Inter-religious dialogue – is it good, or is it bad? I think it is good – as is all scholarly dialogue. I find that I learn much whenever anyone presents a reasoned opinion – even if the opinion is completely wrong.
What about inter-religious worship? Well, this seems unnecessary. Worship can be an individual experience (prayer) or a community experience (group prayer), but it has traditionally been based within a framework of a system of beliefs. To say that these beliefs do not matter and we should all simply worship together is an act of anti-religion.
In many religious traditions this distinction is realized in religious law – inter-religious services are forbidden. It seems that this is the case in Judaism, as is seen in the famous essay “Confrontation.” (For a fascinating set of responses to this essay, including responses by a wide variety of voices, see this extensive 2003 website hosted by Boston College.)
United Methodist Minister Hobbins, whose website reflects a continuing interest in inter-religious dialogue, dryly notes here on criticism of Rabbi Lookstein for participating in an inter-religious worship service for the new inaugurated president. But of course, the criticism of Rabbi Lookstein was based on ancient Jewish law as expressed in the Talmud which to the extent it reflects Biblical law is not subject to revision. (Now, there is room for argument here over the interpretation of the law, as the immediately preceding link shows, but it is clear Rabbi Lookstein’s actions were in violation of the majority opinion. Rabbi Lookstein has published a defense of his action.)
Why is there government-sponsored inauguration religious service at all? I admire the example of John Quincy Adams, who according to his letters took the inauguration oath with his hand over a book containing the constitution and laws of the United States. This is real oath – one that represents all the people of the US, who are bound together under the US constitution. A private prayer service or private worship by the President is his or her own business; but the United States was founded on the ideal of religious freedom.
So, I’m not sure what the concern here is: Rabbi Lookstein did something which many of his co-religionists view as contrary to the laws of his religion, and he received a rebuke from his colleagues (but no punishment at all.)
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On a related note, let me also comment on the decision of the Catholic Pope’s decision to lift the excommunication on the bishops of the schismatic SSPX group, including the controversial and virulently anti-semitic Richard Williamson (who upholds the Protocol of the Elders of Zion as a factual work and denies the Holocaust). See this opinion piece by Williamson, for example. SSPX actively shields French collaborators who murdered Jews in its priories (e.g., the Paul Touvier affair).
Frankly, I am surprised that the Roman Catholic Church has chosen to embrace these pro-genocidal extremists. But on the other hand, I believe this is an issue that is purely internal to the Roman Catholic Church. It is clear that the contemporary Roman Catholic mainstream is opposed to religious genocide, but that it is also a “big tent” that can accept those like Paul Touvier and Richard Williamson. It seems likely that this is a first step towards welcoming back splinter traditionalist Catholic groups, but I wonder if it is worth the pain: I suspect that many who belong to those splinter groups will not accept any Church that still embraces the revisions of the Second Vatican Council, while the Catholic mainstream will recoil from the extremism of the SSPX and other traditionalist groups. I suspect that in retrospect, this will be seen as a serious misstep by the current Vatican, and will rank along with Vatican’s mishandling of its sex abuse scandals and its cozying up to the Beijing parallel “Catholic” Church.
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Finally, let me comment on another attempt for apparent inter-religious dialogue: the recent appearance of the Oxford University Press’s English Standard Version with Apocrypha.
The English Standard Version (ESV) is a Protestant conservative revision of the venerable Revised Standard Version (RSV) which has been widely used as a standard English translation in academic circles for years. The ESV has appeared in a number of innovative physical editions, and has been actively advocated, particularly by conservative American Calvinists.
The RSV was noted for being published in editions that included a particularly full set of Catholic and Orthodox Deuterocanonical books (many of which are also in appendices to many Anglican and Lutheran Protestant Bibles, including such standard versions as the Geneva and King James Bibles.)
The Oxford edition includes a minor revision of the Apocrypha by three scholars – David A. deSilva (Ashland Theological Seminary, and a bona fide scholar of the Apocrypha), Dan McCartney (Westminster Theological Seminary, reviser of the class Machen textbook on elementary Greek), and Bernard Taylor (Loma Linda University, an African-American Seven Day Adventist scholar).
I’ve spot-checked a number of verses and found no substantive changes between the RSV Apocrypha and this new ESV Apocrypha.
I’m afraid I don’t understand the market for this book. As a scholarly edition, the minimal this edition offers no advantages over existing editions of the RSV and is certainly outpaced by more specialized editions such as the New English Translation of the Septuagint. As a Bible for worship, most Calvinists will prefer a Bible without the Apocryphal books, Anglicans will likely prefer the RSV or NRSV with Apocrypha, Orthodox will note that no Orthodox were invited to participate in the translation, and the Catholic Church are unlikely to grant an imprimatur (given the absence of any Catholic participation in the translation). As a Bible for casual study, certainly one of the many annotated Bibles with Apocrypha would be prefered. As a Bible as a fine book, the work falls short – the Oxford edition has super thin “bleed through paper” and uses a san-serif font that I find a bit hard to read with the bleed-through.
Still, even though the changes from the RSV are minimal, it is nice to have any new edition of these books, and I am certain that this text will soon be incorporated into major Bible text computer programs. And I’ve seen at least one enthusiastic review from a Catholic minister.