The rise in the number of Atheists in Europe and North America since the year 2,000 is now leveling off and as a result of Covid-19 I believe a religious revival will be the next new trend.
Marxist Atheism and self-centered greedy individualism has failed everywhere. Today’s Atheism is a reaction to two decades of sexual scandals and their coverups in the Catholic Church; and even more important to the steadily increasingly politicization of religious differences, both in the form of disrespectful religious polemics that attack other religion’s teachings, and the nastier terrorist violence in the name of God, that intentionally murders hundreds to thousands of women and children almost every year.
This has led millions of people to abandon, in anger and disgust, their own religion in particular, and all religions in general.
Unless all the leaders of the world’s major religions are inspired by Jewish and Muslim leaders to join together to follow the Qur’an’s guidance and clearly denounce, and even curse, all violent terrorist activities, especially terrorists who come from within their own religion, God and religion will continue to be defamed publicly throughout the world; and the number of Atheists will continue to rise.
The Qur’an states: “Call (others) to the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair admonition, and argue with them in the kindest way. Your Lord knows best (and you don’t) who is misguided from His way; and He knows best who are guided.” (16:125)
The Qur’an also states: “Those who believe (Muslims), those who advocate Judaism, Christians, Sabeans, whoever truly believes in God and the Last Day, and does good righteous deeds, surely their reward is with their Lord, they will not fear, nor will they grieve. (2:62)
Indeed, “If Allah had pleased, those after them would not have fought one with another after clear arguments had come to them, but they disagreed; so there were some of them who believed and others who denied. If Allah had pleased they would not have fought one with another, but Allah brings about what He intends.” (Qur’an 2:253)
My own perspective is that monotheistic prophets and Holy Scriptures cannot be basically opposed to one another in any important belief, because they all come from One source. Prophets are all brothers; they have the same father (God) and different mothers (motherlands. mother tongues, nations, cultures and historical eras). All of these produce different rituals and legal systems, but their theology differs only in minor and unessential details.
Religions differ because the original circumstances of each nation receiving them differed. Where the Scriptures differ they cast additional light on each other. My belief is based on an important Hadith of Prophet Muhammad.
Abu Huraira relates: “The people of the Book used to read the Torah in Hebrew and then explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. Allah’s Apostle said (to the Muslims). “Do not believe the people of the Book, nor disbelieve them, but say, ‘We believe in Allah, and whatever is revealed to us, and whatever is revealed to you.'”
Following Muhammad’s teaching I also neither believe nor disbelieve the Qur’an. If I believed in the Qur’an I would be a member of the Muslim ummah (community). But I cannot disbelieve in the Qur’an because I believe that Muhammad was a prophet and I respect the Qur’an as a kindred revelation, first given to a kindred people, in a kindred language.
In fact, the people, the language and the theology are closer to my own people, language and theology than that of any other on earth. Thus, I agree with the great mystic poet of the 13th century, Jalal al-Din al-Rumi who wrote, “Ritual prayer might differ in every religion, but belief never changes.” (Fihi Mafih 49)
I am a Reform Rabbi who first became interested in Islam when I studied it at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem over 60 years ago. I have continued my study of Islam off and on for many years. As a Rabbi I am faithful to the covenant that God made with Abraham – the first Hebrew Jew, and I submit to the commandments that God made with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai.
As a Reform Rabbi I believe that Jewish spiritual leaders should modify Jewish tradition as social and historical circumstances change and develop. I also believe we should not make religion difficult for people to practice.
These are lessons that Prophet Muhammad taught 12 centuries before the rise of Reform Judaism in the early 19th century. In many ways statements in the Qur’an about Orthodox Jewish beliefs and Ahadith relating Muhammad’s comments about Orthodox Judaism, and religion in general, prefigure the thinking of Reform Rabbis some 12-13 centuries later.
I could have written this essay about religious pluralism by using quotes only from the Hebrew Scriptures, such as: “In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in His paths. Torah will go out from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
“They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord God has spoken. All the nations will walk in the name of their gods, and we (Jews) will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.” (Micah 4:1-5)
Or I could have used a pragmatic argument like a Biblical Jewish leader named Jephthah offered when he tried to avoid a war by appealing to an invading king as follows:”Do you not hold what Chemosh, your God, has given you? So we will hold on to all that Adonai, our God, has given us.” (Judges11:24)
Jephthah does not believe in Chemosh, nor does he think that Chemosh is just another name for the Holy One of Israel. He knows that the One God of Israel does not allow Jews to have any other god. But Jephthah recognizes the king’s religious beliefs and wants the king to equally recognize Israel’s.
Thus, Adonai the One God of Israel, is the only God for Jews; but others can have a different view of God that they submit to, as long as this God belief leads them to practice virtue. As the Qur’an declares, “For every community We have appointed a whole system of worship which they are to observe. So do not let them draw you into disputes concerning the matter, but continue to call people to your Lord.,..God will judge between (all of) you on the Day of Resurrection about what you used to differ”. (22:67&69)
I choose to use Qur’an and Hadith to illustrate the basis for religious pluralism that all religions have, instead of using Jewish statements proclaiming and endorsing religious pluralism, to prove a point. We all also have other statements that appear to claim religious exclusivity. These seemingly opposing views are also the will of God, so that we may be tested.
Choosing between good and evil is a moral choice that even agnostics and atheists can do. Believers should believe in all God’s words (plural), but if we value kindness, humility and peace we are obligated to choose to understand the seemingly exclusive statements in the context of the accepting statements.
The Qur’an declares that Allah could have made all of us monotheists, a single religious community, but (didn’t) in order to test our commitment to the religion that each of us have been given by God.
“If Allah had willed, He would have made you a single people, but (God’s plan is) to test you in what He has given you: so compete in all virtues as in a race. The goal of you all is to (please) Allah who will show you (on judgment day) the truth of the matters you dispute.” (Qur’an 5:48)
Religious pluralism and mutual religious respect is the will of God so that believers may be tested in their commitment to kindness, humility and peace; and Muslim leaders can show the world the way to mutual respect among religions by continually proclaiming these verses.
Or as Thomas Jefferson, who had a copy of of the Qur’an in his library, wrote in a letter to a Jewish friend, Jacob De La Motta: “The maxim of civil government being reversed in that of religion, where its true form is: divided we stand, united we fall.”