My Neighbour’s God
Interfaith Spaces and Claims of Religious Identity
Table Of Contents
- Title Page
- Copyright Page
- About the editor
- About the book
- Citability of the eBook
- List of Contributors
- My Neighbour’s God: Joseph and Jonah as Examples of a Pluralistic Monotheism
- Neighborhood: An Interfaith Hermeneutical Space
- Displacement, Migration and Hybridity: A Religious Reconstruction
- Theological Apartheid Discourse and Contemporary Right Wing Rhetoric in Germany
- Hindustani Institutions – Endeavours for Strengthening Societal Presence in Holland
- “It is tough work to stay who you are”: (Religious) Boundary and Identity Work
- “When life ties together and religion divides”: Ritual companionship as test case for a theologically reflected inter-religious dialogue
- Ethno-Religious Space: Transitional Movement Towards Deterritorialization and Ambivalent Identity
- Religious Affiliation, Human Identity and Citizenship in India
- In the Neighbourhood of German Lutheran Men Claims. A South African Female Perspective
Drea Fröchtling is Professor for Practical Theology and Diakonia, University of Applied Sciences for Intercultural Theology, Hermannsburg.
Erna Zonne-Gätjens is Professor for Social Work, University of Applied Sciences for Intercultural Theologie, Hermannburg.
Moritz Gräper has recently completed his PhD (New Testament).
David Joy is Professor for New Testament, United Theological College, Bangalore.
Andreas Kunz-Lübcke is Professor for Biblical Hermeneutics, University of Applied Sciences for Intercultural Theology, Hermannsburg.
Dexter S. Maben is Professor for New Testament, United Theological College, Bangalore.
E. Phuti Mogase is currently working on her PhD at the University of Göttingen.
Wilhelm Richebächer is Professor for Systematic Theology, University of Applied Sciences for Intercultural Theology, Hermannsburg.
R. Sahayadhas is Professor in the Department of Theology & Ethics at the United Theological College, Bangalore.
Kaholi Zhimomi is Assistant Professor for History of Christianity, United Theological College, Bangalore.
My Neighbour’s God: Joseph and Jonah as Examples of a Pluralistic Monotheism
Abstract: Monotheistic believers are suspected to be necessarily intolerant towards other religions and their followers. The basis for this hermeneutic of suspicions is the idea that a monotheistic religious system accepts only the One God who does not allow the existence of other divine entities besides him and who demands to be the exclusive focus of every human kind of worship. Consequently, a monotheistic believer must necessarily reject the belief in representatives of other religions. Firstly, this paper will present some critical and prominent voices, which argue that a monotheistic belief leads necessarily to intolerance and readiness for violence. However, a closer look into the Biblical literature that demonstrates that accusations like this are not appropriate in every case. Through the examples of the narratives about Joseph and Jonah, this paper will demonstrate that Biblical monotheism has developed strategies, which allow its followers to accept the otherness of the other.
Keywords: monotheism and its alleged intolerance; Biblical voices for religious plurality
1. Monotheism and the Hermeneutics of Suspicion
The debate about religion(s) is back. Under the pressure of an increasing number of Muslim refugees seeking shelter and/or a better future within the European Community in the last several years, the public debate on religion has gained ground. At the core of the debate is the relation between individual freedom and the public appearance of radical monotheistic - in this case Muslim - groups.
For example: Is the full-body veil that is used by a small number of Muslim women an expression of individual religious freedom or is it rather a symbol of male sexism and oppression of women? The debate on religion, violence and religious intolerance is not new. It is an old ←13 | 14→and oft-tackled question: Is there an inherent link between monotheistic religions and a leaning towards intolerance, exclusivism and a readiness for violence?
One of the most influential scholars who would answer this question with a clear “Yes” is the German Egyptologist Jan Assmann. However, Assmann does not characterise the monotheistic religions as violent per se, but rather sees them as a system that has inherited a language of violence, which then may cause violent actions or initiates processes of radicalisation.
