Now that the west appears mired in a long conflict with Islamic terrorism, I hear comments like this from skeptics: "Religion leads to irrational violence. Nazism came out of Germany, one of the most Christian countries in Europe. The worst genocide in Africa took place in Rwanda, the most Christianized country on the continent. Now Muslim fanatics are showing once again the true face of religion."
Meanwhile, Muslim leaders complain that the United States and Israel are trying to pound Arab countries into submission, just as the Christian nations of France, England, and Germany did a century ago. In the so-called clash of civilizations, one big loser is genuine faith: Neither Western military power nor Islamic terrorism offers much to attract a watching world.
Perhaps our day calls for a new kind of ecumenical movement: not of doctrine, nor even of religious unity, but one that builds on what Jews, Christians, and Muslims hold in common, for the sake of mutual survival. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel first issued the call in 1966, in a speech delivered to a group of Christian and Jewish educators. His words apply presciently to our day as the world divides increasingly along religious lines.
Heschel, a Polish rabbi deported by the Nazis, later taught at a Jewish seminary in the United States. Evangelicals widely admire his book The Prophets. He delivered the speech "What We Might Do Together" at the height of the Cold War and in the midst of the '60s turmoil. Heschel said:
The striking feature of our age is not the presence of anxiety, but the inadequacy of anxiety, the insufficient awareness of what is at stake in the human situation. … The cardinal problem is not the survival of religion, but the survival of man. What is required ...