A MONK, A RABBI, AND THE 'MEANING OF THIS HOUR'
War and Nonviolence in Abraham Joshua Heschel and Thomas Merton*
by Shaul Magid
-- Napoleon Bonaparte
“Do you know, Fontanes, what astonishes me
most in the world? The inability of force to
create anything. In the long run the sword is
always beaten by the spirit.”
which distinguishes us from all the animals is our capacity to
And we fulfill our mission only to the extent that we are nonviolent and no more.”
-- M.K. Gandi, “Nonviolence: The Greatest Force”
can guarantee the interests of some, but it can never foster the
good of all.
Power always protects the good of some at the expense of all the others.”
-- Thomas Merton, “Blessed are the Meek”
I also want to say that this is the very first time I have felt
that God is in the White House.”
-- Gary Welby, American Republican
are on the right side, and God is with us, and anyone who has
God on their side never loses.”
-- Muhmmad Al-Mehimmad, Iraqi insurgent
is the role of religion in contemporary society.”
-- Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Religion in Modern Society”
“The names of the heroes,
I was taught to memorize.
They had guns in their hands,
And God on their side. . . For you don’t count the
dead, with God on our side.”
The present global conflict that implicates Judaism, Christianity, and Islam has presented serious challenges to those who remain dedicated to nonviolence (whether as a religious or secular value) and also work inside one of the above three religious traditions. The voices of nonviolence that have almost always accompanied American military action, from the first World War to Vietnam, have largely been stifled by the enormity of 9-11,1 an event that, for the first time, put America in a position of having to defend itself against a calculated attack on its mainland.2 In this essay I explore some of the ways in which this war has been constructed in "religious" terms3 shifting the dynamic of the Cold War era where the God-fearing "(Judeo) Christian" west positioned itself against the God-less communist Soviet/Sino threat.4 Many committed to non-violence are examining sources in their religious traditions or searching for spokespeople from those traditions to translate previous theories of nonviolence to the present situation. Among those spokespeople, in Christianity and Judaism, are Thomas Merton and Abraham Joshua Heschel, traditionalist theologians who contributed to the anti-Vietnam war movement in the 1960's.5 I explore here why Merton and Heschel are simultaneously obvious and problematic choices and why their religious rhetoric may, in fact, be counter-productive to the task at hand. Yet, if read against themselves I suggest they can still be of some limited use in waging a religious critique of religion and speak to the more fundamental issue of the on-going battle between religion and the secular in the public sphere
The present conflict also points beyond the realm of the political and exhibits a more global turn away from the secular toward a renewed sense of religious urgency and piety that has become manifest in the use of violence.6 This turn has been aptly coined by the title of a recent book The Desecularization of the World. In the introductory essay to that collection of essays, Peter Berger argues that the present turn to religion is not primarily a turn away from the secular or secularism per se but more about the failure of "experiments with secularized religion."7 Liberal religion in Judaism and Christianity grew out of the Enlightenment and has dominated the west for more than two centuries, arguably serving as a foundation for western democracy and capitalism.8 According to Berger, the return to a more orthodox or evangelical approach to religion of late is a sign that these enlightened religious experiments have failed to convince those who are believers that such reformed religious ideals are viable and, perhaps more to the point, inspiring.9 On this reading, fundamentalism's true enemy is thus not the secular but the reformed religion of classical modernity, what John Milbank calls the proponents of "false humility."10 It may be productive to view the new thereat of radical Islam within that wider phenomenon. In Islam, what gave birth to its radical wing inspiring, among other groups, the latest instantiation of "The Muslim Brotherhood" in Egypt, were the failures of Nassar's secular pan-Arabism an ideology that, while not identical to liberal religion in the west, shared some important dimensions with it.11 From our perspective, at least in America, what we are experiencing is not simply the rise of radical Islam but the rise of radical religion more generally. I suggest, along with many others, that we view these two phenomena as linked even as each has its own distinct history and agenda.12 Jose Casanova terms this move "the deprivatization of religion in the modern world." He writes, "By deprivatiziation I mean the fact that religious traditions throughout the world are refusing to accept the marginal and privatized role which theories of modernity as well as theories of secularization had reserved for them."13 Both according to Berger and Casanova, the period of secularization and the privatization of religion may be over but it is the very process of liberalizing religion (for Casanova, the Protestant Reformation) that created the context of this resurgence of religion in the public sphere. It is the Reformation, argues Casanova, that creates "a form of religious internal secularization, the vehicle through which religious contents would take institutional secular form, thereby erasing altogether the religious/secular divide."14 That is, by separating religion and the political, Protestantism gave birth to the privatization of religion that is being challenged by, among other groups, evangelical Protestants. On the one hand, liberal Protestantism achieved this by enabling secularism to frame the religious debate. On the other hand, evangelical Protestantism and scholarly schools such as "Radical Orthodoxy" are trying to invoke religion as a frame for the secular debate because of its belief that secularism did not and cannot create a moral society.15 For both (albeit for different reasons), it is liberal religion that created the social problems they are trying to solve.
The process of desecularization in America is not only occurring in popular culture but is also evident in theological circles. The Christian theological school known as "Radical Orthodoxy" has become a serious part of the theological conversation in America. Jeffrey Stout notes that, "Radical Orthodoxy is currently the hottest topic being debated in seminaries and divinity schools in the United States, and thus a significant part of the subculture within which future pastors are being educated."16 Led by theologians and scholars such as John Milbank, Stanley Hauerwas and Richard John Neuhaus this school argues that issues of state and public policy should reject "secular reason" (that is, a discourse that excludes theological considerations) and re-frame public discourse from a "theological perspective." For some this is not simply to say that "religion" should be a voice in a pluralist conversation but that theology (i.e., Christian theology) should, in fact, frame the discourse.17 While the details of this argument are beyond the scope of this essay it is an important part of a general shift in orientation toward secular space that dominated the liberal American democratic tradition and, perhaps, also contributes to the reemer-gence of "religious justice" regarding the present conflict.18 More relevant to our concerns, while Heschel and Merton died before this significant turn in American thinking, their call for "God" to be a foundation of public discourse is arguably a precursor to this conservative school (or, at least, can be read as such). Therefore, what many of their readers view as their progressive agenda needs to be re-accessed in light of this fact.
The process of desecularizing religion (re)creates divisions and borders that were dismantled or effaced in the light of modernity (positively in terms of western liberalism and negatively in totalitarianism) resulting in the re-emergence of ethic, tribal, and national identities in a world that some argue is increasing becoming post-ideological.19 Kant's cosmopolitanism and Marx's classless society have not taken hold even as each has contributed to contemporary political theories and public policy.20 The present conflict about power and vision construed overtly or covertly in a "theological frame" may no longer be a conflict of "ideology" in the formal sense of capitalism versus communism or democracy verses totalitarianism but is surely a conflict about how civilization should be constructed including debates about justice and divine will. Both sides (that is, many pro-war Americans and Islamists) are ostensibly fighting, as Bob Dylan sang in the 1960's "with God on their side."21 Therefore, any voice of nonviolence that emerges from one of these religious traditions must address the extent to which war—and this war in particular—can be justified from the bodies of religious tradition. If secularized religion has fallen out of favor with many in the west, what space can those committed to liberal values and the efficacy of religion occupy in a world in transition?
This question will now be examined through the work of two twentieth-century theologians and religious leaders—one Christian and one Jewish, Thomas Merton and Abraham Joshua Heschel. While Merton, a Trappist monk staring as a convert to Catholicism as a young adult, wrote extensively about nonviolence, Heschel, who left an ultra-Orthodox childhood in Poland to become part of the modern Jewish project in Vilna, Germany, and then America, did not write extensively about nonviolence, at least not as a distinct topic. However, his belief in nonviolence as a response to conflict lies just beneath the surface of many of his writings, particularly but not exclusively on the Hebrew Prophets.22 Reflecting on his involvement in the anti-Vietnam war movement, Heschel invokes his study of the Hebrew Prophets as a source of inspiration. "The more deeply immersed I became in the thinking of the prophets the more powerfully it became clear to me what the lives of the prophets sought to convey: that morally speaking there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings. It also became clear to me that in regard cruelties committed in the name of a few in society, some are guilty while all are responsible."23
Yet given Heschel's social activism in the peace movement the particular context of his discussion on these matters presents a problem for one trying to translate his position to the present situation. The context of prophetic or ancient Israelite war was, as Heschel understood it, largely constructed as a war between true religion (Ancient Israelite monotheism) and false religion (idolatry) or, regarding internal Israelite battles, between Judaism that maintained its prophetic center and Judaism that lost that center. His comments about war in his own life were mostly situated in response to the Holocaust or a Cold War context that is not very useful in the present situation precisely because it too easily fits into the ostensibly neat dichotomy of God versus non-God.24
I argue here that a plain-sense reading of Heschel's attitude toward war is too tied to a religious-secular/idolatry dichotomy and thus may not be easily translated, or translatable at all, when addressing a conflict that is founded on religious principles drawn from what Heschel believed were three monotheistic religions. There are two reasons for this. First, I think Heschel was naïve in his belief that religion or awareness of God, especially monotheistic religion, can serve as a solution to violence and conflict.25 Second, that Heschel never quite worked out his notion of the secular. The secular was portrayed as the enemy in that it prevented the infusion of God (or God-consciousness) into public discourse.26 In a short essay on ecumenicism Heschel bluntly states, "What will save us? God, and our faith in man's relevance to God."27 One can see from Heschel's writings that he believed religion—and by religion I think he meant that God should be a point of reference ("a theological frame"?) in the public sphere—could save humanity from an amoral free-fall.28 Alternatively, secularism (as a discourse that prohibits or at least discourages the invocation of God or theology in the public sphere) is the root of immorality.29 Is the secular for Heschel similar to jahiliyyah in Sayyid Qutb, a state of rebellion against God's sovereignty? Even if Heschel's solution is more "western" (that is, undermining the secular through education and manipulation) than Qutb's (violently destroying the infidel west) it remains unclear whether Heschel viewed the secular as something that needed to be saved.
