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Avoiding a clash of civilizations. (From The Editors' Desk).

Britain's Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, is one of the most respected commentators on the world's social, moral, ethical and spiritual condition. So when he makes a new statement about where the world is at, people listen.

His visit to New York's Ground Zero last January, to share prayers with leaders of various faith traditions, has led to his reflections on `how to avoid a clash of civilizations'. They are contained in his remarkable new book The Dignity of Difference.

He writes that, `against all expectations', the world's religious communities `have emerged as a key force in a global age'. He argues that God intended and even celebrates differences between faiths and cultures. A key event in the Hebrew Bible (and the Christians' Old Testament), he says, is the Tower of Babel, where `God splits up humanity into a multiplicity of cultures and a diversity of languages'. He says that God's message to Abraham, the father of the Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is, in effect: `Be different, so as to teach humanity the dignity of difference'.

Globalization, he writes, is now summoning the world's great faiths to a supreme challenge, which we can no longer avoid. `Can we find, in the human other, a trace of the Divine Other? Can I, a Jew, hear the echoes of God's voice in that of a Hindu or Sikh or Christian or Muslim? Can I do so and feel not diminished but enlarged?'

There are `moral universals', he says, which create space for cultural and religious differences. These include `the sanctity of human life, the dignity of the human person, and the freedom we need to be true to ourselves and a blessing to others'.

Certainly the great faith traditions have not always been a blessing to others in the way they have been practised. In his search for a theology adequate for an interdependent world, Jonathan Sacks is surely right when he writes: `We will make peace only when we learn that God loves difference and so, at last, must we. God has created many cultures, civilizations and faiths, but only one world in which to live together--and it is getting smaller all the time.'

`The Dignity of Difference' by Jonathan Sacks, Continuum Books, 10.99. [pounds sterling]
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Author:Smith, Michael
Publication:For A Change
Date:Oct 1, 2002
Words:378
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