It was an opportunity to reflect. A Muslim spiritual leader, a Rabbi, and a Presbyterian minister all leading a service together with each reading from His own holy text, and with reflections on the causes of extremism.
After the service, we sat around and discussed differences in our communities – mostly we discussed extremism. All of the leaders had agreed that religious constructs were not the origin of extremism. The Imam had pointed out the discursive nature of Islamic teaching – that one explores and thinks and brings into context, juxtaposing passages that might seem extreme with others from the same text that would present a different point of view. The Rabbi had mentioned that he thought extremism to be caused by economic disparities, but our table mostly explored the idea that all extremism isn’t bad. It is the extremist who is dissociated from society who perceives the rest (of society) to be harmful to him (even in its dissociated state) and also who desires to pursue dissociation to the point of nonexistence of the other that is of concern. So, to the extent that economics (and sanctions) cause dissociation of social elements by wealth extremes, there is a potential cause of extremism. But it isn’t all about money. The situation in Palestine and Israel this summer was probably more about children.
We discussed in this context the idea of “Love your neighbor”, present in all three faith traditions. It brought disparity to an individual-community level – not one to be tackled by “a new system”, but simply by being connected enough to one’s community to be able to address needs and problems that arise. It is surely the above teaching that prevents the kind of extremism associated with hate that develops when an environment would allow the children of some (who would probably give their lives for these very children) to starve in the face of individuals who gorge themselves.
The chosen texts were of interest in that they were not “glossovers”. Many of them, the Christian “sermon on the mount”, for example, was a deliberate stance against Judaism and a statement of “evangelical right”. After the measured reaction, the Jewish individual understands the hurt by the words, “Judaism was not enough”, and yet moves on to realize that Judaism has persisted throughout the ages – it was/is enough for some. The joke about the Muslim Imam and the Muslim man without legs begging on the street who when both asked why they were each in their respective positions, the Imam answered “I listened to G_d”, and the beggar answered “I listened to the Imam”, was meant to illustrate the possible dangers of extremism. But I am sure it also hurt. One moves on.