From another angle, Heschel's place in the present American scene (Martin Kavka calls him a "theoconservative" at least until the mid 1960's)30 depends on whether Heschel intended his notion of "radical amazement" to be simply a part of a secular discourse about public life or whether he intended it to be the lens through which we make collective decisions. That is, is religion a voice in the secular debate or a frame for the public debate? If the former is true Heschel would fit into the liberal view of John Rawls and Jeffrey Stout.31 This view is, in some sense, summed up by Talal Asad. "From the point of view of secularism, religion has the option either of confining itself to private belief and worship or of engaging in public talk that makes no demands on life. In either case such religion is seen by secularism to take the form it should properly have. Each is equally the condition of its legitimacy."32 If the latter is true he would be aligned with the "Radical Orthodoxy" of Milbank and Neuhaus. It is hard to believe that Heschel's use of religious language in the public sphere was not meant to change the nature of public life. The question is whether he believed it should make any demands on those who do not believe it.33
Another possibility is that he is closer to the orthodox Protestant theologian Karl Barth on the relationship between religion and the secular. While Barth argues that all Christians must begin with the assumption that God is the truth and the light, for Barth this truth is only "true" if it can also be found outside the church. Thus for Barth any dimension of the secular that is deemed true is, by definition, Christian. For Barth the secular cannot be simply rejected (as it is in Milbank) because the secular can surely carry the truth of Christ.34 If the truth of Christ can't be found in the secular, Barth argued, then the truth of Christ is limited.
While it is true that Heschel's more progressive disciples have given us a liberal Heschel (a kinder and gentler prophetic voice) his writing does not necessarily (and surely not unequivocally) square with that assessment. I think it may be safer to say at best that he did not promote "institutional religion" in the public sphere, an idea he shared with some of his liberal Protestant interlocutors such as Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich. Yet God, for Heschel, was not simply a matter of private religiosity. He was too much a disciple of the Hebrew prophets to believe that. He held true religion, or perhaps better religiosity, was an awareness of the root of all existence in a supreme being who is compassionate and commands compassion and this awareness plays a crucial role in the creation of a moral society.35 Heschel notes that "The trouble is that religion has become 'religion'—institution, dogma, securities. It is not an event anymore."36 But that just begs the question. As Jeffrey Stout puts it, "Where, if at all, does God's authority over all of creation fit into this picture [of the political realm]? This is the central question for political theology in societies where political discussion has been secularized."37 That is, whether the idea of God or the awareness of "radical amazement" contributes to secular morality or supplants it in Heschel remains, for me, unanswered. Perhaps given the present state of affairs he would have been more careful is his use of God language. One would hope so.38
Heschel and Merton's enemies were the Fascists, the Nazis, the communists, and the greedy perpetrators of ruthless American capitalism. They were those who viewed God-consciousness as a falsehood, an illusion, a nuisance, or irrelevant. They were not the God-fearing who, in the name of God, blow themselves up and kill innocents, kill doctors who perform abortions, or maintain that land is as important, or more important, than human life. This is not to say that both would have tolerated such behavior in the name of religion. They would have surely found it intolerable and blasphemous. However, one has to wonder how Heschel in particular would have responded to his own theocratic language being used against his moral sensibilities by these constituencies.39 If they are wrong, or more strongly, evil, then their religion must be false religion. Would he have considered that evil the secular (as he understood it) in pious dress?40
Perhaps he would have argued that the use of "theocratic" discourse for immoral purposes (how is morality defined here without the secular, that is, without the human?) points to the fact that all three religions have corrupted their prophetic base and have thus abandoned the realm of the religious.41 That is, that the ostensible religious justification for this war in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is, in effect, a sign of the secularization of all three religions.42 Israel, or any "other," is subject to divine wrath when they reject, abandon, of forget God. But if this is so then perhaps we must read Heschel against himself, perhaps we must examine the problematic side of his, or any, God-consciousness. Describing violence in the ancient world Heschel writes, "Why were so few voices in the ancient world in protest against the ruthlessness of man? Why are human beings so obsequious, ready to kill and ready to die at the call of kings and chieftains? (Rabbis?, Priests?, Imam's?, my addition). Perhaps it is because they worship might, venerate those who command might, and convinced it is by force that man prevails."43 This sounds eerily like contemporary Jewish, Christian and Islamic justifications for holy war (Jihad, Crusade, milkhemet mitz-vah [commanded war]). But if the monotheistic God can be invoked to justify violence, what is the barometer that can measure morality if not the secular that is just, that is, the human?44
Talal Asad suggests that we consider the possibility that the nation-state, as an affirmation of collective solidarity is, in fact, a (secular) religion.45 Is the reverse also true? That is, when nation-states (as secular religions) are infused with traditional "religion," does the religion itself become secular (by supporting the "secular" state), the legitimacy and power of that state now becoming the word of God? This may be one example of what Italian scholar Emilio Gentile calls "political religion"—"religion used as an instrument of political combat."46 Heschel did not accept the private role of religion so fundamental to modernity and sought to invoke his notion of God-consciousness into the public debate. Can we turn Heschel's "prophetic" rebuke against false certainty (religion enveloped in the secular) against itself. That is, can Heschel's prophetic rebuke be read as a "secular" rebuke against religion for the sake of the truly holy in that it contests religion's claim of unsubstantiated certainty as the basis of its argument? To do that would, in a sense, to read Heschel against himself or at least against the way he normally presents the dichotomy between religion and the secular. This suggests that Heschel's own theology may prohibit the infusion of God into public matters, thereby creating the secular space that Heschel seems to have negated.47 It would require a definition of the secular that Heschel did not consider. That is, while the secular can become a religion (professing uncontestable certainty) it can also counter religion by subverting divine certainty through the human. In some way this may have been what Heschel and Merton were doing—using religiosity (not institutional religion) to counter the false certainty of the secular. Now, however, this false sense of certainty is becoming re-united with religion.
While all three religions claim to support peace and resolution, there is a large and growing literature asking, as one title suggests, Is Religion is Killing us?.48 This literature has grown tremendously since the outset of this present conflict and has forced those of us who work in the discipline of Religious Studies to confront this process of "desecularization" as something more than an aberration.49 On the other hand, this conflict has also sparked a renewed interest in a construct known as "Abrahamic religions," the belief that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam rooted in the same Abrahamic myth, share enough to resolve their conflicts from within their shared religious sensibilities.50 The notion of Abrahamic religion may have its roots as far back as the eighteenth century in Lessing's well-known play "Nathan the Wise" illustrating a yet unrealized hope of peaceful co-existence. On closer inspection, however, the very construct is contestable and I am not convinced it exists, at least not in the way it is conventionally employed. In fact, as the biblical theologian Jon Levenson recently argued, it may be Judaism, Christianity and Islam's shared roots in Abraham that make the very notion of Abrahamic religion implausible! This is because the biblical Abraham is not Jewish, Christian, or Muslim and traditionally each religion's appropriation of Abraham comes at the very high price—the exclusion of Abraham for the others.51
As far as I know, neither Merton nor Heschel employed the notion of Abrahamic religions. Neither had any sustained interest in Islam. Merton, of course, took great interest in eastern religions (Buddhism and Taoism in particular). Heschel's non-Jewish interests seem to be limited to Christianity and largely in the practical sphere.52 Both felt closer to an idea popular in mid-century that the essence of religion is universal and thus all spiritual traditions in their healthy state express a common human desire for God.53 Or, that religions share enough to join in a more pressing battle against the God-less secularism that is corrupting our world.54 Both were progressive in their politics yet deeply a part of institutional religion. I am suggesting that their use for us today cannot be the result of a simple appropriation of their ideas because their ideas, especially Heschel's, do not sufficiently acknowledge the danger of theocratic thinking and do not adequately address the ostensible "God-consciousness" of the present conflict. Both, however, were also deep critics of their respective traditions wielding their critique from the resources of pious traditionalism and not enlightenment rationalism. The question at hand is whether their commitment to the idea that a sincere desire for God discloses the moral core of humanity can withstand the present crisis where God has become the ammunition and religion the weapon of war and terrorism. Facing a challenge they did not face -the modern challenge of a global conflict of three monotheistic religions traditions, do they have anything to offer us today?
