Abrahams Call Restated

Hashem said to Abraham, "Go forth from your native land and from your father's house to the land that I will show you." (Gen. 12: 1)

My assumption is that even recent discussion of theo-politics tends to reflect two of the dichotomous features of the modern epoch. These are the assumptions that political theory is either secular or religious; and, that, if religious, it is either liberal (accomodationist and universalist in the manner of secular thought) or orthodox (antimodernist and strictly particularist or unidenomina-tional in its traditionalism).

My unsurprising thesis is that September 11 is an index of our already having, for some time now, entered into an epoch other than the modern one, for which these dichotomies are now obsolete. The current epoch offers a time for a theo-politics that is at once secular and religious, at once tradition-bound (alias orthodox) and attentive to immediate social conditions (alias liberal, in this sense).

My more unconventional thesis is that there is a nonliberal, Abrahamic theo-politics, yet to be articulated but already practiced, that subverts the dichotomous logics of modernity. Certain Muslim, Christian, and Jewish scholars/religious leaders will proclaim this theo-politics as the tripartite work of God in response to the dominant political crisis of the contemporary West.

The main features of this crisis are: (1) the inadequacy of the nation-state as a privileged context for theo-political inquiry and work; (2) the inadequacy of late modern alternatives to the nation-state, which alternatives are still dominated by the universalist economic contraries of anticapitalist socialism or global capitalism; (3) the inadequacy of value-neutral models of nation-state democracy; (4) the inadequacy of late modern alternatives to these models, which alternatives are still dominated by the primarily secular contraries of societal communitarianism and individual-rights liberalism; (5) the inadequacy of both antimodern religious orthodoxies and antireligious secular universalisms as sources of norms for responding to this crisis.

While no single response is adequate to this crisis, I will, with limited space, focus on the one serious response that has received the least attention: a call for Abrahamic theo-politics. This is a call for Muslim, Jewish, and Christian leaders and scholars to draw aspects of our three scriptural traditions into shared theo-political work. Appropriate to a new epoch in Western religious history, this work should provide an alternative to the sharp dichotomies that defined the previous epoch: secularity vs. religiosity, and each form of religiosity vs. any other. Abra-hamic theo-politics is a call to articulate the axioms of a new epoch:

• that all three are Abrahamic traditions that have, appropriately and sufficiently, already devoted more than an epoch to defining our irreducibly different missions in the world;

• that, since each of our missions represents a living covenant with the living God of Abraham, we now recognize that, not only our separate missions, but also our overlapping areas of work belong to God's plan for the redemption of this world;

• that all aspects of our lives should be devoted to this work: from personal and familial conduct to local communal life (including our participation in local schools and civic government), to regions of intercommunal, national, and international relations;

• that there is therefore no "value neutral" space of social life for us, but that the different aspects and geographic regions of our social lives should be guided by different degrees of cooperative interaction among our separate and our overlapping covenants with God.

Arising from this last point, we may envision three prototypical degrees of covenantal interaction, appropriate to three degrees of social interaction:

First, nearly homogeneous spheres of religious practice. Our personal prayer and public worship spaces, for example, tend to be guided by single covenantal traditions and, typically, by single denominations within each tradition. The sphere of worship is only "nearly" separate, however, because we can no longer ignore the intercommunal consequences of even private prayers that treat the other covenants, or human life outside the covenants, with malevolence. Family life tends to be guided by separate covenants, but, again, it is only nearly separate for the reason just given and also because our sphere of intercommunal social engagement cannot be wholly independent of our intrafamilial practices. Within each Western democracy, and across various nations outside of Europe and the Americas, Muslims, Jews, and Christians sometimes live in small regions or entire states guided by religious laws or traditions. We must also begin, however, to consider such regions and states as only "nearly" separate, again for the reasons just given and also because members of other denominations or traditions may also find themselves living in them.

Second, purportedly "religion-neutral" spheres. This is the most innovative dimension of Abrahamic theo-politics, inserting intercovenantal religiosity into regions of public policy and public life that Western democracies tend to define as value-neutral or, at least, religiously naked. Among these regions are public school boards; nonsectarian universities and colleges; all areas of policy and decision-making that serve local, regional (state, in the USA), and national governments; and all areas of policy- and decision-making that serve regional and global economic, societal, and political institutions - from businesses to the World Bank to United Nations programs and bodies. According to this new Call of Abraham, all regions of public life should now be defined as regions affected by Abrahamic theo-politics. This does not mean that all these regions should be governed by Abrahamic bodies, but that Abrahamic (Muslim/Jewish/Christian) bodies should lobby for influence in all these regions, asserting both their right to offer shared guidelines for decision-making in these regions and the wisdom of whatever specific judgments they recommend. To illustrate concretely: an Abrahamic group should lobby the school board in Albemarle County, Virginia, to ensure that history classes no longer avoid teaching about the major religious groups and religious events in each period of world history; an Abrahamic group should lobby the US Congress on every policy decision it makes, from stem-cell research to US plans for a war against Iraq; Abrahamic groups of shareholders should attend and offer briefs at shareholders' meetings of every international corporation.

Third, religiously heterogeneous spheres. A less radical dimension of Abrahamic theo-politics is to re-enter areas of interreligious dialogue that have already been opened in the late modern period, but now from the perspective of this new epoch. Until recently, interreligious dialogue had been an activity of liberal religionists: defined, that is, by concepts deemed to be universal to the three Abra-hamic religions, or to all religions, rather than by covenantal, scriptural, and doctrinal directives that are made visible only within each tradition in its particularity. Liberal interreligious dialogue has therefore been driven by claims that could also be made outside the traditions: for example, about the importance of dialogue, peace, human rights, love, justice, or even of God, but understood as the referent of faith rather than as the source of unexpected disclosures and demands. Proper to this epoch, however, Abrahamic dialogue begins with the unpredictable phenomenon that some groups of observant Muslims, Jews, and Christians have been called, at once, to gather separately to serve the God of Israel or Allah or Christ in their distinct ways and to gather on occasion together to declare their overlapping loves of the one God of Abraham. To declare love of God is also to act on that declaration, so that this overlapping declaration also accompanies overlapping forms of religious behavior. This behavior begins with acts of speaking the love of God, of studying scripture as the most intimate access to God's word, of discussing together each tradition's readings and interpretations of scripture, and of uncovering through that discussion a sense of how God's spirit can sweep at times from one reading to the next, from one Abrahamic discourse to the next, and from a time of shared reading to a time of shared action. To act in this sense means nothing other than to have read out of God's word a shared directive to act.

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