Scriptural Reasoning as a Practice of Common Good
Limitations of Scriptural Reasoning
This essay is a critical evaluation of Scriptural Reasoning, “a wisdom-seeking engagement with Jewish, Christian and Muslim scriptures,” and its role in seeking the common good today. It has two parts. The first part deals with the significance of Scriptural Reasoning as a practice of the common good in the world today, and the second part highlights the limitations of Scriptural Reasoning in its application to different contexts. In a nutshell, this essay argues that Scriptural Reasoning is a hopeful and promising practice of the common good for the twenty-first century society.
Scriptural Reasoning as a Practice of Common Good
Before discussing the significance of Scriptural Reasoning as a practice of the common good, let us see what Scriptural Reasoning and Common Good are in their simplest sense.
“Scriptural Reasoning is a practice of inter-faith reading. Small groups of Jews, Christians and Muslims, and sometimes people of other faiths, gather to read short passages from their scriptures.”
In Scriptural Reasoning, the participants from different faiths meet in small groups, gather together at one place, read and interpret the selected passages from their respective scriptures on a common theme or issue, trying to understand and respecting one another. The aim is not to produce an official agreement, but rather to understand disagreements more deeply through scripture study and build friendships out of that better quality disagreement.
In spite of its wide and long tradition in the theological thoughts of Augustine, Aquinas, Catholic Social Teaching, and the Common Word of the Muslim scholars, the common good can simply mean a value and action that goes beyond narrow self-interest and ego, but is supportive to the well-being of the whole society. Kamran Mofid is agreeable when he explains the idea and principle of the common good as follow;
“The principle of the common good reminds us that we are all responsible for each other – we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers – and must work for social conditions which ensure that every person and every group in society is able to meet their needs and realise their potential. It follows that every group in society must take into account the rights and aspirations of other groups, and the well-being of the whole human family”.
This definition denies the adversarial and exclusive approach to other people, that tends to label others as “enemies of God” and does not hesitate to harm the “enemies of God” in the name of enhancing the common good.
With the general meanings mentioned above, there are good reasons to recommend Scriptural Reasoning as a practice of common good.
Shared Place: Scriptural Reasoning has its own character which is called the ‘tent of meeting.’ Ford says that the tent is an image for the space of study and conversation wherever they actually happen. He also argues that “tent” is so far the most suitable place for a Scriptural Reasoning group in terms of its independence from any particular “house” (mosque, church, or synagogue) and “campus” (university or seminary) which are owned or often influenced by one tradition.
Wherever it may be – house, campus, or tent, Scriptural Reasoning cannot happen without the participants sharing a common place or a mutual ground. This fact is a strength of Scriptural Reasoning as a practice of the common good. In order to build a good relationship between people a shared place is one of the most important needs. Living apart in different places makes us strangers. When we are strangers having no relationship, we have no affection either. Where there is a rift or gap between us, there is no spirit to seek the common good. Therefore, to share a place in hospitality towards one another is a good way to seek the common good.
It was the first time I have entered a shared place with Muslims when I participated in a small Scriptural Reasoning group in the Almahdi Institute, Birmingham, on 7th March, 2016. That experience, despite its short duration, questioned the depth of my faith as an evangelical Christian who wants to seek the common good for my fellow children of God, made me open to friendship with Muslims, and made me realize the influencing power of a shared space.
Richard Sudworth rightly argues for the need of crossing territorial boundary to enter a shared place, saying, “When religion is separated from territory, a vital witness and allegiance to the God who breaks all boundaries is possible. He is the God who crosses all borders and whose life bursts through the darkness without and within.” Scriptural Reasoning is to join the boundary-breaking God in seeking the common good for the whole human society.
Luke Bretherton clearly states the connection between the shared space (‘tent’) and the common welfare as follow:
“The hearing of others’ interests and concerns in the context of ongoing relationships and the recognition that everyone in the tent occupies the same mutual (not neutral) ground foster the sense that in each others’ welfare we find our own.”
Religious Way of Reconciliation: In the modern secular world religions are often considered as the causes of violence and conflict and so must be practiced only in private sphere. The secular worldviews have a tendency to exclude religion from the task of building peace and reconciliation and so to promote neutral and secular principles to build peace in the society today.
However, as Cassanova rightly observes, the widespread and simultaneous refusal of the world religions – Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism to be restricted to the private sphere became new and strong in 1980s. This resurgence of religion cannot be neglected. This shows that religions cannot be excluded from the task of seeking the common good. Instead, religions are still key players in the public sphere today.
It is important to recognise that we are in a religiously pluralistic world and that secular worldviews have no right to monopolise the public sphere in the name of neutrality. Rather, “we need ways of forming the sort of mutual ground that allows each tradition to contribute
 David F. Ford, “An Interfaith Wisdom: Scriptural Reasoning between Jews, Christians and Muslims” in David F. Ford and C. C. Pecknold (eds), The Promise of Scriptural Reasoning (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), p.1.
 http://www.scripturalreasoning.org/what-scriptural-reasoning (accessed on 20 March 2016)
 http://www.scripturalreasoning.org.uk/ (accessed on 20 March 2016)
 Kamran Mofid, “The Value of Values to build a World for the Common Good” in Interreligious Insight: A Journal of Dialogue and Engagement, edited by Alan Race and others, Volume 13, Number 1, June 2015,p.58.
 John Langan, “Catholicism, Pluralism, and Secular Society” in Michael Ipgrave (ed), Building a Better Bridge: Muslims, Christians, and the Common Good (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 2008), p. 85.
 Ford, “An Interfaith Wisdom”, p. 12.
 Ford, “An Interfaith Wisdom”, p.13.
 Richard Sudworth, Distinctly Welcoming: Christian Presence in a Multi-faith Society (Bletchley: Scripture Union, 2007), p. 147.
 Luke Bretherton, Christianity and Contemporary Politics (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), p. 89.
 Jose Cassanova, Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994), p.6.
- Quote paper
- Van Lal Thuam Lian (Author), 2016, Scriptural Reasoning as a Practice of the Common Good, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/337532