The age-old squabbles by the children of Abraham

Published December 1, 2002

The children of Abraham have always been a scrappy bunch. Whenever any one of them senses power all hell breaks loose and today the evidence is all around us. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all claim their root in the monotheism found in the story of Abraham and each in turn has staked an exclusive claim to his inheritance. As Bruce Feiler states in Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths, ?They took a biblical figure open to all, tossed out what they wanted to ignore, ginned up what they wanted to stress and ended with a symbol of their own uniqueness that looked more like a mirror image of their fantasies than a reflection of the original story.? Mr. Feiler, a best-selling author rather than a theologian, set out to search, geographically and intellectually, for Abraham. He traced the footsteps, studied the biblical story and spoke to scholars of all three religions. He provides a first-rate and readable account for all who want to understand what it means to be children of Abraham. He sees Abraham as ?one individual (who) holds the breadth of the past ? and perhaps the dimensions of the future ? in his life story.? [pullquote]Here is a challenge equally for Jews, Christians and Muslims to discover common ground. When Mr. Feiler asked the distinguished Christian theologian Walter Bruegge-mann about the problem of competing traditions and specifically competing Abrahams he replied, ?It is perfectly legitimate for Christians ? to draw all these traditions to Jesus. It is perfectly legitimate for Jews to draw these traditions towards them, and the same for Muslims. It is not legitimate for Christians or anyone else to presume that theirs is the only direction. The mistake that hegemonic Christianity has made is to act as though our twisting of the tradition is the only way the tradition can be twisted.? It could well be time for us all to get ?untwisted.?Is The Father of Jesus The God of Muhammad? by Timothy George tackles the question many Christians are asking. His answer, ?There are some questions that do not allow for a simple yes or no answer, and this is one of them.? In the process of reaching this conclusion he presents the central tenets of Islam with great care and equally the doctrines of trinitarian Christianity. Both are religions of revelation. But human interpretations mark deep differences. They underline not only differences between the two religions but also within each of them. The author concludes that God is indeed the God of all but, ?Christians and Muslims have radically different understandings of the character and nature of God.? As an evangelical Christian he believes that God?s love revealed through the cross of Christ is the only way of salvation and the Bible is witness to this path. It is a narrow path and one must ask if there be any room for God?s revelation of a broader highway as we learn more about the world and all its peoples. The strength of this book is its call to prayer rather than crusade. Acts of terrorism and the war against terrorism continue to grab headlines and increase feelings of vulnerability. What does all the rhetoric mean? In A Delicate Balance: What Philosophy Can Tell Us About Terrorism, Trudy Govier, a Canadian moral philosopher, expresses her conviction ?that sustainable security must be grounded in an appreciation of sound values and pursued by strategies that conform to those values.? In this light she reviews, in the language of the lay person, what philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to Mill, Kant and Nietzsche have had to say about victims, hatred, power, justice, responsibility and all those other concepts which are inherent in human society. She calls for more open debate about what is happening and considers it ?a matter of real social need.? She ends on a note of hope that ?is not a matter of certainty or confidence; it?s a belief in positive possibilities.? This is a helpful volume for those who find simplistic rhetoric is just not good enough.


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