This week I’ve started some teaching on the relationship between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Why all three, you ask? Well, two reasons. First, a friend asked me to come teach a class on Islam at her church, and because I’m not an expert on that subject, I suggested we include the other two religions. More importantly, because the three religions truly are a family, albeit a troubled one. Clearly Christianity makes no sense apart from its Jewish origins. Muhammad believed that Jews and Christians worship the same God that revealed himself to Muhammad in the desert cave. Further, the histories of the three religions have, across the centuries, been completely tied up with one another. So I’ll be spending the next few weeks writing and speaking about what we as Christians have to learn about our Jewish and Muslim neighbors, and in the process, about ourselves.
In starting this study, I’d like to suggest that we do a couple of things. First, we need to focus on the differences between the three religions. What? How’s that going to add to greater understanding between the three religious groups? In this way: when any of us try to understand another religion, we face the temptation to see it solely in terms of our own faith experience. That leads us often to draw false comparisons between them, resulting in less understanding, rather than more. So before we can see what Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have in common, we have to understand what is distinctive and different about each.
The second thing to do is adopt a sense of profound humility in the face of what we don’t know about these other religious traditions. Christians have long thought they knew a lot about Judaism, because of the scriptures we share, and the fact that our religion is a direct off shoot of theirs. We forget that the religion of Israel of which we read in Scripture ended with the destruction of the second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE. Since then (and even before) it’s been replaced by rabbinic Judaism, of which most of us are woefully ill-informed. Even worse is our engagement with Islam, based almost solely on the news media’s accounts of the conflict between radical Islam (only a small fraction of the overall Muslim population) and the West. In both cases what we don’t know about the religious, historical, and cultural factors that combine to make Judaism and Islam is staggering. Only when we admit that fact can we start to learn about them.
So I’ll invite you to check back with this blog over the next few weeks to see how we Christians might come to learn more about our Jewish and Muslim siblings.
For information on where I’m teaching this class, and an outline of each of the sessions, click here.