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Book Review

Jonathan Sacks

The Dignity of Difference

 How to Avoid the Clash of Civilisations

ISBN 0 8264 6397 5:

Continuum, London and New York, 2002 £10.99

(price at publication of review)


Reviewed January 2004; © Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 2003

This inexpensive, beautifully written, mould-breaking book is unlikely to be read by those most in need of its message: a call to delight in our differences - because they are God made.  But differences also cause divisions.  Ones between rich and poor countries, between the world's great religions.  The jury is out on which way things will go: towards a fairer sharing of resources and technologies, a stronger sense of responsibility for vulnerable cultures, an acceptance of unfamiliar religious creeds and practices - or growing conflict between the haves and the have-nots, bitter battles over ownership of the truth. 

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the size of the issues, to feel impotent spectators as we watch the world in action on TV - the prodigious struggles for control of territory, of resources, of food supplies we are powerless to affect.  But there are, thankfully, quarrels closer to home we can resolve: ones in families and at work, with our fellow Christians.  Clashes, say, about women priests, gay priests, the Bible, abortion: views that challenge strongly held opinions we are determined to hold on to at all cost.

And so we should - so long as we recognise that everyone else feels the same way about their beliefs and we are uplifted rather than infuriated by people who refuse to fall into line.  ‘The test of faith,’ Dr. Sacks writes, ‘is whether I can make space for difference.  Can I recognise God's image in someone who is not my image, whose language, faith, ideals are different from mine?’  If, every day, I could welcome just one small point of difference that separates me from someone I am close to, or cannot avoid, the inner freedom this brought might, like the grain of mustard seed in the Gospel story, grow to visible proportions. 

Andrew Anderson



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