The Future of the American Jew

By Mordecai M. Kaplan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT
THE KEY TO INTERGROUP GOOD-WILL

1
THE NEEDED RECONSTRUCTION IN GROUP ETHICS

It is the fate of all of us who profess any of the historic religions to live in two civilizations, in the ancient civilization of our religion and in the civilization of our country. The ultimate test of our right and ability to do so will be our success in fostering good-will toward our neighbors and eliciting their good-will toward us. To succeed, we have to draw not only on our own traditions but also on the best that the human spirit, throughout the ages, has enunciated concerning human relations. But even that is not enough, because there never has been as much occasion, as there is now, to sense the basic unity of mankind, or as much likelihood for any group conflict to implicate the world. For that reason we shall have to widen the range even of the noblest ideals in the religious ethics of the past, and devise new means of translating them into our daily conduct.

The very desire to achieve intergroup good-will is a modern progressive manifestation. Such good-will implies much more than mutual tolerance among groups. It calls for the extension of the principle of equality from individuals to groups. This means that every cultural or religious group should be permitted to function as the milieu in which the individual's rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness may be realized. Its history, its culture, its way of life and its social forms should be allowed to serve as a means of self-fulfillment and salvation to all who so wish. This freedom should be shared equally by all groups. Any interference with this freedom of weaker groups by a dominant group should be regarded and treated as a moral violation fraught with danger to the welfare of society, and as a sin against God.

To accept this principle of equality, historical civilizations and religions would have to reconstruct not only their own traditions, but hurdle some very difficult obstacles that inhere in the very nature of the human being. But what is the function of civilizations and religions, if not to bring our impulses under control, and to transform those inherited human traits which work evil? This means, of course, overcoming the inertia of vicious tendencies that have attained a high degree of sanctity and social approval.

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