Heschel in particular seemed convinced that a community committed to a personal God could never descend into the depths of gratuitous violence. Responding to Albert Einstein's claim that "in their struggle for the ethical good, teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God"55 Heschel responded, "Hubris, the tragic sin of our time is the conviction that there exists only laws of nature and technology, that man can accomplish everything by himself, and that he can construct a worldview, the breeding and upbringing of humans and religious movements."56 In short, humanity's problem is that it lacks religion or at least religious pathos, the belief in a personal and accessible God as a unifying force in nature and human civilization. Yet Heschel's pious language could very easily, and in fact is, used against his own society—that America is the land of the Infidels undermining God-consciousness, seeking only profit and believing that technology holds the secrets to all human challenges (Heschel's words give plenty of fuel to that fire). That is, we are the heathens who have undermined true piety and devotion.57 And yet, contemporary American society is increasingly not heeding Einstein's advice, that is, it is moving closer to a personal God and simultaneously using that pious turn as a justification for violence. Of late, America has been holding aloft the banner of religion (albeit under the thin veil of secularism) as we wage war against the enemy, described in the most volatile of theological terms—evil. So, as we become more violent are we becoming more religious? Or, as we become more religious are we becoming more violent?
Both Heschel and Merton believed our culture was too absorbed in the secular and by infusing "religion" or God-consciousness into our world we would become more compassionate. One could argue that Heschel and Merton were simply mistaken—that God is not the answer and that religion does not produce compassion. Perhaps the problem is that we, and our enemy, have become too "religious" or at least that religion has become the new tool to justify violence. Bruce Lincoln suggests this when he writes, "Restoring religion to its dominant position within culture hardly puts an end to conflict; its simply ensures that a culture's most bruising conflict will assume religious, rather than ethical or aesthetic character, and in that form they can be more destructive than ever."
If Heschel and Merton can help us at all it is not by telling us to be more religious but by teaching us that we have, in effect, abandoned the spirit of religion for its institutional and doctrinal externalities.59 That is, we have succumbed to the prophet's critique of Ancient Israel, the apostle's critique of Rome, and Paul's critique of Pharisaism. We have "secularized religion" by bringing religion more into the public realm. In finding religion, they may have argued, America has forgotten what religion, or at least Judaism and Christianity, aspired to achieve. And, it is the secularized version of religion that is the most dangerous, more dangerous than the God-less secularism Heschel and Merton contested. This is because bringing religion into the public sphere creates the danger of absolute divine categories to justify human folly. The publicization of religion is, on this reading, its secularization. Like idolatry, this kind of secularized religion deifies human aspirations.
Both Heschel and Merton wrote about the Jewish and Christian roots of nonviolence. Merton framed his discussion in terms of pacifism as a Christian value. Heschel devoted much of his career to the Hebrew prophets and what he understood was the vocation of the prophet in times of crisis, human failure, and global conflict. Both viewed secularism, under the guise of communism, atheism and materialism as the underlying problem in modern society.
I will schematically review some of Merton's thoughts on nonviolence as a Christian value and then compare them with some of Heschel's comments about the prophetic vocation. Before doing that, however, I will set the context for the contemporary discussion, one that must include Islam, a topic neither Merton nor Heschel discussed. In terms of the present conflict, we in America are making two basic claims. First, that the present war is a war of necessity, that is, self-defense. This is a political claim that has no religious foundations. Second, that it is justified in order to uproot the evil intentions of radical Islam that threaten human civilization (meaning, of course, Western civilization).60 While this is construed as a political claim I argue it has some theological resonances worth investigating. Underlying the first premise is an implied claim of innocence. Yet if we take this political claim and scrutinize it in theological terms Merton and Heschel would reject any formulation of a conflict having two sides, one innocent and the other guilty. From a theological perspective that is simply a false claim about human conflict. While the Nazi genocide against the Jews or the US genocide against Native Americans pose legitimate counterexamples, these extraordinary cases prove the rule that most instances of human conflict do not conform to this absolute hierarchy of injustice. The claim of pure innocence is simply not a claim that has any basis in the religious traditions of Judaism and Christianity according to Merton and Heschel. The Hebrew Prophets, as Heschel understood them, rejected such a characterization of conflict even when it appeared at face value that the Greek or Roman oppression of the Israelites was gratuitous and unwarranted.
The second claim is tied but not identical to the first claim. In the months following 9/11 the US was careful to reiterate that "the war is not against Islam."61 By that it meant that this is not a crusade in the classic medieval sense of the term where two religions go to war in order to prove the divine favor of one against the other. While the US has consistently stated that the enemy is radical and not moderate Islam, the popular sentiment in the US is having a harder time holding that distinction. While the reasons for this are not clear, respected Christian clergy in the US have publicly stated that Islam is an "evil religion" and rabbis both in the US and Israel have been known to have preached that Islam holds an irreconcilable and ontological hatred of Judaism and that the anti-Israel hatred among many Muslims (radical and moderate) only veils a deeper anti-Judaism or anti-Semitism. In some sense this is a kind of inversion of Edward Said's theory of Orientalism, manifest as a romanticization of the Arab, Islam and the east employed as a tool of domination.62 Gil Anijar has recently shown that the feminization of the Arab in Orientalist thinking was a thinly veiled tack of domination and even hatred not only toward the Arab but also to the Jew who was "arabized" in western European culture.63 Whether the present state of affairs, that is, the Arab's muscular invective in the form of terrorism, is an explosive back draft of the western Orientalist perspective is a topic worthy of a separate inquiry.
While our language is certainly more nuanced and less volatile than radical Islamic calls for violent Jihad, the Christian and Jewish support and justification for this war is ever-present. More troubling, perhaps, is that the left in America, many of those who are arguing for nonviolence in this conflict, are viewed as secular (godless by the religious) while the right seems to carry the banner of religion. Compare this to the civil rights movement where the left had strong theological voices (Merton and Heschel included) arguing against the right's ostensibly "Christian" claims justifying segregation. The anti-war movement in the days of the Vietnam War (still a Cold War conflict in that it juxtaposed democracy against communism) also garnered some strong support from religious movements in America. While there are surely theological voices on the left critical of this new crusade, up until now those voices have largely been drowned out by the evangelical voices that resonate from those that support our government's present policies.64
Whether Heschel and Merton's teachings could contribute to strengthening the Christian and Jewish voices of nonviolence on the left all depends on how much one is willing to distinguish between institutional religion and religiosity in their writings. I suggest here that both present pietistic models of religion against "religion," that both are useful to us today only to the extent to which they are read as critics and not defenders of the religious traditions they each represent. As students of subversive movements in Judaism and Christianity (the Desert Fathers for Merton and the Prophets and Hasidism for Heschel) they were acutely aware of how the religious establishments often undermine the values religion ostensibly seeks to achieve. The Desert Fathers' rejection or at least ambivalence about the formation of a centralized church and the Hebrew Prophets consistent disappointment and frustration with Israel's inability to understand what it is God's wants of them resonates in both Merton and Heschel's social criticism. Heschel's reading of Hasidism, unlike some of his contemporaries, is not about a conservative pious fellowship but a radical re-reading of tradition, what Heschel calls nothing less than "a new approach to Torah."65
Heschel argued that the prophets were the harshest critics of religion that we know. He often cites Jeremiah 6:20: To what purpose does frankincense come to me from Sheba, Or sweet cane from a distant land. Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, Nor your sacrifices pleasing to Me. . . Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat the flesh. For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them: Obey My voice and I will be your God. On this Heschel comments: "The prophet knew that religion could distort what the Lord demanded of man. . . To the people, religion was Temple, priesthood, incense. . . Such piety Jeremiah brands as fraud and illusion."66 The vocation of the prophet was to rend the veil of fraudulent religion and dispel flawed claims in the name of religion. Or, perhaps, the prophet lived to counter religion with authentic religiosity which, in Heschel's mind, is embodied in Isaiah's call to feed the sick, help the widow and orphan, and heal the world with justice, kindness, and mercy. That is, prophetic religion looks to God in order to serve humankind. But this, of course, is too easy. All three religions claim that as their banner, as did Ancient Israel, the gospels, and the Quran. No religion would admit to perfunctory behaviorism or gratuitous violence against humanity. The job of the prophet, then, is to see past his community's claim of authentic religiosity by scrutinizing their method to achieve those ends. Religions, as we know, are the great arbiters of war—holy war, jihad, and crusade—all for pious and salvific ends.
