Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Robert Wright: A Divine Code for Peaceful Interaction Between Abrahamic Traditions

To help with our Robert Wright Interview Contest, I want to offer another great article written recently by Robert Wright. Also, if you are interested, Tripp discovers an conversation, in which Wright is apart, on God, evolution, and divine action.

Robert Wright, noting biblical and Qu'ranic precedent for peaceful non-zero-sum interaction between the religions, offers his thoughts on how the Abrahamic traditions, specifically, Jews and Muslims, can co-exist peacefully. Looking at the Hebrew Bible and the Qu'ran, Wright highlights passages where the relational approach of one religion to another was belligerent, but he also finds passages highlighting peaceful harmony between religions - an underlying Divine code:
If you juxtapose the Abrahamic Scriptures with what scholars have learned about the circumstances surrounding their creation, a pattern appears. Certain kinds of situations inspired tolerance, and other kinds inspired the opposite. You might even say this pattern is a kind of code, a code that is hidden in the Scriptures and that, once revealed, unlocks the secret of God's changing moods.

And maybe this code could unlock more than that. Maybe knowing what circumstances made the authors of Scripture open-minded can help make modern-day believers open-minded. Maybe the hidden code in the Bible and the Koran, the code that links Scriptural content to context, could even help mend the most dangerous of intra-Abrahamic fault lines, the one between Muslims and Jews.

Wright then provides a socio-historic reading of these sacred texts, pointing out general trends in ancient Judiasm and Islam from polytheism to monotheism, from zero-sumness to non-zero-summness, from belligerence to toleration - sometimes with fluctations between and betwixt:

In neither case had the growth been smoothly progressive, and in both cases, there would be backsliding. Still, in both cases, God spent enough time in benevolent mode to leave the Scriptures littered with odes to tolerance and understanding, verses that modern believers can focus on, should they choose.
These non-zero-sum keys can help with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to Wright:

The key, it suggests, is to arrange things so that relations between Muslims and Jews are conspicuously non-zero-sum.

Sometimes this may mean engineering the non-zero-sumness — for example, strengthening commerce between Israel and the Palestinian territories. Other times it will mean highlighting a non-zero-sum dynamic that already exists — emphasizing, for example, that continued strife between Israelis and Palestinians will be lose-lose (as would escalated tensions between the "Muslim world" and the "West" more broadly). Enduring peace would be win-win.

But as we know, this peace cannot be assumed, to which, Wright concludes:

It can take time for people, having seen that they are playing a non-zero-sum game, to adjust their attitudes accordingly. And this adaptation may never happen if barriers of mistrust persist.

But at least we can quit talking as if this adaptation were impossible — as if intolerance and violence were inevitable offshoots of monotheism. At least we can quit asking whether Islam — or Judaism or any other religion — is a religion of peace. The answer is no. And yes. It says so in the Bible, and in the Koran.

Thoughts? Any questions you would like to ask Wright to win his new book?

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