There was a good documentary on the other night (part two of a three-part series), called 'Children of Abraham'. In the series, Mark Dowd tries to unravel the complex inter-relationships between the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, and in this programme he was visiting Jerusalem. As regular readers will know I'm agnostic/atheistic, but I'm interested in religion. Like a dog watching TV, I don't really understand it, but I'm fascinated anyway. However, this documentary was mostly utterly depressing, leavened only by a few weak rays of hope.
I don't think I've ever heard so much frightening religious intolerance in an hour. There were a few brave people on all sides trying to be heard above the aggression and insecurity, but I didn't hold out much hope that they would be more generally listened to. Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, for example, wrote a book in which he called for more tolerance of other faiths, and made some statements that I would have naively thought mild and uncontroversial; I'm paraphrasing, but he said something like, 'no one faith has the monopoly on religious understanding'. This caused a storm of outrage in the Jewish community, and he had to remove that line from the book. Some even braver Israeli and Palestinian teachers participated in an exchange program to learn about one another's lives and faiths — a process which seemed world-expanding for all those involved. Segregation only leads to ignorance and misunderstanding of the 'other side' and that in turn breeds fear and aggression, something that has been amply demonstrated in many parts of the world.
The Children of Abraham bicker like real siblings, and I was left with the overwhelming impression that what they really need is for Abraham to come back and give them a jolly good telling-off like a proper parent:
Kids, shut up and listen — if I hear any more squabbling over Jerusalem or whose is the one true faith, you'll all get smacked bottoms and have to go to bed with no dinner, do you hear me? If you can't play nicely togther, I won't allow any of you into the Holy Land. Have I made myself clear?
Of course, it would be quite wrong to blame all the ills of the Middle East on religion — politics and the struggle for power play a large part too.