This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
I have been traveling Jewish in South Korea and America. Tomorrow I leave for Vienna. The overall theme of my travels is simple. Rather than continuing to mouth a moribund interfaith dialogue, we should embrace a new interfaith solidarity.
We have already experienced this solidarity. We haven’t named it in its depth. Is the difficulty in naming what we experience fear of permanently leaving behind what we have known? Uncharted territory isn’t easy. It’s the breeding ground for exile and the prophetic.
Watching the documentary Iron Wall before one of my lectures a few days ago, I thought of this. Is there anything more likely as the breeding ground for exile and the prophetic than the factual mapping of Israel’s brutal birth and expansion?
My time at the World Council of Churches assembly in Busan, South Korea, confirmed another conundrum of interfaith solidarity. Many of the people who greeted me at the assembly have left behind the Christianity of their youth. They have embraced a Christianity that hasn’t existed since Christianity’s founding. This is how they explain it.
From my perspective, the Christians I met at the WCC’s assembly embody a Christianity that has probably never existed. Christian symbols abound but their inclusiveness and embrace of other religions is a novum in Christian history. I see them as Aberrational Christians. Will they survive the unbridled power – and violence – of mainstream Christian history?
Aberrational Christians are on the ropes already. They have personally come to the end of Christian history. I wish them the best of luck.
But, then, perhaps I have and other Jews of Conscience have embraced an Aberrational Judaism. Fortunately, we have Jewishness to fall back on. Within Jewishness we have a battle between empire and the prophetic that has raged for millennia. It’s a people’s struggle rather a religious one.
Christians don’t have “Christianess” to fall back upon. Being an empire religion, Christianity has uprooted everyone in its path, including its adherents. Under the guise of universalism, Christians rarely have a fallback position. This is more or less the case with Islam. When Muslims comes to the end of Islam, as inevitably they do when they are free to vote with their feet, they have few places to land except the colonial nationality they inherit or a voracious modernity they seek shelter within.
Rooted aside, though, traveling Jewish teaches me that we are all in it together, regardless of our endings and what we can and cannot fall back upon. That is why solidarity is so crucial. This is also why the questions that come within that solidarity are so explosive.
False borders and boundaries drawn by others – and sometimes drawn by ourselves – cannot meet the crisis at hand. This is obvious. What isn’t obvious is whether the boundary-crossers of our time have the strength and rootedness to change the trajectory of our imperiled world.