Fundamentalist Relativism

In this week’s Jewish Week, Rabbi Eliyahu Stern addresses an issue I raised a few weeks ago in reference to Meir Soloveichik’s recent rejection of theological interfaith dialogue.

Stern takes a similar approach to me, arguing that we must be allowed to criticize another person’s theology if that theology can potentially inspire hatred and violence. Stern tells the fascinating story of Abraham Joshua Heschel meeting with the Pope in 1964 on the eve of Yom Kippur to try to persuade him to make changes to Nostra Aetate, the Catholic Church’s post-Holocaust statement regarding interfaith relations.

The church ultimately did make these changes, which paved the way for the interfaith reconciliation that flourished between Catholics and Jews in the last third of the 20th century.

Stern also coins a fascinating and appropriate term for those who believe we must stay out each other’s theological business: Fundamentalist Relativists.

These fundamentalist relativists, writes Stern, believe that:

Religious people are meant to live in an eternal state of cognitive dissonance where they are suppose to befriend, live alongside and work with those whom they passionately and absolutely believe are going to burn in hell.

Only 60 years after the Holocaust these religious figures portray theologically oriented interfaith dialogue as some “liberal� experiment undermining the uniqueness of each religious experience. I am sincerely sorry to disappoint them but Rabbi Heschel’s concern was far more simple, sober and practical: He, like Rabbi Greenberg, did not want to see the death of six million more Jews or, for that matter, any other people. The issue is not about being Orthodox, Reform, Conservative or Liberal, it’s about cherishing human life.

A must read.


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