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By Martin Warner

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Jerusalem is also firmly in the Christian mindset as identified with that friendship and unity: ‘Jerusalem is built as a city: that is at unity in itself. 2–3) The nostalgia for Jerusalem, as for Eden, is identified with a vision that is of the past and the future. This is because in the Christian Apocalypse, the Revelation of John, the new Jerusalem, the heavenly City, takes to itself the qualities of Eden, in the river that flows from it and the tree of life that grows within it. But there is another experience of exile that informs this metaphor about Jerusalem: the exile of the people of Israel in Babylon.

There we find an important affirmation of the significance of the social as the context in which the existence of religion is to be understood. He maintains that on the basis of scientific evidence it would be simplistic to identify religious words and behaviour with any particular structure and functions in our brain. The psychological and sociological evidence that makes sense of religion also provides an affirmation of religion’s essential, theological nature. It is an enterprise of faith to which science might lead us, but is unable to carry across the boundary of knowledge into experience.

But it also permits response. It was some time before I noticed a group of people participating in perfect pitch and time when singing a hymn in the silent key of sign language. The statement it made was profound: sign language is social, it is praise, it is witness. People who are deaf still live in society; that’s the sign of being human. And those who do have hearing ought to be aware of the grace and beauty of the social world beyond that of our sound-dependent world. But hands that liberate from isolation into society have a particular significance when used for communication in prison.

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