Assmann’s example of a radical and violent monotheism is the theology, which is connected with the Exodus-story. The God of the Exodus reveals himself to his people-to-be, he promises freedom, demands to be the only god and forbids every kind of iconolatry.1
The exclusive monotheism, according to Assmann, requires not only a distinction between a true and a false faith, but also demands a “Monotheismus der Treue”, a monotheism of loyalty.2 Assmann’s monotheism of loyalty requires an uncompromising belief in the one and only ←14 | 15→God who does not accept other divine figures or their representation through icons and idols.3
Assmann refers to a number of texts from the Pentateuch in which a clear hostility against every case of religious pluralism is stated.4 He argues that the monotheism of loyalty does not necessarily lead to religiously motivated outbreaks of violence, but provides the potential for violent actions.
This Mosaic Monotheism, according to Assmann, needs a counter-image, justifying the exclusion of “the Other”. Egypt represents an ideal example and a projection screen of “the Others”. Egyptian Gods are very often represented and symbolised by figures and illustrations of animals.
Assmann interprets the monotheistic movement, which strongly correlates to the figure of Moses, as an anti-Egyptian revolution. The anti-Egyptian hostility of the Mosaic Monotheism is, according to Assmann, represented by the narrative of the Golden Calf. The Mosaic Monotheism needs an antitype, which represents idolatry and a wrong adoration of false Gods.
The story of the Golden Calf should be seen as the original scene of idolatry.5 According to Assmann, Egypt is no longer the symbol of oppression, slavery and a system of “destruction by work”. Instead, Egypt represents the religion(s) of error and misbehaviour in front of God. The Exodus from Egypt is not primarily a flight into freedom, but was a necessary movement for Moses and his followers to differentiate themselves from the place of an inappropriate worship of God.
Another polemic against the monotheistic religions was initiated by the influential and well-known German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk. He ←15 | 16→argues that monotheistic religions require enemies. This figure could be a so-called “Other”. This enemy might be a member of a different, and consequently wrong, monotheistic system, or a member of a religious system, which acknowledges a number of divine beings. The lack of enemies is not acceptable for monotheistic religions. In this case, the monotheistic system itself would produce an enemy, the heretic, and focus its aggressive potential on eradicating this kind of refusal of obedience.6
The enemy of monotheistic believers, according to Sloterdijk, is at hand. From a Jewish viewpoint, it is the hostility of the Gentiles; for Christian monotheism, it is the scepticism of non-Christians; and from the Muslim perspective, it is the resistance of non-Muslims.7
With regard to the followers of monotheistic religion, Sloterdijk speaks about a “totale Mitgliedschaft” (radical membership). In other words: Monotheistic religion claims the entire life of its followers; it allows neither space nor freedom outside the borders of the religious system.8
It is amazing to see that the public debate on monotheism is not restricted to the academic arena. Last year two bestsellers were published on the subject, both originally written in French. Both books are developing a future scenario under the rule of a monotheistic, in this case Islamic, dictatorship.
The first novel, written by Michael Houellebecq, is situated in the year 2022. Submission creates a scenario, in which the radical right wing movement, the Front National, and the fundamentalist Muslim movement become stronger and stronger. After the outbreak of a civil war, a Muslim dictatorship is implemented, secretly supported by members of the Socialist party. The protagonist of the story, an alcohol-addicted literary scholar, acts as witness to and mirror of the societal changes under a monotheistic dictatorship. At the end he is happy with the situation. After his conversion to Islam, his career makes progress. His formerly-independent female lovers are now under his control and the public sphere is now restricted to men.←16 | 17→
The second book with the title 2084. The End of the World, written by Boualem Sansal, is situated in the year 2084 and thereby a clear allusion to George Orwell’s masterpiece 1984.
In Sansal’s novel, the world has returned to the conditions of the mediaeval age. Books, museums, fashion and any other kind of human development have disappeared, as well as the human ability to think. There are only a few things to do: to pray, to believe and to wait for the permission for an endless, and in the same way senseless, pilgrimage.
It is indeed amazing that in our times dystopian stories have a radical Islam in their focus. A glance back into the past shows that the basic themes of this certain kind of dystopian literature are consistently similar, but the religions are changing.