There are at least two dimensions to Merton's position on war—the first is to offer a psychology of war, that is, why people choose war as one of various alternatives, and the second is to clarify for his reader what non-violence means as a religious goal. In a censored section to chapter 16 of his New Seeds of Contemplation (later published as "The Root of War is Fear" in Passion for Peace: the Social Essays) Merton argues that the Christian west has entered a post-Christian era, "I am no prophet or see but it seems to me that this last position (i.e., that the Christian west can eliminate atheistic communism for all time) may very well be the most diabolical of illusions, the great and even subtle temptation of a Christianity that has grown rich and comfortable, and is satisfied with its riches."67 The great Christian task of our time, he continues, is to abolish war. Again, without any further explanation this is too pat and essentially meaningless. In the published version in New Seeds, however, he goes further by arguing that war is an alterative that illustrates human fear, not fear of the enemy (which is often justified) but "fear of everything. . . It is not only hatred of others that is dangerous but also and above all our hatred of ourselves: particularly the hatred of ourselves which is too deep and too powerful to be consciously faced. For it is this which makes us see our own evil in others and unable to see it in ourselves."68 What is at work here is an attempt to view war as an attitude based on the abdication of responsibility—the responsibility of facing up to one's own imperfections. Merton continues, ". . . we see sin, but we have a great difficulty in shouldering responsibility for it . . . when we see crime in others, we try to correct it by destroying them or at least putting them out of sight. It is easy to identify the sin with the sinner when he is someone other than our own self."69
One can easily (mis)read this to suggest Merton is blaming the victim. Yet he is not saying that the victim deserves to be the victim as much as saying that the of victimhood and innocence is a posture that is, by definition, dishonest (and surely not constructive). In Merton's monastic approach one can never sufficiently repent for one's sins and thus monastic inwardness protects against the claim of innocence of any victim and the moral high ground of any conflict. Yet if we remove this observation from its monastic frame (which Merton surely did in his writings on social issues) this suggests that the acknowledgement of human failure and the mutual guilt of all in any conflict create a "non-violent" posture of humility. This may not prevent violence in extreme cases but it may contribute to preventing the escalation of violence in the future.
In a sense I would argue that this approach to conflict, whether it is an analysis of suffering or the justification for war, is exactly what the prophets, in Heschel's estimation, are up to. Writing about the second World War Heschel notes, "The conscience of the world was destroyed by those who were wont to blame others rather than ourselves."70 The prophets want Israel to view their suffering within the context of their covenantal relationship with God, the enemy merely the carrier of divine will. Commenting on Amos 6:6: They drink wine in bowls, And anoint themselves with the finest oils, But they are not grieved over the ruins of Joseph, Heschel notes, "The niggardliness of our moral comprehension, the incapacity to sense the depth of misery caused by our own failures, is a fact which no subterfuge can elude. Our eyes are witness to the callousness and cruelty of man, but our heart tries to obliterate the memories, to calm the nerves, and to silence our conscience."71 The context of this verse from Amos is instructive. Amos is speaking to the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom whom he claims are at ease and confident, self-satisfied in their own piety. He tells them to go and see the Philistines who lie on ivory beds . . . feasting on lamb from the flock . . . humming snatches of song from the tune of the lute. Amos asks his comrades Are you any better than those kingdoms . . . yet you ward off the thought of a day of woe and convene a session of lawlessness. In Amos' mind, when Israel, as the practitioners of a covenant with God, is certain of her chosenness, she is the carrier of false consciousness hidden under the banner of piety. Earlier Amos says, I spurn your festivals, I am not appeased by your solemn assemblies—spare me the sound of your hymns, And let Me not hear the music of your lutes, But let justice well up like an unfailing stream. (Amos 5: 21-24). The confidence that religion offers (through the proper enactment of religious ritual or belief) is a dangerous tool in the hand of an arrogant people. As suggested above, religion can easily be a tool of secularism if by secularism we mean a confidence built on a false sense of certainty veiled in a belief that God has chosen you to be his beloved above all others. By juxtaposing these verses Heschel compares the ostensibly righteous Israelites to the hedonistic Philistines. It is the confidence fostered by external piety that serves as the "secular" frame of a corrupted Judaism. It is precisely in the way they seem opposite that they are essentially the same.
Does Heschel's reading of these passages evoke a sentiment similar to Merton? That is, do we all too easily create comfort and, as part of that buffer, toss or project our failings to an enemy, real or perceived, in order to "calm the nerves and to silence the conscience"? This is not to say that there is no evil "out there" that needs to be confronted. For both Merton and Heschel, the point isn't to advocate naïve and reflexive pacifism.72 Both surely realized that war may, at times, be warranted. However, neither believed that war is a natural consequence of conflict, neither believed that any party is innocent and neither believed that war resolves conflict. Their concern, in light of their prophetic and apostolic orientations, is to exhibit the ways in which war, in effect, perpetuates and does not resolve the inner conflict of humanity that will, if unrealized, simply continue to produce war because war serves the human inclination to abscond from responsibility. Merton puts it this way. "A test of our sincerity in the practice of nonviolence is this: are we willing to learn something from our adversaries? If a new truth is made known to us by them or through them, will we accept it? Are we willing to admit that they are not totally inhumane, wrong, unreasonable, cruel, and so on?"73 By "new truth" I take Merton to mean not merely a new truth about them but a new truth about us in relation to them.
For both Heschel and Merton, conflict provides an opportunity for collective self-reflection that rarely if ever happens in any society, religious or secular. Merton puts it this way: "[W]e never see the one truth that would help us begin to solve our ethical and political problems: that we are all more or less wrong, and that we are all at fault, all limited, all obstructed by our mixed motives, our self-deception, our greed, our self-righteousness and our tendency to aggressively and hypocrisy."74 Heschel puts it more succinctly: "Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people: Few are guilty, all are responsible."75 In another essay called "The Meaning of this War (World War II)" [a later version of an earlier essay, written after WWII, is what is quoted here] Heschel cites an oral teaching from the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism: "But all may be guided by the words of the Baal Shem: If a man had beheld evil, he may know that it was shown to him in order that he learn how own guilt and repent, for what is shown to him is also within him."76 This is all the more startling from the pen of a man who lost his entire family in the Holocaust and was only saved, as he called it, "plucked from the embers" in the final months before the Nazi invasion of Poland.77 Evil can never be an excuse for a lapse in conscience. "Let Fascism not serve as an alibi for our conscience. We failed to fight for right, for justice, for goodness, as a result we must fight against wrong, against injustice, against evil. We failed to offer sacrifices on the altar of peace, now we must offer sacrifices on the altar of war."78 This is not the cry of a naive pacifist. But this is the cry of a modern-day prophet, one who throws evil back on the shoulders of its victims, not individual victims but the victimized society at large. It is surely hard to see how we could have done anything to placate Hitler. But that is not Heschel's point. His point is to question what could have been done, or what was not done, before Hitler came to power that may have contributed in creating the conditions and circumstances for Hitler's ascendancy. And what did we refrain from doing once he attained power that could have minimized some of the six or seven million deaths of the Holocaust. And how should we, as survivors (for Heschel, I think, we are all survivors), use that horrific event as a template for the future. Heschel's barb is obviously directed at a triumphalist America basking in the glow of its newfound ascendancy after the war. But I also think it may contain a more subliminal message to his Jewish readers about the poisonous nature of victimhood.
Is it so unreasonable and "blasphemous" for America to publicly acknowledge the ways in which we ignored the Saudi population's cries against the injustice of the Saudi monarchy and tacitly participated in those injustices for our own profit? Once war commences and the grieving begins these things are often no longer efficacious in resolving the conflict, at least in the short-term. But they are imperative nonetheless in order to cultivate a sense of responsibility that may prevent the next great conflict. In other words, they contribute to creating a world where war is not inevitable. This, I argue, may be the most salient point in Heschel and Merton's theory of nonviolence. I agree that now, perhaps, the architects of radical Islam will not easily be placated but for Heschel and Merton that is in some way symptomatic of a problem that we helped create.
Reconciliation is not simply the moral culmination of conflict. It requires a change in the way a society and its citizens envision their life. The west has tended toward an isolationist theory in many aspects, treating social ills sympto-matically rather than examining their inherent causes. There is a pragmatic ethos in the American consciousness that, while very productive veils, and even prevents, systemic critique and re-assessment. Nonviolence as a posture provides some of the tools to engage in necessary communal self-reflection.
