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Please Read Jonathan Sacks “The Dignity of Difference”

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How to Escape the Orbit of Xenophobia

There is so much good to say about Jonathan Sacks’ The Dignity of Difference: how he welcomes the stranger, how he shows the impact of considering everything as a marketplace endeavor (this approach does not end well: people and relationships don’t fit the calculus of the marketplace), how the work of covenant might well be the glue that binds a global culture together and helps us overcome our stunning differences (just like communities have for centuries).

I like that Sacks grabs texts from the Old Testament to reframe very modern difficulties, like how Abraham honored the stranger, which speaks to our own ambivalence about people different from us. But Sacks also draws on old Jewish wisdom and criticism to help put those stories into context. I like how he pits Plato against Moses and dispels the notion of dualism and the notion of perfect forms. In doing this, he has opened a way from the ivory tower where pure academics lives apart from the rest of life. I appreciate his examples of Jewish scholars who were also workers. Thinking and working should be intertwined, much like Matthew Crawford wrote about so successfully.

You may get the sense this is a wide-ranging book, and it is, though a delightful read at each step. All this material—and he does make it fit together—is in the service of helping the reader reconnect with the wonder of what we can learn from each other. Rabbi Sacks Jewishness is a vital piece of the puzzle: as someone from a tribe that famously wandered for a long time, he thinks his people are uniquely positioned to welcome our world’s current batch of strangers. He may be right about that. In Sack’s view, people of true, deep faith learn to value the faith of others, even as they hold to their own.9780826468505_p0_v1_s260x420-01082013

My one critique has to do with the other end of the Bible Sacks quotes from freely. I would offer that the mystery of the very Jewish Jesus who was also the Christ greatly enhances the story of tolerance and inquisitive curiosity Sacks seeks to tell. The apostle Paul, in one his letters to his friends in Corinth, talked about being an ambassador to any and all, representing to the any and all the reality of being in relationship with God. My take on Paul, with a nod to Lord Sacks, is that those compelled by the Christ have every reason in the world to both hold firmly to their faith in the Christ while simultaneously listening deeply to those around them.

Many of you will stop here and point out how firm faith is more often used as a battlement from which to sling arrows. I don’t deny that has happened. And I confess we’ve not done well in that approach. But faith in the Christ offers both solid ground and excellent motivation for listening, though this is not the kind of thing you hear from the outposts of conservatism.

If you have opportunity to read The Dignity of Difference—do it. It is challenging and a tasty intellectual meal, and possibly life-changing.


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