Understanding religious roots: David Rosen at TEDxViadellaConciliazione

Translator: Keun Wook Steve Kim
Reviewer: Tatjana Jevdjic (Applause) In the early seventies,
I was a very young rabbi in a very large congregation
in Cape Town, South Africa. That was the period when Apartheid,
the laws of discrimination against people based upon their race, upon their colour, were at their height. And it was obvious to me
as to so many people of faith, that this system that deprived people
their fundamental human rights, was in complete conflict with religious faith
and with scriptural teaching that affirms the dignity
of each and every human person, of their fundamental,
inalienable freedom and dignity, born out of the fact
that each and every human being is created in the divine image,
as indicated in Genesis. So it was obvious to me
that I had to be engaged in social action, to try to do what I could
within this iniquitous context. And I joined together
with others in various activities. But it was important for me
that my community, that my faith tradition, be seen to be engaged in this struggle. One of the few ways one could go about bringing people together across the racial divide at that time,
was through religion. And so together with the leaders
of the Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Muslim and Jewish community,
we founded an interfaith forum, a council of Christians, Muslims and Jews, one of the first of its kind in the world. So I came to interfaith relations in fact, out of a commitment to social justice. But as I got involved in this process, I discovered some very important things. First and foremost,
I was struck by how these people, who I assumed knew a little bit
about Judaism and about Jews, how ignorant they were about me
and about my tradition. They had misconceptions,
and often biases, prejudices, simply out of the fact that they
didn’t really know me and my community. It was obvious to me then that if I wanted to combat prejudice
and bigotry against me and my community, interfaith relations is really important. But to tell the truth,
I discovered something else. I discovered that I was amazingly
ignorant about them, that I too had prejudices
and misunderstandings about them. And aside from the fact
that surely it was just and right, that I represent them the way
they understand themselves, If I really want them,
I wanted them, to know me, it was my responsibility
to get to know them. In addition, I became
even more aware of the fact that even if there were some
profound differences theologically between the different communities,
different faith traditions, we shared such profound values,
such fundamental values: our sense of the transcendent presence
in the world and meaning to life, our appreciation of the divine presence
in each and every one, each and every human person
created in the divine image and its concomitant responsibility to promote justice and righteousness
and peace in the world. If one really believes in those things,
then surely one has a responsibility to work together with others
who believe in them, so that we are greater
than the sum of our different parts. And as I sought to engage
with my colleagues in these areas, it became even clearer to me,
even more important, that I deepen my own knowledge
of who I am and what I stand for, in order to present myself appropriately
to my colleagues. So in fact, interfaith relations helped me
deepen my own faith commitment, my own understanding. Something else, however,
happened in the course of this engagement, where I met wonderful people,
people who were truly inspiration, an inspiration in so many ways. It occurred to me, suddenly,
that I had never really given any thought to the meaning and significance
of other religious traditions. Even though I was already a rabbi,
even if I was a very young one. And I realised that there was a paradox. That throughout the course of history,
our religions that have taught the idea
of an omnipresent, all-present deity, a God who is the source behind the cosmos, the energy that motivates it,
that guides us, that has created us in all our diversity. That we have at the same time
tried somehow to encapsulate that divine presence in one tradition. If God has created us in all our diversity
and as Psalm 145 says, “God’s mercies extend
to all his creatures,” then surely if God relates to us
in different ways, there must be different ways
of relating to God. And anyway, how can one religion
encapsulate the totality of the divine. God is more than any one religion. And I realised, as I got involved
in this interfaith encounter, that through meeting people, I was getting a glimpse
beyond my own particular tradition. We affirm that we meet God
in many different ways and that the human being
is created in the divine image. And therefore when we meet with others, as the Jewish philosophers Martin Buber
and Emmanuel Levinas had thought, when we meet with others
in the fullness of their humanity, that in fact is an encounter with God,
that is an encounter with the divine, especially so if one is meeting someone
in their sense of the divine presence, in her or his life and community. And therefore interfaith relations for me,
I realized, was a religious experience. It was an experience
that expanded my horizons, my understanding of the divine presence. So, in addition to deepening
my own understanding of who I was, interfaith encounters gave me a greater
