Prayer doesn’t change the world (but it helps, a lot)

October 4, 2019

EnglishThe following essay of mine was presented at the international peace meeting entitled Peace Without Borders in Madrid in September 2019, an interfaith meeting organized for the last 30 years by the Sant’Egidio Community, a Catholic lay organization. I attended representing the Conference of European Rabbis.

Around 1990, a euphoria filled the Western world. The Cold War had come to an end, the West (which also included many countries in the east) had won, and most of the eastern bloc countries became liberal democratic free market societies. It looked like we were going to enter a permanently peaceful era, termed by Francis Fukuyama the End of History.

Unfortunately, in many regards, it is the competing and generally less appealing prediction of Samuel Huntington that became realized, the Clash of Civilizations. We are witnessing the reemergence of ancient prejudices and feuds as drivers for contemporary conlficts.

As religious people, our natural disposition is to pray, to cry out to our Father in Heaven for a blessing of peace and brotherhood. Surely, in our increasingly secular world, in which the practice of prayer has declined dramatically during the past century,1 religion may just provide such answers to contemporary challenges that were mostly overlooked. So is prayer the answer to our quest for peace? Prayer surely opens gates of inner peace, can it also unleash the loving torrents of brotherhood?

Though I will argue that in some ways, prayer can truly be helpful in this quest, I would like to first warn against the effectiveness of prayer in solving human conflicts. Read the rest of this entry »

Overcoming Intergenerational Conflict

July 12, 2012

EnglishHand_holding_finger_bw babyToday I appeared at the European Commission at the invitation of EC President Jose Manuel Barroso, as part of an interfaith panel charged with exploring ways to restore intergenerational solidarity that in recent years has been steadily eroding in Europe (video of the press conference, in which although I am present, I did not take a speaking role). Below is my essay that was the source of my comments.
Read the rest of this entry »

Thoughts on a Polarizing Society

January 10, 2012

EnglishConflict_(1936)_1It’s been several years now that I have been dismayed at the increasingly polarized din of political and societal “debates.” I put debates in quotes, because people are mostly talking past each other. This first hit me in the early 90s in Israel, when the climate in Western Europe was still more concilliatory. I have seen American politics become increasinly polarized and ascerbic, and see it in Europe, too, though to a lesser extent. In Europe, this is usually seen in matters relating to money (taxes, monetary policy, rescue of failing banks, national cost cutting plans, pensions), but less so in other, mostly social matters, while in the US, those are bones of polarizing contention, too.

So now I am reading Melanie Philips The World Upside Down (more about it in a future post), and I wonder whether the reason for this increased polarization is because we are growing increasingly philosophically distant from each other, to the point of not noticing we are takling past each other.

Think of secularist scientism vs. traditional theism as the possibly overarching disagreement, expressing itself in autonomy vs. dignity of life in bioethics; freedom from religion vs. freedom of religion in the educational realm; the definition of marriage and the family; the definition of science and of religion (think Kansas vs. Board of Education); even how to understand the big questions in the Middle East, including multilateralism and pacifism vs. military intervention, Israel & the Arabs, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran.

I know this looks like quite some diverse topics to group together as one phenomenon, but reading Philips’ book, I must say she skillfully documents a common thread to all these, which provides the meat for describing the phenomenon of growing polarization between Right and Left. (However, linking her thesis to the manifest polarization in politics and society, and how that may be the result of being so entrenched in divergent philosophical views to the point of not identifying with the Other, well, I must take responsibility for those insights, unless she writes about that later in the book – I am only about a third of the way through).

I’ll be watching out to see which of those trends are most manifest in Germany, which issues are actually debated, or at least considered controversial, over here.