Thirty years ago, Margaret Atwood published her bestseller The Handmaid’s Tale in which, once again, a radical religious, in this case Christian, group has taken control over the United States of America. The entire society is under the control of the religion. Religion dominates every sphere of public life, and of course, as is usual in this type of literature, women are discriminated, sexualised and exploited, and removed from the public sphere.9←17 | 18→
All of these constructed and fictive worlds have one thing in common: Faith and religion are anthropological constants, which will belong to humanity and will never disappear.
The representatives and creators of this fictive world are typically western intellectuals and scholars. In Atwood’s analysis of a radical religious society the existence of a monotheistic God who does not allow any compromise is presupposed because every character of the story legitimises the oppression of the entire society and the implementation of radical laws and rules. Of course, the representatives of the system are believers in this God. However, even the victims of the system, represented by the perspective of the Handmaid (her former name remains unknown, the system has given her the name “Offred”), cannot avoid believing in this God, who is - according to the “Gilead Theology” - the initiator and supporter of the system: “Astonishing enough, Offred still believes in God despite all the bad things that were explained through Him in Gilead.”10
Identical motifs appear in Atwood’s and Sansal’s analyses of a fictive monotheistic tyranny: The use – or, better, misuse - of arbitrarily selected passages from a Holy Book. In Sansal’s novel a number of phrases from the Holy Book of the God “Yölah” is used as maxim and law under which every human life and behaviour must be subordinated. In Atwood’s dystopian version of a radical monotheistic society a couple of biblical texts are used by the leaders to justify the sexual misuse and exploitation of women.11←18 | 19→
The idea that a monotheistic religion involves theological and ethical errors and misinterpretations is not new. One of the most prominent voices against monotheism, in this case biblical monotheism, was raised by the Neo-Buddhist Anagarika Dharmapala.
Dharmapala was one of the most influential Neo-Buddhists of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. He represented also the so-called non-violent and nationalistic Sinhalese Buddhism. Obviously, the relation between religion and violence is one his main themes. It is no wonder that he starts to speculate about the nature of the monotheistic God of the Hebrew Bible.
The results of his reading are less flattering. The monotheistic god of the Hebrews is not more than a “veritable demon”12 and a monster, who demands blood and bestiality and who has no power to guide his nation in the right way or to prevent evil from them.
“Although the deity promised the Hebrews to bring them out of Egypt into a land flowing with milk and honey yet, failed to keep his promise. The generation that came out of Egypt died in the wilderness during the forty years of wandering. It was a new generation that came into the land of Canaan, and they knew not the deity. They went whoring after the strange gods forsaking Jahweh.”13
According to Dharmapala, the God of the Hebrews promises a lot but he always fails to keep this promises. The generation of the Exodus was tricked by the promise of the land of milk and honey and then confronted with a lonely death in the desert.
Dharmapala looks as an outsider into several biblical stories. The theological intention of the criticised stories is completely overlooked, in the same way he has no knowledge about the history of the religion of Israel and its environment at that time.
Nevertheless, the interesting thing is that his assaults against the religion and the God of Israel are based on a simple argument: A monotheistic ←19 | 20→religion and a monotheistic god are not able to provide a convincing and acceptable religious system.
“All monotheistic religions have been built on the foundation of animism. The founders of monotheistic religions have been invariably bloodthirsty, despotic and cruel. Curiously Aryan religion never tolerated despotic gods.”14
Dharmapala has not realised that the complicated relationship between Israel and YHWH, which could be described as a relationship of disobedience and punishment, is a product of the post-exilic times. He is unable to distinguish between the narrated content and the narrative discourse, which tries to analyse the political and social catastrophes in the past.
“Monotheistic religions have always deteriorated when they are not inspired by fanaticism. It is an impossibility that man can remain a monotheist. The Hebrews in theory were monotheists, but their career under the direct guidance of Jahweh has falsified the theory.”15
Dharmapala’s list of arguments against the religion of Israel and Judaism is long. He is not alone. Even the famous Neo-Hindu Swami Vivekananda, who has not the same interest in the Hebrew Bible, has claimed that the religion of Israel must be distinguished from Christianity because of the practice of human sacrifices, which must be seen as a contradiction to the teaching of Jesus.16
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (MOBI)
- ISBN (Hardcover)
- Publication date
- 2019 (November)
- Interreligious Hermeneutics Identity Work Theology Interreligious Dialogue Religion
- Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 296 pp.