sense of the divine in the world, and are an enormously enriching gift
for me in my life. I mentioned the story of how I had worked together
with my colleagues to establish an interfaith forum
in South Africa. The process of getting this going
wasn’t that simple. Not only because of political realities, but also because of
certain religious hurdles. In South Africa at that time, the vast majority of those
who supported the ruling party, the “Nationalists,”
known as Afrikaners of Dutch origin, were members of the Dutch Reformed Church. It was often called
“the Nationalist Party of Prayer.” And I knew that any interfaith initiative was only going to be meaningful if I could
engage somebody from that community. I had heard of a Dutch Reformed minister,
“duminy” in Dutch or in Afrikaans, who was meeting with Catholics,
in downtown Cape Town. Now I imagine that for most of you,
that’s no big deal. But those of you who are familiar
with the demonology of the Dutch Reformed Church
from that period, may be familiar with the fact
that the Dutch Reformed Church taught, or should I say the Afrikaner
religious community taught, that there were two great dangers. One was the “Swart gevaar,”
the Black danger, and the other was the “Rooms gevaar,”
the Roman Catholic danger. And I thought, if this guy is having
a dialogue with Catholics, maybe he’ll meet with Jews too! So in my naivety,
I made an appointment to see him, and sat down,
he received me graciously. And I opened with my gambit,
which had worked so well until now. I had said, “You know,
father/pastor/reverend/sheikh, the things that bring us together
are so much more important than things that keep us apart.” And they had all agreed and were happy to participate
in this particular initiative. But when I said that to this duminy,
he replied, with a very strong South African accent, “To tell you the truth, rabbi,
I cannot agree with you, because the most important thing
in my life keeps us apart: my belief in Jesus as my personal savior, and anybody who does not share that
is going to go to hell, and therefore, Rabbi,
I can only meet with you if I do my Christian duty to save you.” Fortunately, I didn’t lose my cool. And my response, which I’m not sure that I understood the fullness
of its importance at the time, I said to him, “Well, thank you, Duminy,
for your honesty. I still want you to come
very much to these meetings because I think it’s important
that you understand me and I certainly want to understand you. And you know what,
you have to come now, because I’m giving you the opportunity
to tell me about your faith.” And he came along,
and he became, I would say, much more open in the course
of our discussions, and brought others along with him. This was a very salutary
experience for me. Because it, first of all, clarified
the importance of not having lost my cool, and not being offended by what he said, but above all, the importance of allowing
people to discover that human encounter, interfaith encounter, that can broaden
not only our sense of the divine, but can even change our
own theological understandings, and make them so much broader,
encompassing and so much more embracing. I saw this too when I was in Ireland. After South Africa, we moved to Ireland,
where I was Chief Rabbi. This was at the height of the Troubles
of the late seventies, early eighties, when people were using, abusing, religion, in the context of the conflict
to demonize one another. Together with the Christian Primates
of Ireland, we founded an Irish council
of Christians and Jews. And there again, one saw that when one
could manage to bring people together, and enable them to see each other
as creating a divine image, each one as a child of God, instead of religion being a barrier,
religion could be a wonderful bridge that could enable people to embrace,
to work together, and a source of healing
and reconciliation. Things of course improved enormously
after I left Ireland, just as they improved miraculously
in South Africa after we left. In fact, things tend to improve
in most places when I leave, and some people want me
to leave Jerusalem, in the hope that things
will be better in the Holy Land. But seriously, in all these places,
religion has been abused. And not just in these places,
but in so many other parts of the world. We’ve heard about Nigeria,
Sri Lanka and Kashmir. And it’s not good enough, I think, to simply blame nasty politicians
for manipulating religion. There’s something a little more
that we need to be self-critical about, in terms of the way religion
is used and abused. Of course, a lot of this
has to do with power, as we heard now from Brian Grim. I’m simplifying his wonderful
sociological analysis. But power is the problem very often,
when people have too much of it, they often tend to abuse it. And one needs checks and balances,
but this is a human problem. But I think there is another aspect to understanding why religion
is often abused in a terrible way. And I think it has to do with
the relationship of religion and identity. Religion seeks to give meaning
to our understanding of who we are, as individuals, as part of a family,
as part of a community, as part of a people,
even as part of humanity. And because it is wrapped up with these
different components of human identity, religion nurtures those identities, it gives them meaning,
it gives them purpose. But when those identities
are in situations of conflict, and when people feel threatened, they turn to what nurtures
