“Can people with fundamentally different truth claims live together without killing each other?” That basic question shadowed an unusual gathering in New Orleans. Author M. Scott Peck (The Road Less Traveled, People of the Lie) had invited ten Christians, ten Jews, and ten Muslims to meet for three, days and discuss, well, whatever we wanted to discuss. We convened at a Catholic retreat center the weekend before Mardi Gras. (Try explaining the Christian roots of that booze-and-sex bash to followers of another religion.)
Certain cultural differences surfaced right away. Scott Peck conducts his community-building workshops according to a formula that calls for introspective “I” statements and personal sharing. The Jews responded warmly. “Don’t forget, we invented psychotherapy,” joked one rabbi. Muslim participants, though, showed less enthusiasm. One imam tried to explain, “We have a cultural aversion to psychotherapy. You’ll rarely hear a Muslim talk about personal problems. It just isn’t done.”
We Christians frequently found ourselves sitting on the sidelines watching Muslims respond to the Jews’ discursive musings with fixed pronouncements. These in turn provoked even more “I” statements from the Jews and more pronouncements from the Muslims. (It felt good to be on the sidelines, actually; Christians don’t have a good history with either of these religions, and I much prefer our new mediatorial role to pogroms and the Crusades.)
I learned a new word in New Orleans, supersessionism, which helped me understand the Muslims’ aplomb. The Jews resented the notion that Christian faith had superseded Judaism. “I feel like a curiosity of history, as if my religion should be put in a nursing home,” said one. “It grates ...1
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