This past Tuesday, UCLA students gathered for an interfaith event in a small room on the third floor of the Humanities building to discuss many important topics. The event was relatively successful, but due to a miscommunication, there were no Muslim students in attendance.
The topic of the meeting: the connection between violence and each religion’s scripture. As a religious Jew, I spend a large amount of time struggling with morally problematic verses in the Bible: from talking about stoning children to full-fledged genocides against some of the nations initially living in the land of Canaan. At this event, the 30+ Christian students took turns giving their own input on how to deal with the problematic verses both in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. This event was very enlightening as I learned that many Christians on campus are dealing with very similar questions that many of us Jews confront on a somewhat regular basis.
The Christians in the audience appeared surprised as I spoke about the Jewish view of violence in scripture. This was the first time that much of the Christian audience had been exposed to the central ideas (as well as some more specific aspects) of Judaism. After the event, one student approached me and said that this was their first time learning about why the Jews rejected Jesus. Another student had always seen Judaism as an archaic religion that is stuck in the past and destined for failure for its adherents’ refusal to accept Jesus. Ideas so basic and intrinsic to Judaism were unheard of in this largely Christian audience. Now this alone is not very surprising. How many Jews on campus have ever read the New Testament or the Qur’an? How many Jews on campus would be able to answer very basic questions about other faiths?
It is a basic psychological idea that humans are predisposed to be afraid of “the other.” When humans come across other cultures with their different dress, language and ideas, they immediately see this group as a threat to themselves and their communities. People are less willing to give other groups favorable judgments and are quicker to blame these groups for any wrong that they might perceive. This idea, which is at the roots of social psychology, is known as the Fundamental Attribution Error (look it up!), and is the cause of much dispute and violence between different religions. Sadly, when people do not understand other faiths, they see these other faiths as an outgroup and immediately perceive them as a threat.The best way to fix this problem is for every religion and culture to go out, speak to, and learn about other religions. Jews need to read the New Testament and Qur’an, speak to well-educated Christians and Muslims, and learn more about these religions in general before passing judgement on another group. The same goes for Christians and for Muslims. It is only through an open conversation and dialogue that people from each of these faiths can come to learn and appreciate “other groups.” Only then can the idealistic words of Isaiah, that the lion lay beside the lamb, come true in our day and age.