Heirs of Abraham invites us to participate in a conversation between three faith filled individuals. Reuven Firestone represents Judaism, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, Catholicism and Mahmoud M. Ayoub, Islam. We hear their faith, their uneasiness about some aspects of other’s faith, and their attempt to understand both their own uneasiness and the convictions of others.
Three beliefs are discussed: monotheism, Abraham as the progenitor of faith, the relationship between the heirs of father Abraham. Other side topics are also reviewed such as the understanding of revelation, the role of the Bible and the Quran in revelation, and the nature of Holy War among the three faiths.
Belief in one God, monotheism, is an acknowledged tenet of these religions. Other monotheisms exist but these religions admit that the God they worship is the same. Once said, however, the nature of God and the consequences of belief in God are inter and intra religious variables. For example, is the God Christians worship also saving Jews and Muslims who do not worship God in the Christian manner or believe that Jesus is God? If you believe in the God of Abraham does that mean that all other gods must be condemned and destroyed? Can those who believe in one God acknowledge and support the belief in other gods (polytheisms) held by fellow citizens? Firestone helps us understand these questions and their possible answers while Fitzgerald challenges and Ayoub nuances what Firestone says.
Abraham is seen as the physical father of both Jews and Muslims; the spiritual Father of Christians. The covenant God made with him is understood to be inherited by his children. However. Each of these children see themselves as Abraham’s physical and spiritual heir: Jews through Isaac, Muslims through Ishmael, Christians through Jesus. Christians see Abraham as the prototype of a person of faith (Rom 4), Muslims as a prototype of the person of submission to the will of God (2:124; 4:125) and the Jews tend to see him as the prototype of the person who argues, even with God (Gen 1:8). Ayoub tries to clarify these claims by reviewing how inheritance is passed down in Semitic culture and how Abraham is seen as both father and prophet in the faith. Shall we follow the Semitic tradition that all children inherit the father’s goods? Shall we acknowledge all Abraham’s children, both named and unnamed, as participants in the covenant? Many of Ayoub’s answers to these questions are strongly re-interpreted by Fitzgerald and expanded by Firestone.
Fitzgerald faces the challenge of detailing the relationship between these religions. He does so by using only Vatican documents – his obvious sole norm for belief and practice. Clear points of controversy are: the nature of the covenant, the nature of mission, the presuppositions, manner, and nature of dialogue/trialogue. Implicit in Fitzgerald’s presentation are positions rejected by the other religions: Jesus is the sole means of salvation and the ability of the Roman Catholic Church’s hierarchy to proclaim, clarify, and determine the nature of God’s revelation. Fitzgerald states clearly and forcefully that God’s covenant with humanity is mediated by Jesus, and thus his Church. This does not mean that Catholics should not talk to and gain knowledge from Judaism and Islam. Fitzgerald’s offering is rejected as too narrow in its presuppositions and too dogmatic in its declarations about Christianity, Judaism or Islam. How does one so easily proclaim the meaning of scripture? Asks Firestone, when scripture is never perfectly clear? How is dialogue more than a social formality, unless we see God as operative in all three religions? Asks Ayoub.
Two chapters deal with dialogue itself: the first, with the history of religious dialogue and the last on the purposes and means of dialogue. Internet and printed resources are included.
Official religious dialogue has many different purposes in contemporary life: conversion, public relations, courtesy, and tolerance. All of these are rejected as self defeating. One of the principal objectives of dialogue, it is suggested, is learning about the other and, through the other, learning about oneself. Self knowledge, obtained by being in the presence of someone different from oneself, is the only means to know one’s hidden biases and prejudices. For this to occur we must allow others to define their own religious way of life, accept that self definition, and try to understand it. For in trying to understand we are trying to understand that truth which is expressed in each religion. Our goal, however, is always peace and justice among all peoples.
This is an excellent book both in content and process. Yet, professional religious dialogue such as this text, while important, often neglects where peace and justice will ultimately come from: the people. Their religious illiteracy, ethnicity, and desires must be researched to understand the process of religious conversation. These diverse neighbors, spouses, peers gathered together in conversation form the supportive backbone for official ones.