Summary: Multiple Religious Belonging: Compassion, Life & Death

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In his keynote address to Boston Theological Institute, Montville engages his audience on the intersection of theology, psychology, public policy and peacemaking. The focus of this speech was three introspective tasks for Christians that are essential to advancing the reconciliation process in the Abrahamic family.

Looking at the genesis of Christian violence and how theology has historically justified political aggression, such as the impact of Anti-Judaic dogma. “We once had a vision of peace, justice and even love on earth as the essence of the message of Jesus.  What happened?” Turning to Christian Violence in the Abrahamic Framework, Montville looks to the beginning of Jewish and Muslim memory.

In taking a psychological history of a pathological relationship, one needs to know its traumas. Montville believes in taking a history of dysfunctional behavior, that hurts people and continues to threaten to hurt people, individuals and nations — and then trying to help transform the behavior. Jews “know” the story of Mainz in the sense that it is an integral part of the collective memory of European Jews passed down from generations. This history is an essential part of their inability to fully trust Christians and other gentiles, which affects Jewish communities in America and Europe. It is central to the inability of Israel today to make peace with the Palestinians on its own.

He says the special mission of Christendom today is to come to terms with its profound moral debt to the Jews of Europe. Nostra Aetate did not fix the problem of generalized ignorance among the Christian public of how tragic this history has been. Despite Vatican II and subsequent declarations of high church councils since 1965, the word has not reached the laity. A meticulous walking through the history of the Jewish-Christian relationship should be a moral imperative of Christian education, especially in seminaries of all denominations and divinity schools but also religious studies departments.

If and when Arabs and Muslims can become well-acquainted with the history of Jews in Europe, it will make it easier to understand the genesis of modern Zionism and the drive of Diaspora Jews to establish a homeland in Palestine. Such understanding will not erase the debts Israel has incurred with the Palestinian peoples but it will help them, other Arabs and Muslims develop a measure of empathy toward Israel as all parties wrestle with the task of Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

In his conclusion, Montville recommends experimenting with Hevruta—where Jews, Christians and Muslims read and study their sacred texts together.