Monday, June 20, 2005

U2 and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

I didn't get to see U2 at Twickenham, but the body of their gig was played live on Radio 2 on Saturday evening (you won't find it on the internet through official channels, for licensing reasons). It included Bono's "Jesus, Jew, Mohammed is true" addition to "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" (what a versatile political song that is!), which is basically a plea for the different religions who look back to Abraham as their spiritual/actual father to stop fighting one another.

It ties in with the Rabbi Jonathan Sacks book The Dignity of Difference, which is again a plea for tolerance in an age in which religions have polarised social communities. I need to finish the book (alas! it is borrowed! I'm still working on it, Rob, honest!). What interests me is whether it is possible for genuine tolerance to exist in a world in which people believe in the absolute (rather than relative) truth of their faith. It's easy for me to tolerate other people's beliefs if I think that what I believe is only true for me. Likewise, other people can tolerate my beliefs if I don't argue that my beliefs ought to affect them. This is the post-modern "tolerant" world in which we live in - which actually turns out not to be tolerant at all, because if I believe that something is absolutely true, I turn myself into an outcast. Oddly enough, the statement that "all beliefs are relative" is actually an absolute statement - only absolute statements that endorse the post-modern worldview are allowed - and nobody stops to consider the irony.

What would be helpful would be to search history for examples of eras/settings in which a more genuine tolerance - not the post-modern sort - existed. For example, was it Queen Elizabeth I who, although making Anglicanism the state religion, officially tolerated Roman Catholicism, and allowed it to co-exist without trying to suppress it? And whilst we have now arrived at a pluralistic, post-modern consensus in our understanding of the nature of religious truth, the acceptance of other faiths in the UK (at least officially - I am well aware of the fact that there has been a great deal of unofficial tension directed towards faith communities) was not informed by a relative idea of truth, but one which was proclaimed belief in an absolute truth, whilst allowing people the freedom to reject that truth if they chose to. It hasn't happened in any terribly satisfactory way - the different faith communities have ended up basically separate. Is there any more hopeful example of official tolerance working? Or are we condemned to relative beliefs only from now onward?