Institutional religion is also often isolationist in its relationship to the other. In that regard, the more "religious" we become, that is, the more tied to institutional religion, the more isolationist we become. We too easily divide our piety from our ethics, our ritual lives from our interpersonal ones, our beliefs and hoped for the future from our creation of it. This is true of Israelite doctrine of election, the Christian exclusivist doctrine of salvation, Muslim political domination, and the American doctrine of Manifest Destiny. We can see how this notion has seeped into our secular American consciousness. This also comes through in religion's dealings with "evil." In an essay entitled "Religion in a Free Society," Heschel writes:
The prophets tried to overcome the isolationism of religion. It is the prophets who teach us that the problem of living does not arise with the question of how to take care of the rascals. . . The problem of living begins with the realization of how we all blunder in dealing with our fellow men. The silent atrocities, the secret scandals, which no law can prevent, are the two seat of moral infection. . . What is first at stake in the life of man is not the fact of sin, of the wrong and corrupt, but the neutral acts, the needs. The primary task, therefore, is not how to deal with evil, but how to deal with the neutral, how to deal with needs.79
Situated in an essay devoted to re-fashioning how monotheistic religions can function in a pluralistic society, one could read this statement as arguing that pluralism demands a systemic reorientation of religion so that it can survive and thrive without focusing on its isolationist origins.80 Heschel claims that the prophets attacked what he called the "fallacy of isolation."81 By that he meant treating events, human or natural, as distinct from the will of God. The question that needs to be addressed here is whether Heschel's call to deconstruct the fallacy of isolation can extend to the non-belief in God and whether the prophets call for viewing all events as rooted in the divine is a defense of institutional religion. That is, does Heschel entertain the possibility that the secular can produce a world dedicated to the prophetic call for justice?82 If God, as Heschel implies in the above citation, is the pre-condition for the end of isolation and God is the root of western institutional religion, one must wonder how he could have responded to the present world, filled with God, filled with religion, and filled with hatred.
Merton and Heschel's claim that war is a symptom of human failure on both sides may be the prophetic or monastic evaluation of war but it is surely not the "religious" one. Religions warrant holy wars and jihads, battles against good and evil, God's chosen and God's abandoned, absolute values like freedom and democracy against the evils of persecution and totalitarianism, pious doctrines of humility and chastity against the vile traits of hubris, arrogance, immodesty, and blasphemy. Many in the institutions of the three Religions of the Book—for it is all three that are now in conflict—justify war as a divine directive protecting God against His detractors, fighting for land divinely given to one people. Yet we should not be too easily fooled with the rhetoric of self-defense which is often, albeit not always, a highly subjective category. To show fault is often deemed "weak" (we see that trumpeted in the Israel/Palestine conflict almost daily); to admit mistakes creates vulnerability. But Merton and Heschel claimed that acknowledging weakness is the only thing that is essentially religious. Heschel states, "The conscience of the world was destroyed by those who were wont to blame others rather than themselves. . . Tanks and guns cannot redeem humanity. A man with a gun is like a beast without a gun."83 Here Heschel implies that the claim of innocence or absolute victimhood is a kind of secular move (for him, blasphemous) albeit one that is adopted by religions to justify acting against their prophetic traditions. Reflecting Ghandi who taught that nonviolence is the only thing that separates us from the animals, Heschel suggests that violence ("a man with a gun") may be the abdication of one's "image of God" ("is like a beast without a gun"). 84
Nonviolence, a popular topic with Merton, needs to be understood in a more nuanced way. Merton maintains that one can be nonviolent even when one is involved in a violent conflict. Nonviolence is a posture that is based on the shared guilt of all parties. If I am innocent and he attacks me then my violent response is justified and my nonviolent response is a sign of weakness. However, if I am wrong and he attacks me because I am wrong and he is wrong, then my response, whatever it may be, can come from the place of nonviolence. There is a distinction to be made between nonviolence and nonresistance or pure pacifism. In Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Merton suggests, "True non-violence. . . strives to operate without hatred, without hostility, and without resentment. It works without aggression, taking the side of the good that it is able to find already present in the adversary."85 Of course, this is difficult to accomplish in practice but Merton argues that this posture can impact how we talk to or about our opponents. He writes: "This does not mean that in practice the solution to grave international and civil problems can be had merely by good will and pious gestures of appeasement. The non-violent ideal does not contain in itself all answers to all our questions. . . But, these [problems] can never be worked out if non-violence is not taken seriously."86
In "Non-Violence and the Christian Conscience" Merton laments that nonviolence is often "regarded as unchristian, while reliance on force and cooperation with massive programs of violence is sometimes seen as an obvious elementary Christian duty." This is yet another one of Merton's attempts to separate the apostolic message of Christianity from any church. He argues that the American attitude toward non-violence is viewed as subversive, negative, and "an unhealthy kind of idealism."87 His definition is attitudinal more than practical. "Non-violent action is a way of insisting on one's rights without violating the rights of anyone else. . . The whole strength of non-violence depends on the absolute respect for the rights even of an otherwise unjust oppressor—his legal rights and his moral rights as a person."88 (The debate about the enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, critical comments about the Geneva Convention by American officials, and the Patriot Act immediately come to mind).
The underlying principle in Merton's nonviolence, gleaned mostly from Ghandi, is that the Christian, (can we extend this to the Jew?) believes in the innate goodness of all human beings. Perhaps the Hebrew Bible's greatest contribution to the world is the notion that the human being was created "in the image of God." Whatever else one can say about the way this doctrine has or has not been implemented in biblical traditions, the fact remains that religions that view themselves as rooted in the Hebrew Bible, and here Islam is included, are founded on this basic premise.89
Heschel does not focus on nonviolence as much as the prophet's abhorrence of violence whether it is perpetrated by Israel or against her. In the ancient world where the prophets lived, war was a fact of life. It was understood as the root of power, a sign of the favor of the gods. The prophets countered that by arguing the opposite. "The prophets proclaimed that the heart of God is on the side of the weaker. God's special concern is not for the mighty and the successful, but for the lowly and the downtrodden, for the stranger and the poor, for the widow and the orphan."90 This, of course, is well-known. But Heschel, unlike many who follow rabbinic interpretation of the prophets, does not limit this to Israel, as one could say that the prophets turning the ancient adage about God's favor on its head is self-serving. That is, since Israel is almost always the weak and oppressed, God's favoring the weak simply means that God favors Israel. In today's world that prophetic rendition of divine favor may come back to haunt Israel.
My reading of Heschel is that by universalizing this prophetic claim he incorporates prophetic language to criticize power more generally. Even when Israel is the stronger, if she exercises her strength like the Assyrians or Babylonians exercised theirs, the same formula would apply. This, in fact, comes to the surface in I Chronicles 28:1-3. David assembled all the officers of Israel. . . rose to his feet And said, "Hear, my brothers, my people! I wanted to build a resting place for the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD. . . and I laid aside the material for building. But God said to me, “You will not build a house for my name, for you are a man of war and have shed blood. Heschel notes that God did not view all war as wrong-he acknowledged at times that war is a necessary evil. However, war impacts one's spiritual sensibilities; it intoxicates one with power and enables one to believe in the power of the sword as a solution to conflict. Leadership in war makes one unfit for leadership in peace because war does not being peace. This was David's demise in Heschel's reading. He writes, "There is no limit to cruelty when man begins to think that he is the master (this, I suggest, is the almost inevitable result of the victor of war). . . The prophets were the first men in history to regard a nation's reliance upon force as evil."91
One of the more glaring omissions in the current debate about war in the mainstream media is the voice of nonviolence, the voice that shook the world with Ghandi, King, and many of their disciples. While not yet a World War this conflict is surely a clash of civilizations, more precisely a clash of politicized "religious" positions. Each side wants peace and each side means something very different by peace. It is, for all sides, a kind of holy war, albeit one that has been, from the outset, secularized. Heschel and Merton were employed here as lenses through which to clarify some of the issues facing our world. I argued that their contribution is limited unless we are able to read them against the religious traditions they espoused and also against themselves. My point was less about making a claim about them (did I read them correctly or not?) than about what may be necessary to revive a debate about what nonviolence from within religious traditions would look like today.
I argue here that Heschel and Merton can no longer be dutifully employed to rebuke us about abandoning religion. Their God-less enemies no longer threaten us. If anything, we have becomes too religious, albeit our religiosity may be, from their perspective, the secularist kind. Heschel and Merton, like today's Radical Orthodox and Islamist movements, were fighting to bring God to the public square.92 Although they meant something quite different than what has transpired, they are not wholly innocent, in my view, of our predicament. And, one could speculate that they may have regretted some of their God language had they lived to witness 9/11.