those identities, for support, for succor, for self-confidence, for reassurance, for self-justification. Sometimes then,
that also becomes self-righteousness. And it becomes deprecating and denigrating
of the other and even delegitimizing of the other. Religion has been abused in terrible ways
in the course of history and still is today
in many parts of the world. And that sometimes leads people to think
that therefore the solution is to do away with religion, and to do away with identities altogether. That was the vision that John Lennon had
in his wonderful song “Imagine.” You remember,
“Imagine no more countries, it isn’t hard to do, nothing to live
or die for and no religions too.” But I’m sure while John Lennon
was motivated by the noblest of impulses, that this is a complete fallacy. Because identity is who we are. If you don’t have an identity,
if you don’t know who you are, as those different components of person,
family, community, nation, you are rudderless,
you are without psychological anchorage. You don’t have not only the stability
of your own self-understanding, you are vulnerable to all kinds
of winds, and of forces, and especially to extremist ideologies
that manipulate people who are rudderless
and who are vulnerable within society. The challenge is not to get away
of these important components, that make us who we are, let alone the source of meaning
and understanding to our existence, which is what religion is. The challenge is how to utilize identity, how to use religious faith and commitment, in a manner that leads us
to embrace others, and to serve others, and not to denigrate them,
not to disparage them, and not to, God forbid,
to demonize them. Indeed the challenge
of everything in this world, of everything within us and around us, is how to ensure that what we have
and that what we can engage is a source of blessing, and not,
God forbid, a source of curse. More often than not,
it is the negative image of religion that the media tend to be more interested
in giving attention to. And the wonderful things,
the source of inspiration, that comes from religion, and the source of understanding,
and engagement, and appreciation of one another, that comes from interfaith relations, is often ignored. But the truth is that there has never been
as much interfaith understanding and cooperation in our world ever
than there is today. Whether it is through dialogue,
through understanding, or whether it is joint initiatives,
for the common values and the common good. Interfaith relations today is
exponentially growing in leaps and bounds. There are hundreds upon hundreds
of organizations, probably thousands in our world, seeking to promote understanding,
cooperation, collaboration, and addressing the challenges of our time,
bringing faith communities together. Here, in Italy, there are many. I might just mention some, like, in this city, the wonderful
Community of Sant’Egidio or “The Focolare Movement.” And there are international bodies, like the “World Conference
of Religions for Peace,” which embraces some 15 religions
in some 70 countries around the world, the “United Religions Initiative.” You’ve heard the reference made to the “United Nations Alliance
of Civilizations.” Recently, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
established in Vienna, together with the governments
of Austria and of Spain, a center for interreligious
and intercultural dialogue. And of course, in addition
to all these international bodies, there are those,
the plethora of organizations, in different locations around the world. Where I live in Israel, my organization,
the “American Jewish Committee,” where I’m responsible for its interfaith
relations around the world, helped found
the “Interreligious Coordinating Council.” This is an umbrella organization
for over 60 organizations in Israel, promoting interreligious dialogue
and understanding, between Muslims, Christians and Jews, and many crossing over, between Israel
and the Palestinian Authority. AJC, my organization, also helped establish
leadership organizations in Israel. We have a “Council
of Religious Leaders in Israel,” that embraces all the different
denominations in the Holy Land. All the Christian denominations:
Islam, Judaism, Druze, Samaritan, Bahá’í, Ahmadiyya, all the different communities
brought together. We even have a “Council of Religious
Institutions of the Holy Land,” that brings together the leadership
of the Palestinian Authority and the religious leadership. Muslim and Christian together
with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, in an organization,
the first of its kind ever in history. These organizations are not going to bring
an end to the conflict, unfortunately. That is in the hands of the politicians. But they are critically important
testimonies of what is possible. And they are an enormous resource
for the day when peace will come. And people will learn how to be a source of enrichment
and of a gift to one another. Wherever we are in the world, interfaith relations, sincere engagement
with those of other faiths broadens our perspective of the divine, gives us a greater sense
of the divine presence in the world, enables us to overcome fears,
suspicions, hostilities, and above all enables us
to see our differences, not as, God forbid,
something to denigrate, but as something to celebrate. Thank you. (Applause) (Announcer)
And thank you to Rabbi David Rosen.

