and still nourish and celebrate, the three central concepts necessary to the American conception of rights. Only they hold to the doctrine that there is a Creator (and Governor of the universe); that each individual owes a personal accounting at the time of Judgment to this Creator, a Judgment that is prior to all claims of civil society or state; and that this inalienable relation between each individual and his Creator occurs in the depths of conscience and reason, and is not reached merely by external bows, bended knees, pilgrimages, or other ritual observances.”
“Only Judaism and Christianity,” writes Novak, “have a doctrine of God as Spirit and Truth, Who created the world in order to invite these creatures endowed with intelligence and conscience to enter into friendship with Him. Only the Jewish and Christian God made human beings free, halts the power of Caesar at the boundaries of the human soul, and has commissioned human beings to build civilizations worthy of the liberty He has endowed in them.”
Novak contends that even though some Muslims may be good, Islam is inherently bad because it does not recognize a direct relationship of the person with God and therefore can have no conception of human rights or of government limited by recognition of the sovereignty of God. He rejects as a fraud precisely all that Muslims have always said are the central teachings of their faith. By portraying Islam thus as inimical to the very foundation of America, this scion of the Neo-Con intellectual elite casts Islam as a mortal threat to everything good in the world.
This kind of extremism is dangerous because it shows gross ignorance of the world outside of Washington and constitutes ideological aggression much worse than the simple invasion and attempted occupation of another people’s land. This is precisely the kind of aggression that stokes the fires of extremism among its targeted victims and necessarily leads the most alienated among them to respond in desperation with the tools of terrorism.
Substantial evidence is now accumulating that ever since 9/11 the generation gap is reversing itself among Muslims in America. Previously, the older generation of immigrants was the most self-centered, whereas their American-born children were rejecting any cultural blinders imported from abroad. More recently, the imams and directors of leading mosques in America have begun to warn against a growing alienation among the youth in response to the popular demonization of Islam and Muslims in the media.
Those most concerned about American-born Muslims becoming aliens in their own country, as European Muslims have in theirs, are searching for answers. The response required of Muslims to the challenge of sophisticated disinformation about both the religion Islam and its Muslim practitioners is to internalize Hutchison’s concept of progress from mere negative tolerance to positive pluralism so that they can move from the growing culture of isolationism and rejectionism toward a culture of ecumenical outreach, understanding, and cooperation.
Such a paradigmatic transformation will be possible, however, only if non-Muslims join them in a strategy to combat incipient terrorism by invoking classical or “traditionalist” Islam as the best counter to those Muslims who would hi-jack their own proclaimed religion through their own sub-culture of hatred. This can be done only when those who would demonize Islam as the cause of terrorism would instead invoke the classical teachings of Islam on human responsibilities and rights based most elementally on freedom of religion, love, and compassionate justice.