Perhaps all that Heschel and Merton can do for us is to reveal the extent to which our actions are not in the spirit of a Christian or Jewish conscience as they perceived it—that the theological language and ideology employed to support this conflict belies a deep misconception of the apostolic and prophetic spirit of biblical religion. And, that the very spirit that seemingly supports religion in fact undermines it. Perhaps they can help us articulate how all sides (the national-fundamentalist Jewish, evangelical Christian, and Islamist Muslim) are secular precisely because they miss the fundamental religious message of responsibility and mutual guilt. Perhaps we can use their words to undermine the moral high-ground clamed by our leaders that we are fighting a war in the spirit of biblical religion (it was David Ben-Gurion, the secular Zionist, who said of Zionism "the Bible is our mandate!") by using that religious tradition to reveal how the use of violence as a means to a peaceful end is a contradiction in terms. Reflecting on his life as a political leader and a soldier, Napoleon Bonaparte opined, "Do you know. . . what astonishes me most in the world? The inability of force to create anything. In the long run the sword is always beaten by the spirit."93
* This essay is dedicated to the "refusniks" in the Israeli army (those who refuse to serve in the occupied territories) who have the conscience and courage to discern justifiable self-defense from state intimidation and those Palestinians committed to civil disobedient nonviolent protest who risk their safety and the safety of their families in order not to take the lives of others. My thanks also to Martin Kavka for his suggestions and, more importantly, for his important and timely rereading of Heschel. An abbreviated version of this essay was delivered as "Thomas Merton and Abraham Joshua Heschel: 20th Century Prophets in Dialogue" at Iona College on October 14th,
2004. I want to thank the Religious Studies Department at Iona for their generosity. Another text-study version was presented at the Aitz Hayim community in Highland Park, Illinois in April, 2005. I thank them for their enthusiasm and support.
1. See Bruce Lincoln, Holy Terrors: Thinking About Religion after September 11 (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2003). There are, of course, peace churches such as the Mennonites, Quakers, Bretheren etc. who are staunchly anti-war, but mainstream Christianity (and, arguably, Judaism) supports the war to the extent that it is considered part of a larger war on terrorism. On this question, see Jim Wallis, God's Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It (New York: Harper Collins, 2003), esp. pp. 87ff. I want to thank Mary Jo Weaver for this important reference.
2. While nonviolence and anti-war positions are linked they are not identical. The same is true of nonviolence and pacifism. There are anti-war arguments (some from conservative isolationists such as Pat Buchanan) that contest the justification of going to war in this case without advocating a general position of nonviolence.
3. For example, see the comments of Jerry Falwell in Laurie Goldstein, "After the Attacks: Finding Fault: Falwell's Fingerpointing Inappropriate," in The New York Times (September 15, 2001). A more nuanced view can be seen in Andrew Sullivan's "This Is a Religious War," The Sunday New York Times Magazine (October 7, 2001): 45-46; and Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, Is Religion Killing Us?: Violence in the Bible and the Quran (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2003), pp. 13-25. The visual image of the entire United States Congress standing on the steps of the Capital soon after 9-11 singing "God Bless America" is a powerful image affirming this very point.
4. This is, of course, an over-simplification but for the purposes of this essay I think the dichotomy of a democratic society built on Christian principles did indeed face a communist society that had rejected those principles.
5. See Heschel, "The Moral Outrage of Vietnam," in Vietnam: Crisis of Conscience, Robert McAfee Brown ed. (New York: Associated Press, Behrman House and Herder and Herder, 1967), pp. 48-61; and idem. "The Reasons for My involvement in the Peace Movement," in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity, S. Heschel ed. (New York: FS&G, 1996), pp. 224-226. On Merton, see Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), pp. 65-130.
6. I focus only here on the religions of the west, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. A similar phenomenon occurring in the east is beyond the scope of this essay. See, Sudhir Kakar, The Colors of Violence: Cultural Identities, Religion, and Conflict (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996); Stanley J. Tambiah, Buddhism Betrayed?: Religion, Politics and Violence in Sri Lanka (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992); and idem. Leveling Crowds: Ethnonationalist Conflicts and Collective Violence in South Asia (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996). For a compasrion of both east and west see War and Peace in World Religion: The Gerald Weisfield Lectures 2003, Perry Schmidt-Leukel ed. (UK: SCM Press, 2004).
7. Peter Berger, "The Desecularization of the World: A Global Overview," in The Desecularization of the World, Peter Berger ed. (Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999), p. 4.
8. The classic thesis regarding the relationship between Protestantism and capitalist democracy is Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (New York; Routledge, 1992). Cf. idem. "Judaism, Christianity, ands the Socio-Economic Order," in The Sociology of Religion (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963), pp. 246-261.
9. It should be noted that the anti-secular movement has antecedents in ninteength-century America as well, most pointedly in the push for a Constitutional ammendment to make America officially a "Christian nation." See William Hutchison, Religious Pluralism in America (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003), pp. 78-83.
10. Talal Asad suggests a more dialectical approach to the dichotomy between religion and the secular. He argues that pre-modern secularism produced superstitions and oppressive religion while modernity may have produced more tolerant and liberal religion. On this reading religion may be inextricably linked to the secular. The rejection of liberal religion is not a rejection of the secular but rather the adaptation of a previous instantiation of the secular. See Talal Asad, Formations of the Secular (Standard, Stanford University Press, 2003), p. 193.
11. Bruce Lincoln's Holy Terrors is based on the premise that the Islamist movement and certain dimensions of the Christian right are quite similar in their attempt to undermine the minimalist notion of religion that stands at the center of a secular state. While both movements may have different tactics to achieve their goal, the goals of each share more than they differ. See Holy Terrors, esp. pp. 19-50. There are many valuable studies that treat this important topic. I have found Gilles Keppel's The Trial of Political Islam (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002) esp. pp. 23-80 most helpful on this point. For an abbreviated but very useful discussion on this topic see Abdallahi A. An-Na'im, "Political Islam in National Politics and International Relations," in The Deseculariaztion of the World, pp.1-3-121.
12. This is the underlying thesis in Mark Juergensmeyer's Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2000). Cf. Martin Marty, "Is Religion the Problem?" in Tikkun (March/April 2002).
13. Jose Casanova, Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1994), p. 5.
14. Ibid. p. 22.
15. Radical Orthodoxy is a contemporary Protestant movement popular among theologians and scholars that views itself as post-traditional, arguing against the ostensible autonomy of philosophy. It suggests that secular liberalism has failed to adequately provide a moral framework for society. It argues, among other things, that theology should frame the public debate regarding morality. For a general statement and a series of thematic essays, see Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology, John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock and Graham Ward eds. (New York, Routledge, 1999), esp. pp. 1-20 and 182-200.
16. Jeffrey Stout, Democracy and Tradition (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2994), p. 92.
17. This stands in stark opposition to John Rawls and Jeffrey Stout who argue (from different premises) that religion can be a part of public discourse as long as it is "supplemented by reasoning that appeals to a free-standing conception of justice." (Stout, Democracy and Tradition, p. 92f. Cf. p. 97). Rawls's argument can be found in his Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993). It is also important to note that Hauerwas is a pacifist and would thus not accept the utilization of his thinking to be used as a frame for this military conflict. See Hauerwas, "The Nonresistant Church," in Hauerwas, Vision and Virtue: Essays in Early Christian Ethical Reflection (Notre Dame: Fides, 1974), pp. 197-221.
18. On Radical Orthodoxy see, Radical Orthodoxy, J. Milbank, C. Pickstock, G. Ward eds. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999); Johm Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990); and Richard John Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America, second edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995). For an important critical assessment of this school see Stout, Democracy and Tradition, pp. 100-117.
19. Books like Samuel Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996) argue that the end of the Cold War marks the end of ideological warfare and the beginning of a new era of conflict based on conflicting civilizations, east and west (Christendom and Islam?). For a Jewish response see Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations (London: Cintinuum, 2002). Other responses to the end of the Cold War, such as Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 1992) argue that the end of ideological conflict will result in the "end of history" by which he means the internationalization of western democracy. His book was widely read by American neoconserv-atives who believed that this was the time to export, by fiat or force, the only ideology that remains standing, i.e., American capitalism and democracy. Given the current state of affairs, I think it is safe to say Fukuyama may have spoken too soon.
20. Marxism in particular still has a profound influence in certain areas of Africa and the Middle East, areas devastated by years of colonial rule. It has also surprisingly had a strong impact on contemporary Islam, even Islamist movements. For example, Keppel argues that the success of the Iranian revolution was, at least in part, due to Khomeini's ability to integrate radical Shi'sim with Marxist social theory. See The Trail of Political Islam, pp. 106-135. Kant's essay "Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Intent" and "Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch" are both in Perpetual Peace and Other Essays, Ted Humphrey trans. (New York: Hackett, 1983). Kant's influence on American liberalism is pervasive. See, for example, John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, revised edition (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1999).
21. The turn away from the secular and secularized or liberal religion is not solely or even predominately on the question of war. Christian advocates of religion such as David Barton are engaged in legal battles about revising school history curricula to include more religion (i.e, Christianity). Mr. Barton is also the vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party and uses his position to lobby for an increase of religious education in the public schools using his organization called WallBuilders. See David Barton, Original Intent: The Courts, the Constitution and Religion (WallBuilders Press, 2000). He was also featured in David D. Kirkpatrick, "Putting God Back into American History," "Week in Review," New York Times, Sunday February 27, 2005.
