An interesting question came up yesterday, as we were talking about peacemaking and tolerance in our (Christian, Jewish and Muslim) traditions.
First of all, we all agreed that "tolerance" is a weak and insufficient goal. We want something more, and we need something more, if we are to be seeking and building peace with different others.
But then a question arose, as we considered what our sacred texts teach about our relationship with The Other.
A Jewish presenter shared the text,
The reason Adam was created alone in the world is to teach you that whoever destroys a single soul, Scripture imputes it to him as though he had destroyed the entire world; and whoever keeps alive a single soul, Scripture imputes it to him as though he had preserved the entire world.
But someone pointed out that there is another version,
FOR THIS REASON WAS MAN CREATED ALONE, TO TEACH THEE THAT WHOSOEVER DESTROYS A SINGLE SOUL OF ISRAEL,39 SCRIPTURE IMPUTES [GUILT] TO HIM AS THOUGH HE HAD DESTROYED A COMPLETE WORLD; AND WHOSOEVER PRESERVES A SINGLE SOUL OF ISRAEL, SCRIPTURE ASCRIBES [MERIT] TO HIM AS THOUGH HE HAD PRESERVED A COMPLETE WORLD.40
This raises the question, are Jews encouraged not to destroy / to save, Jewish life, or all life?
Similarly, a Muslim presenter shared the Hadith,
"None of you truly believes (in Allaah and in His religion) until he loves for his neighbor what he loves for himself,"
but another pointed out that this is "weak," that the "strong" version is
"None of you truly believes (in Allah and in His religion) until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself,"
with the understanding that "brother" means fellow Muslims.
And for Christians, does Jesus' teaching to "love your neighbor as yourself" mean fellow Christian, or all others? (Note, for example, that in Matthew 5:23-24 it says, "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to that person; then come and offer your gift." - does "brother or sister" mean fellow Christian, or everyone?)
I do not approach this from the position of arguing what Islam or Judaism teaches (e.g., some Christians argue that Islam teaches only love of Muslims). One question is what the texts say; another is, how do we interpret and apply them, what do we emphasize?
My perspective is that in any of our traditions we are faced with the question, how do we relate to people (The Other) outside our tradition, outside our community? What are our commitments? Are we committed to doing good to all people, loving all people, saving the life of all people? The potential is there, in each of our traditions, for inclusivity or exclusivity, for narrowness or breadth. And depending on the interpretation and the path we take, the end result can be conflict, oppression, even the extremes of ethnic cleansing and genocide.
As a Christian, I believe that our mandate, from Jesus, is to love all people. After all, when he taught that the second great commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself,” the example he used to illustrate this (to his Jewish listeners) was the dispised, “half-breed,” “false religion” Samaritan. Every person is our neighbor. We are to treat every person as we ourselves want to be treated. There is no room, in the teachings of Jesus, for the kind of exclusive views that might lead us to devalue and ultimately dehumanize other people, whatever their gender or race or ethnicity or religion.