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Bigger Than Religions: Abrahamic Inclusion Isn’t Enough

We need a bigger God.

In the last century, we have seen the emergence of a move towards inclusivity called the “Judeo-Christian” tradition. Largely fueled by the rise of anti-Semitism, many Christians responded by emphasizing that the Jewish and Christian traditions have so much in common, have the same roots, share half of the same scriptures, share the notions of God, prophecy, and redemption. The result was a tradition referred to as “Judeo-Christian.”

No Jewish thinker that I knew prior to the 20th century ever spoke of being a part of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Most observant Jews probably felt like the particularity of their Jewish-ness was being watered down in the term.

Yet many American Presidents began to speak of a “Judeo-Christian tradition.” President Eisenhower is generally credited with making the term a part of American public discourse in the 1950s. He spoke about religion being an essential part of American democracy:

“With us of course it is the Judeo-Christian concept but it must be a religion that all men are created equal.”

In his remarks to the Knights of Columbus Supreme Council Convention in 1992, President George H.W. Bush critiqued the rise of “legal practices and theories that reject our Judeo-Christian tradition.” Bill Clinton, likewise, spoke of building community that “draws upon our Judeo-Christian tradition.”

In the aftermath of the events of 9/11, the Judeo-Christian tradition grew by including Islam, and many thinkers and pundits began referring to the “Abrahamic traditions.” A whole series of books, led by Bruce Feiler’s Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths offered the hopeful possibility that the answer to a so-called “clash of civilizations” theory was the Abrahamic tradition, one comprised of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Many interfaith gatherings included “Abrahamic” spokespersons, and we’ve seen “Daughters of Abraham” interfaith sessions whereby Jewish, Christian, and Muslim women get together. In his famed 2009 speech to the Muslim world, President Obama drew on the language of children of Abraham to call for peace in Palestine/Israel:

“Too many tears have flowed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (peace be upon them) joined in prayer.”

All of these efforts are praiseworthy. The attempt to transcend Christian exclusivism, or the “clash of civilizations” discourse, is surely a positive one. But I wonder if this is also not another case whereby in seeking to become more inclusive, we are also not closing significant doors.

In other words, we need a God who’s bigger than Abrahamic.

The holy trinity of Judaism/Christianity/Islam dominates the religious landscape in America, but what about our Hindu friends who worship many, rather than one, deities? Where do they fit into the Abrahamic landscape?

What about our Native American friends, whose traditions do not easily fall into the “prophetic” model? Or our Buddhist colleagues who might even be non-theistic?

Buddhists, Hindus, Zen, Taoists, and shamans, pagans, and others all fill up the religious landscape of America. It’s not enough to say merely that “we are all the children of Abraham.” Not everyone is a child of Abraham. Somehow we have to aspire for a bigger God, a God/Sacred/Universe/The Force whose connection to the cosmos is not through the descent of one specific ancestor.

We need a bigger God. We need a God bigger than our religious traditions.

If we are to affirm the dignity of all human life, it cannot be through descent from a shared ancestor, or even that many of us follow one religious patriarch. No, if our God is to be the God of the whole cosmos, then we have to affirm and keep affirming that human beings have dignity in our bones because our lives are sacred, because our humanity is part of our connection to one another, and — for those who seek to put in religious terms — every child is a child of God. (Which reminds me, what do we do about those who do not believe in any one God!)

We need a bigger God, a God bigger than religions, or even a series of religions.

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