Abraham, A Bridge So Near Reviewed 6 August 2013
It is widely believed that there is a basic antagonism between Christianity and Islam. Current events on our streets do little to reassure us otherwise, so it is timely that this book sets out to challenge this belief as a dangerous fallacy fuelled by a minority fundamentalist element in society. Most significantly, the author Basil Hazledine sets out a carefully researched positive way forward for the world’s main faiths, particularly Christianity and Islam, but also Judaism, showing how we may, indeed must, all work together to tackle what he sees as two serious ills of our world; the rising tide of militant atheism, and aggressive materialism.
Hazledine suggests that there is a worldwide plan by the militant atheists to eliminate God from the world, as a means to profit from the inevitable moral and social breakdown that will follow. That may be so. There is certainly a real danger, as he writes, that when the rule of God is replaced with the freedom for all to create their own individual purpose and meaning, to follow the false gods of ‘self’, this potentially opens the floodgates for evil. Indeed we already see the signs around us, including a lost and rudderless younger generation cut off from their spiritual roots. The militant atheists also stand accused of fostering the splits and disagreements between and within the faiths, diverting attention away from interfaith dialogue and the recognition of so much more that is held in common between us all.
The author develops a hopeful theme, a way forward for faiths united together to meet these challenges. The founders of our three main world religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity share the legacy of Abraham, upon which the book’s theme is built, and Hazledine uses the key texts of the Old and New Testament and the Qu’ran to show us where the truths of the three faiths are complementary. We do after all share the One Almighty God, whom we are called to love and obey, and the Golden Rule to love our neighbours as ourselves. Christians have learnt their home and family values from Judaism which can be compared favourably with the God-centred living of Islam. In addition, we all have our convictions challenged by our own versions of the ‘devil’, a testing force that is an essential part of strengthening our beliefs. All these shared features are surely a sound basis for the interfaith understanding and dialogue which Hazledine calls for.
The book usefully sets out the history and core beliefs of the three faiths, enabling us to better understand each other, particularly by learning how our negative attitudes towards each other have been shaped. Hazledine is not afraid either to tackle the tricky areas where there seem to be irreconcilable differences. He recognises that we need to cross some controversial ground together. For example he writes of the centrality of the divinity, the death and the resurrection of Christ to the Christian faith, and suggests a new and inclusive reinterpretation of the statement by Jesus that “no-one comes to the father except through me.” Are we making our Christ too small, he asks. The Kingdom of God, he argues, is open to all believers who surrender to God’s will. And he is clear that we can have friendship and cooperation with other faiths in spite of some deep doctrinal disagreements and without compromising our own faiths. Furthermore, as he points out, the sacred scriptures all extol in some way the virtues of following God for the true joy, fruitfulness and happiness that is there for us all to find if we will only listen to God’s word.
The book is full of rich metaphor, starting of course with the bridge of the title, ‘so near’ as to invite us all to take part in this exciting project, which he sees as spiritual warfare. To extend the metaphor, he undertakes a strategic defence review where he likens the faiths to the three armed services, the army, the air force and the navy, fighting the same spiritual battle. Well-trained, focussed and with dependable lines of communication between them, results can be achieved far beyond anything each force could achieve on its own. And their supreme authority is none other than God himself. But the battle first of all has to be fought in individual human hearts, where we all have to make choices in a struggle of conscience between good and evil, God and the devil, life and death, God or mammon. We are waging a war against selfishness at a personal, social and national level. And this war will only be won if enough people choose to join up to form a peaceful army dedicated (in Gandhi’s words) ‘to living themselves today the changes which they want to see happening in their nation tomorrow.’
The author usefully suggests areas for discussion in interfaith groups, pointing out that we all have our defects as well as our valuable truths to share. We need to face disagreements together, listen to each others’ tales of hurt, aiming for loving reconciliation. He gives us plenty of ammunition to help us in this quest and calls us to look at our different religions from God’s perspective! Perhaps most importantly he urges us all to take daily time with our common God, to read his word, listen to him, and refuse to compromise on his absolute moral standards in any and all areas of our public and private life.
Fight together for what is right, he urges, not against each other for who is right! Here is a clarion call for us all to demonstrate publicly and visibly the good that comes out of our following God’s direction, whatever our faith. With humble and receptive minds and only if the faiths work together can we, with the help of God, bring healing to a broken world.
The author was a lifelong ordained Christian minister with a particular interest and experience in ecumenical matters. He has spent the last 20 years in retirement researching interfaith dialogue. This courageous and thoughtful book is the result.
This book should be widely read by Christian, Muslim and Jew to provide a deeper level of understanding between us all, and to help multi-faith teaching in our places of learning. The ideas it promotes need to be trickled down by all possible means to the grassroots level of God’s worshippers in church, mosque and synagogue to seed local initiatives that will go some way towards building the peaceful and just global village that most of us truly long to see.
Abraham: A Bridge so Near. Basil W. Hazeldine.
The book can be obtained through its website at www.abrahambridge.com
Review by Eleanor Stoneham, author of Healing This Wounded Earth and Why Religions Work: God’s Place in the World Today www.eleanorstoneham.com