Ross Aden Reviews To Make the Earth Whole

Ross Aden
Ross Aden

Ross Aden, an Associate Professor of Religious studies has the following detailed review of the book:

In my investigation of religious violence, I discovered a religious peacemaker whose work exemplifies a constructive religious response to the religious aggression of our century. Rabbi Marc Gopin has shared his peacekeeping vision and methods in a new book, TO MAKE THE EARTH WHOLE: THE ART OF CITIZEN DIPLOMACY IN AN AGE OF RELIGIOUS MILTANCY (Rowman and Littlefield, 2009). This is a book of practical wisdom about the critical role of religion in the politics of war and peace in our time. Gopin shows how the theory and practice of religious peacemaking can be integrated and how that integration can contribute to a more just and peaceful world.

Gopin’s is book contains sections on
• Foundations of a Global Community through Citizen Diplomacy
• Global Diplomacy and Incremental Change…
• Diplomacy with a Conscience…
• Conclusions about Our Future

Gopin is a practitioner as well as a theorist. He is an ordained rabbi, professor at Georg Mason University and Director of its Center on Religion, Diplomacy, and Conflict Resolution. (See “About Marc Gopin”) The book is an inspiring condensation of his extensive experience as a global peacemaker. It especially draws on his role in the midst of the complex, volatile relationships among Syria, Israel, and the United States from 2003 to the present.

The strength of TO MAKE THE EARTH WHOLE lies in Gopin’s reflections on his motives and methods. The book is crammed with insights that share a depth of experience comparable to another of my favorite books, THE MIGHTY AND THE ALMIGHTY: REFLECTIONS ON AMERICA, GOD, AND WORLD AFFAIRS by Madeleine Albright (HarperCollines: 2006).

Here are some kernels of Gopin’s good sense that I gleaned from the book. Gopin identifies the key role of “religious exemplars” whose influence in conflict surpasses their actual numbers. Increasingly, they are key players that make the difference between violent conflict or peaceful co-existence in our global society.
This is an important insight. Common assumptions inherited from the Enlightenment hold that we have a choice between religion and its inherent violence or secularism and its possibilities of peace.

When I say that this is a false choice, some of my colleagues at my college react vigorously. Like Gopin, I respond that religion will not just go away any time soon. The response is something like, “But it SHOULD go away.”

Why does religion persist to the distress of some of my colleagues? Gopin suggests that religion has incredible power over people’s lives and world affairs because it offers the masses a vision of a better future. Religion teaches the attitudes and actions that will realize a brighter day. In doing so, religions construct realities that go beyond any rational calculation of survival. They inspire dedication to transcending values beyond self-interest. They bring people together with a sense of belonging, meaning, and shared hope. To summarize Gopin’s view, religion is growing because it answers the discontent of millions with the exploitation of global capitalism and the dislocations of worldwide urbanism.
I tell my colleagues that the rise of religion in this century is not necessary a cause for alarm. If religion can be exploited for violence, it can also be employed for peace. That is the message that Gopin’s book demonstrates. Simplistically, the key to peace or war is what transcendent vision we will choose for ourselves and our children.

Gopin is a pragmatic visionary. His vision for our planet combines secular social contract theory with religious covenant theology. He calls for the building of a new global social contract that centers of human rights. He subscribes to democracy. But in his view, human rights, not constitutions or free elections, are the basis of democracy and a just and peaceful world.

The only thing I would like to have seen in the book is an elaboration of the religious version of this social contract theory. As Gopin states, the parallel to the social contract is the biblical idea of covenant. Covenant theology is the basis of the prophetic movement in the scriptures and so it provides the religious foundation of concepts of justice and human rights. Gopin observes that religion has emotive power much greater than the influence of Western rationalism. A more extensive explanation of the symbols and rituals of the covenant would add to the force of Gopin’s articulation of his vision. It would speak especially to religious people. It would also balance his secular theory and show how it might be integrated with a religious ideal.

The goal of a new social contract/covenant seems so lofty that you might write off Gopin as a dreamer. The book proves how realistic, even calculating, Gopin is in practice. Gopin has his limits. But in his practice of negotiation, he will not let ideology get in the way of a good deal.

What then keeps him on a moral path? One of Gopin’s favorite words to describe his role in conflict meidation is “intuition.” He relies on a feel for what is right in the concrete situation. This moral intuition is based what many scholars call “virtue ethics.”

Gopin advises the religious peacemaker to act out of the virtue of compassion to save the most human beings he can. He refers to the Buddhist principle of compassion for all sentient beings. (In an uncharacteristic and unnecessary aside, he labels the teaching of sunyatta or “emptiness,” the conceptual basis of compassion, “odd.”) One powerful expression of this ideal of compassion refers to the covenant theology of Judaism without naming it. He says that the biblical litmus test for the right to possess the land is the just treatment of the stranger. We show our true motivation (our “good will”) not by how we relate to those who are like us but to the “other.”

In this regard Gopin’s story of how he embraced Yasser Arafat, gave him gifts for his children, shared a text of the Talmud with him, and blessed him is touching. It seems to me that as practical as it is in practice, Gopin’s ethic can be summarized in the seemingly impractical “love of the enemy.”

As an activist, Gopin engages in negotiation, compromise, problem-solving, and conflict resolution. But he believes they cannot be the foundation of the work of peacemaking. To solve conflict and to get along together in our global village, we have to learn something deeper—the wisdom and virtue that the rabbi teaches in his book. Most important, we need to learn how to afford the alien, the outsider, and even the enemy, the same rights we want to secure for ourselves.

Link to blog post here

© Marc Gopin