22. For another reading of the prophets that resonates with Heschel's approach but differs in his conclusions see Michael Fishbane, "Biblical Prophecy as a Religious Phenomenon," in Jewish Spirituality I, Arthur Green ed. (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986), pp. 62-81.
23. Heschel, "The Reasons for my Involvement in the Peace Movement," pp. 224-226.
24. His essay "The Meaning of this War (World War II)" re-printed in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity, pp. 209-212. This essay had been published numerous times and each time small changes were made reflecting the pre-war and then post-war situation. We will have occasion to return to it below. On Heschel use of the Holocaust see Morris Faierstein, "Abraham Joshuah Heschel and the Holocaust," Modern Judaism 19:3 (1999): 255-275.
25. My reading of Heschel is greatly influenced by Martin Kavka's essay "The Meaning of That Hour: Prophecy, Phenomenology and the Public Sphere in the Early Writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel," (The Meaning) to appear in Religions and the Secular in a Violent World: Politics, Terror, Ruin, Clayton Crockett ed. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006). I want to thank Professor Kavka for providing me with a copy of this important re-reading of Heschel. Much has been written on monotheism and its potential for violence as opposed to peaceful co-existence. One very thoughtful essay of note is Martin S. Jaffee, "One God, One Revelation, One People: On the Symbolic Structure of Elective Monotheism," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 69-4 (December, 2001): 753-775.
26. Part of this failing might be a consequence of context. Heschel taught in two institutions in America (JTS and HUC), both rabbinical seminaries. Had Heschel been in a secular university he might have had to confront the secular more directly that would have forced him to define it in his thinking in a more nuanced way. In any event, the construct of the secular in Heschel's thinking is a project worth pursuing.
27. Heschel, "What Ecumenicism Is" reprinted in Moral Grandeur, p. 287.
28. See, for example, Heschel, Man's Quest for God (New York, Scribner, 1954), pp. 50, 51.
29. See, Edward Kaplan, Holiness in Words (Albany: SUNY, 1996). Kaplan notes that, "as a prophetic witness Heschel denounces secularization. "(76). Yet Kaplan also states that "Secular and religious awareness can meet at the gates of radical amazement, and from there begin a spiritual odyssey." (64). It is hard to access these two comments without a definition of the term "secular" in Heschel's writings. The link between atheism and immorality has a long history in Jewish thought. In modernity it reaches back to Moses Mendelssohn. See Alan Arkush, Moses Mendelssohn and the Enlightenment (Albany: SUNY, 1994), p. 290
30. Kavka, "The Meaning of that Hour" p. 7 in typescript.
31. This is also one of the conditions of religion in the public (secular) sphere espoused by Jose Casanova in his Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), esp. pp. 40-74. Cf. Talal Asad, Formations of the Secular (Stanford: Stanford University press, 2003), pp. 181-201.
32. Asad, ibid. p. 199.
33. I have often thought that in this regard Heschel shared an optimism of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook who naively believed that if secular Israelis would just be exposed to religion in a tolerant and open-minded way, they were surely see the light. This is premised on the belief that religion (Torah) is true and thus its truth will eventually shine though. In this way Heschel and perhaps Kook may have suffered the fate of being too convinced of the universalizability of their own experience.
34. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, volume 4, part 3, G.W. Bromily trans. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1961) and Stout, Tradition and Democracy, pp. 109 and 110.
35. This attitude, one that transcends positive religion also stands at the center of his ecumenical activity. See, for example, Heschel, "From Mission to Dialogue?" Conservative Judaism (Spring, 1967): 1-11.
36. Heschel, "Religion in Modern Society," in Between Man and God: An Interpretation of Judaism, selected, edited and introduced by Fritz A. Rothschild (New York: The Free Press, 1959), p. 250.
37. Jeffrey Stout, Democracy and Tradition, p. 103.
38. Martin Buber also employs a sentiment similar to Heschel's except Buber is more explicit in undermining the dangers of unfettered God-consciousness and is much more wary of institutional religion. For example, Buber writes, "In order to preserve its purity the religious element must combat the tendency of this conglomerate to become autonomous and to make itself independent of the religious life of the person. This battle is consummated in prophetic protest, heretical revolt, reformational retrenchment, and a new founding which arises through the desire to return to the original religious element. It is the struggle for the protection of lived concreteness as the meeting-place between the human and the divine." Buber, "Religion and Philosophy," in his The Eclipse of God (New Jersey, Humanities Press, 1979), pp. 34, 35.
39. See Kavka, "The Meaning" pp. 4-7 in typescript.
40. In fact, this is arguably the underlying thesis in Jeffrey Stout's Democracy and Tradition. Siding with John Rawls against Richard Rorty, Stout argues that religion can have a place in the public sphere of a secular society. However, in order to do that religion must theologically reevaluate its position regarding the secular and religious "other." A similar challenge faces contemporary Israel. However the lack of a disestablishment doctrine in Israel makes that process slower and more difficult not only because religion is autonomous but because it has legal jurisdiction on secular individuals. I am not clear on how Heschel understood how religion had to change in order to be a part of the public discourse.
41. The question, of course, is how one defines the moral core of these religions. The Bible and the Quran, while each contains many affirmations of justice and mercy, also contain just as many (or more) affirmations of violence in the name of God. In The Prophets Heschel gives us a prophetic lens through which to re-read those more ugly portions of the Torah. A critical reader will wonder, though, whether Heschel's rendering of divine pathos sufficiently diffuses the instances of what is seemingly unmitigated acts of violence. For example, see Heschel, The Prophets, volume 2, pp. 59-78.
42. The concept of secularism is obviously complex and beyond the scope of this essay. In fact, Peter Berger argues that it is the three monotheistic religions of the Bible that introduce "the secular" into civilization. See Berger, The Sacred Canopy (New York: Anchor Books, 1969), pp. 105-125. For some recent studies of secularism more generally see Talal Assad, Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity (Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2003); and Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart, The Sacred and the Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide (Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press, 2004). For a significant study of the development of the secular in the American context, see Susan Jacoby, Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004), esp. pp. 13-34.
43. Heschel, The Prophets, volume 1, p. 159.
44. It is this very fissure in Heschel's thinking that enables neoconservative thinkers, such as David Novak and Samuel Dresner, to adopt his writings for conservative ends. I do not think these individuals, who engage in a battle against liberalism using Heschel are necessarily mistaken. In fact, in many respect Heschel's work lends itself that that very reading.
45. Asad cites Carl Schmidt's Political Theology (Cambridge, MIT Press, 1985) as a source for this position. This position is also similar to Durkheim's notion that nationalism becomes the religion of modernity. See Emile Durkheim, Elementary Forms of Religious Life, Joseph Ward Swain trans. (New York: Free Press, 1966) and Bruce Lincoln, Holy Terrors, pp. 62-65.
46. Cited in Bill Moyers, "Welcome to Doomsday" The New York Review of Books, March 24, 2005, p. 8.
47. This is essentially what Martin Kavka argues in his essay "The Meaning of that Hour: Prophecy, Phenomenology and the Public Sphere in the Early Writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel." I want to thank Randi Rashkover for this observation.
48. Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, Is Religion Killing Us?: Violence in the Bible and the Koran, (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity International Press, 2003).
49. Some titles of note include Mark Jeurgensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: University of California Press, 2001); Charles Kimball, When Religion Becomes Evil (San Francisco, Harper Collins, 2003); Regina Schwartz, The Curse of Cain: The Violent Legacy of Monotheism (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1007); and Bruce Lincoln, Holy Terrors: Thinking About Religion After September 11, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).
50. This is the underlying thesis of F.E. Peters, The Children of Abraham: A New Edition (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2004). The Forward to the new edition by John L. Esposito highlights the fact that this book is now "more than a book about inter religious relations and religious pluralism but of international politics." (xii). Another book making a similar argument about Judaism and Christianity is Christianity in Jewish Terms, Frymer-Kensky, Novak, Ochs, Sandmel, and Signer eds. (Boulder, CO: Westminster Press, 2000) based on "Dabru Emet" a new statement of Jewish-Christian dialogue supported by many of the contributors. On the use of the construct of Abrahamic religions for conflict resolution, see Marc Gopin, Holy War, Holy Peace: How Religion Can Bring Peace to the Middle East (New York, Oxford University Press, 2002), esp. pp. 103-143. Cf. Beyond Violence: Religious Sources of Social Transformation, James L. Heft ed. (New York: Fordham University Press, 2004.