11 thoughts on “Understanding religious roots: David Rosen at TEDxViadellaConciliazione

  • He's giving John Lennon short shrift. John Lennon wasn't rudderless. Certainly not in that period of his life. With all due respect to the rabbi, he quoted a single line from one song but he tried to use it to make a point, not to understand what John Lennon was saying, what he was about. If he's really interested in this kind of understanding he now has a new project.There is a lot more material from that time, such as the album The Plastic Ono Band. At least that's where I would recommend he start. It's all about how he finally did come to understand himself, find his identity. And it's precisely what Mr. Rosen is about: John Lennon was about world peace. He gave up the idols, the illusions, the glamour, the power, the whims and ideologies — and he found his essence. That album can make you cry.

  • David evidently a man of good will able to sit back and consider the utility of religion. I suggest religion but a tool useful to the politician rather then of a divine nature. That said I would argue atheism the higher ground as atheists require no Holy Book or Guru or Priest to shore up their idenity or to ease anothers struggle. When atheists reach out it is not to pacify an imaginary GOD rather a demonstratio of compassion. History is full of atrocity and much inspired by religion. I hope one day we out grow such folly but know so long as profit, favor or support to be had religion will be with us, the details unimportant.

  • Спасибо. Наилучшие пожелания Вам и Иерусалиму- городу моего Христа!

  • This is bs. It is religion and nationalism that cause most of the problems in this world. Stop putting yourself in a box. It's easier for people to control you if you accept their assumptions about race, culture, god, or nation. Where this rabbi lives is not the "holy land." It's just a place that fools are fighting over. He has no more right to be there than anyone else. Rosen's Israel is the new Apartheid South Africa.

  • Was the original expression Re Legion. Which would mean reorganization of people in a organized society, for economic and social betterment of people.

  • If religion is abandoned completely. Then peace will come naturally, but since we sadly have to deal with religion in the process of finding peace then religion will always make the process even more complicated and harder to achieve. Religion is such a terrible curse for humanity!

  • This is satanic one world religion Illuminati white wash rubbish. holy and apostolic Catholic church only one true church Amen. St perer is catholic st. Matthew mark luke and John are catholics Ect ect ect. Don't be fooled Wolf in sheep's clothing watch for Them.

  • Interfaith is difficult. Judaism is the basic faith from which the Christians believed the Messiah came. The key differences are that the Jews believe Christ was crucified and buried and that they must keep the ceremonial laws of the chosen people from whom the Messiah would come (Leviticus, etc.) Christianity is the belief that Jesus was resurrected and the old Covenant (Leviticus, etc.) has been replaced by the New Covenant. The understanding of God though is very similar and so there is a commonly used term 'Judeochristian'.

    Islam is different. The theology of God differs quite significantly and the belief that Jesus was a prophet who was nor crucified.

    As such in brief:
    1. Judaism – Jesus was a mere man who was killed for his blasphemy via crucifixion.
    2. Christianity – similar theology of God where Jesus' resurrection is the sole reason for belief as he is God.
    3. Islam – a different theology of God where Jesus was not a mere man or God but a prophet who was not crucified.

    Jesus is the crux and all beliefs are fundamentally different on who he is. One can respect people of different faiths but can't share faith in any meaningful way.

    Especially when Muslims who say the same prayer five times a day clearly state at the end of Surah 1 in Arabic that all Christians and Jews as with others justly evoke Allah's anger and only true Muslims are favoured by Allah. Which is why Sunni, Shia, etc. can truly hate each other as each other are deemed to have gone astray.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *