allbelievers

Supporting laos ministry ...

the Christian ministry of the whole people of God.

“The Dignity of Difference”

Christians might not agree with every word in Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ The Dignity of Difference (London: Continuum, 2002) but will surely respect his biblical scholarship, intelligence and knowledge.  Here is an excerpt:

“I have tried to articulate … that the one God, creator of diversity, commands us to honour his creation by respecting diversity.  God … loves us as a parent loves - each child for what he or she uniquely is.  The idea that one God entails one faith, one truth, one covenant, is countered by the story of Babel.  That story is preceded by the covenant with Noah and thus with all mankind - the moral basis of a shared humanity, and thus ultimately of universal human rights.  But it is followed by an assertion, of the dignity of difference - of Abraham and his children who follow their diverging paths to his presence, each valued, each ‘chosen’, each loved, each blessed by God.  Until the great faiths not merely tolerate but find positive value in the diversity of the human condition, we will have wars, and their cost in human lives will continue to rise.

“There is nothing relativist about the idea of the dignity of difference.  It is based on the radical transcendence of God from the created universe, with its astonishing diversity of life forms … and from the multiple languages and cultures through which we … have attempted to understand the totality of existence.  Just as the human situation would be impoverished and unsustainable if we were to eliminate all life forms except our own, so it would be reduced and fatally compromised if we were to eliminate all cultural, civilizational and religious forms except our own.  The idea that we fulfil God's will by waging war against the infidel, or converting the heathen, so that all humanity shares the same faith is an idea that - as I have tried to argue - owes much to the concept of empire and little to the heritage of Abraham, which Jews, Christians and Muslims claim as their own. …

“The test of faith is whether I can make space for difference.  Can I recognize God's image in someone who is not in my image, whose language, faith, ideals, are different from mine?  If I cannot, then I have made God in my image instead of allowing him to remake me in his.  Can Israeli make space for Palestinian, and Palestinian for Israeli?  Can Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Confucians, Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants make space for one another in India, Sri Lanka, Chechnya, Kosovo and the dozens of other places in which different ethnic and religious groups exist in close proximity? … This is not the cosmopolitanism of those who belong nowhere, but the deep human understanding that passes between people who, knowing how important their attachments are to them, understand how deeply someone else's different attachments matter to them also.”

How do you, whose workplace, community, family, neighbourhood is characterised as much by difference as by homogeneity, respond to this sample passage?

Yours in Christ

Peter Nicholls

“The test of faith is whether I can make space for difference.  Can I recognize God's image in someone who is not in my image, whose language, faith, ideals, are different from mine?  If I cannot, then I have made God in my image instead of allowing him to remake me in his.”

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

<<< return to the archive of email reflections

We have made it much easier to get to the discussion forum and to contribute.  This can be an important part of the learning process.  Try it by following this link.  Dare to be the first to contribute if there's not much there.  Others will follow!