51. See Jon Levenson, "The Conversion of Abraham to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam" in The Idea of Biblical Interpretation: Essays in Honor of James Kugel, Hindy Najman and Judith H. Newman eds. (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2004), pp. 3-40. Cf. Cf. Martin Jaffee, ""One God, One Revelation, One People: On the Symbolic Structure of Elective Monotheism," Journal of the Academy of Religion 69 (December, 2001): 753-775. Jaffe offers two useful categories of thinking about monotheism—"metaphysical" and "elective"—in an attempt to see how these models can contribute to universalism. He concludes (pp. 773, 774) that even the more universalistic elective monotheism largely fails to produce a universal ethos.
52. He worked tirelessly in ecumenical dialogue and, in particular, played an important role in Vatican II and subsequent Roman Catholic encyclicals, meeting with the Pope and other high-level Catholic clergy. See, Eugene J. Fisher, "Heschel's Impact on Catholic-Jewish Relations," in No Religion in an Island: Abraham Joshua Heschel and Interreligious Dialogue, H. Kasinow and B. Sherwin eds. (New York: Maryknoll, 1991), pp. 110-123; and most recently Reuven Kimelman, "Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Abraham Joshua Heschel on Jewish-Christian Relations," Modern Judaism (2004): 251-271.
53. I think Merton in particular was influenced by this school exemplified in the work of Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism (New York: Doubleday, 1990). A more recent statement on this approach can be found in The Problem of Pure Consciousness, Robert K.C. Forman ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).
54. In some sense this is part of Heschel's ecumenicism. See, for example, Heschel, "What We Might do Together," in Moral Grandeur, pp. 290-300.
55. Albert Einstein, "Science and Religion" in Ideas and Opinions (New York: Crown, 1954).
56. Abraham Joshua Heschel, "Answer to Einstein" in Conservative Judaism 55:4 (Summer 2003): 39-41.
57. Sayyid Qutb's writing is illustrative in this regard. Qutb's writings about the modern Muslim Brotherhood comes about, in part, in response to an experience at a church dance in Greeley, Colorado. See Qutb, Milestones (New York: American Trust Publications, 1991); and John Calvert, "'The World is an Unfaithful Boy!': Sayyid Qutb's American Experience," Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 11-1 (March, 2000): 87-103. Cf. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/
58. Bruce Lincoln, Holy Terrors, p. 61.
59. In some way this is an obvious reading of both. Yet, both remained bound to the institutions of religion that they criticized. I think readers of both thinkers need to re-examine the extent to which their critical stances contain apologetic strains that curtail, or even undermine, their respective critiques.
60. The question of just and un-just war is an important topic in political philosophy and ethics. See Michael Walter, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, second edition (New York: Basic Books, 1992); and Interpretations of Conflict: Ethics, Pacifism, and the Just-War Tradition, Richard B. Miller ed. (University of Chicago Press, 1991). The work of Reuven Kimelmen is especially illustrative on the question of Judaism's understanding of war. For example, see Kimelmen, "Torah Against Terror: Does Jewish Law Sanction the Vengeance of Modern-Day Zealots," B'nai B'rith International Jewish Monthly 92-2 (1984): 16-20; "A Jewish Understanding of War and its Limits," Confronting Omniside (1991): 82-99; "Judaism, War, and Weapons of Mass Destruction," Conservative Judaism 56-1 (2003): 36-56;
61. See, for example, "Bush's Speech Transcript" Associated Press (September 20, 2001) and Is Religion Killing Us? pp. 16 and 17.
62. See Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage, 979); and idem. Culture and Imperialism (New York: Vintage, 1994).
63. See Gil Anijar, Arab/Jew: The History of the Enemy (Stanford: Stanford University press, 2003).
64. Christianity surely has some powerful voices of nonviolence such as the Catholic Pax Christi and the Catholic Workers movement and the Protestant World Peacemankers. From the Jewish community, Michael Lerner and the Tikkun community, and Marc Gopin among many others are actively engaged in the discourse of nonviolence arguing for the nonviolent roots of the Jewish tradition more generally. However, this community, along with the Christian community, has not yet produced a high profile prophetic voice the likes of King, Merton, or Heschel to take the case of nonviolence as a religious ideal to the American public. In Christianity, see Walter Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003); Peace is the Way: Writings on Nonviolence from the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Walter Wink ed. (New York: Orbis Books, 2000): and Jack Neslon-Pallmeyer, Jesus Against Christianity (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press, 2001), esp. pp. 215-230; 291-328.
65. See Heschel, "Hasidism as a New Approach to Torah," in Moral Grandeur, pp. 33-39. Heschel does not go as far as Buber or Joseph Weiss in rendering Hasidism a marginal and perhaps even a heretical movement but he does not simply place Hasidism in the trajectory of traditional Jewish discourse. The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism Heschel wanted to write about but never did was in Heschel's imagination a radical and revolutionary figure. Buber's rendering on Hasidism's radical teaching can be found in his Hasidism and Modern Man (Atlantic Highland N.J.: Humanities Press, 1988). Maurice Friedman, a student of Buber, also argued that Hasidism could in fact be an exemplar of a Jewish theory of non-violence. See Friedman, "Hasidism and the Love of Enemies" in Peace is the Way: Writings on Nonviolence from the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Walter Wink ed. (New York: Orbis, 2000), pp. 118-123.
66. Heschel, The Prophets, volume 1, pp. 10, 11.
67. "The Root of War is Fear" in Passion for Peace: The Social Essays, William Shannon edited and introduction (Crossroad: New York, 1995), p. 12.
68. Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, (New York: New Directions, 1972), pp. 112, 113.
69. Op. Cit, p. 13.
70. Heschel, "The Meaning of this Hour" in Moral Grandeur, p. 211.
71. The Prophets, vol. 1, p. 5.
72. See John Hayes Holmes, "Has Pacifism Become Impossible?" in Peace is the Way, pp. 8-16.
73. Merton, "Blessed be the Meek," in Peace is the Way, p. 44.
74. Merton, "The Root of War is Fear," in A Passion for Peace: The Social Essays, p. 15.
75. Heschel, The Prophets, vol. 1, p. 16.
76. Heschel, in Moral Grandeur, p. 209. For an analysis of the different versions of this essay, see Kavka, "The Meaning of that Hour," pp. 13-16 in typescript.
77. See Edward Kaplan, Holiness in Words: Abraham Joshua Heschel's Poetics of Piety (Albany: SUNY, 1996), pp. 7-18; and idem (with Samuel Dresner) Abraham Joshua Heschel (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), pp. 276-303
78. Moral Grandeur, p. 211.
79. Heschel, "Religion in a Free Society," in The Insecurity of Freedom (New York: Schocken, 1959), p. 12.
80. More generally see William R. Hutchison, Religious Pluralism in America Religion (New Haven. Yale University Press, 2003), esp. pp. 1-10, 196-218.
81. Heschel, God in Search of Man (Philadelphia: JPS, 1956), p. 95.
82. As a teenager in Vilna he seemed to entertain this possibility. He writes, "The readiness of self-sacrifice for justice and dignity of man, inherited from many holy generations, was also glowing in the modern Jews. So many secularist Jews who lived the lives of saints and did not know it!" Cited in Edward Kaplan, Abraham Joshua Heschel (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), p. 96. Did he still believe this in his mature years in America?
83. Heschel, "The Meaning of This War," in Moral Grandeur, p. 211.
84. Heschel's comment about "a man with a gun" interestingly contrasts with a statement by the Zionist ideologue Ze'ev Jabotinsky, "Of all the necessities of national rebirth. . . shooting is the most important of all." Zeev Jabotinsky, "Affen Pripatchok" Jewish Herald, September 12, 1947 cited in Political and Social Philosophy of Ze'ev Jabotinsky, Mordecai Sarig ed. Shimon Feder trans. (London: Valentine Books, 1999), p. 30.
85. Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p. 73.
86. Merton, "Non-Violence and the Christian Conscience," in Faith and Violence: Christian Teaching and Christian Practice (South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968), p. 39.
87. Ibid. p. 35.
89. The fundamental problem, of course, is that the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Quran also contain many instances and justifications for violence. On this see Nelson-Pallmeyer, Is Religion Killing Us?. What may be required then is to re-read all sacred scripture through the lens of the verse in Genesis about the human created "in the image of God" as a paradigm of nonviolence. Whether this can be done, both in theory and in practice remains to be seen.
90. Heschel, The Prophets, volume 1, p. 167.
91. Ibid. p. 166.
92. I do not mean to equate Radical Orthodoxy with Islamist Islam. However, on the question of religion in the public square they both share the belief that decisions of public policy should take place "in a theological frame." The similarities end here. Radical Orthodoxy is committed to democracy and seeks to create a consensus in the polity about theology. Islamist movements are generally anti-democratic and largely seek to force religion on their constituents.
93. Cited in J.C. Herold, The Mind of Napoleon (NY, 1955), p. 76 and Heschel, The Prophets, vol. 1, p. 160.
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