The notion that we could mend some of the tatters in the modern social fabric through an initiative as modest as a communal meal may seem offensive to those who trust in the power of legislative and political solutions to cure society’s ills. But these restaurants would not be an alternative to traditional political methods. They would be a prior step, taken to humanize one another in our imaginations.
Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism have made significant contributions to political life, but their relevance to the problems of community are arguably never greater than when they depart from the modern political script and remind us that there is also value to be had in standing in a big hall singing a hymn or in ceremoniously washing a stranger’s feet or in sitting at a table with neighbors and partaking of lamb stew and conversation. These rituals, as much as the deliberations inside parliaments and law courts, are what help to hold our fractious and fragile societies together.