08 October 2008

Interreligious dialogue

This post is part of a synchoblog (synchronised blog) from people of different religious backgroounds on the topic of Interreligious Dialogue.

Like many others, I've blogged on this topic before, and so I won't repeat everything I've said in previous posts here, but will rather provide links to the other posts, with some commentary, and apologies to those who have read them before, especially since two of them were posted as part of Christian synchroblogs.

Taken together, they are quite long, so I hope people won't find them too boring.

In many ways they are a response to the views of some Christian theologians, whose views on interreligious dialogue I disagree with.

Notes from underground: Christianity: inclusive or exclusive? (Synchroblog)

Notes from underground: Theology of religions

Notes from underground: Theology of religion and interreligious dialogue

Notes from underground: Christianity, paganism and literature (synchroblog)

Notes from underground: Towards a theology of religions

As far as I can see there are three ways in which one can approach interreligious dialogue.

  1. Avoidance
  2. Finding common ground
  3. Discovering similarities and differences
There can be many reasons for avoiding interreligious dialogue, including the idea that since all others are wrong, dialogue is not needed. All that is needed is a monologue from us to tell "them" the error of their ways, because we have the truth.

The "finding common ground" approach is usually based on an attempt to find something that everyone can agree on, such as "tolerance", and that the only thing we will not tolerate is intolerance. Unfortunately this means that we often overlook areas of real disagreement.

I'm an Orthodox Christian, and I believe what an Orthodox theologian, Fr Thomas Hopko, had to say about tolerance:

Tolerance is always in order when it means that we coexist peacefully with people whose ideas and manners differ from our own, even when to do so is to risk the impression that truth is relative and all customs and mores are equally acceptable (as happens in North America).

Tolerance is never in order when it means that we remain idle before wickedness which harms human beings and destroys God's creation.

To be tolerant is to be neither indifferent nor relativistic. Neither is it to sanction injustice or to be permissive of evil. Injustice is intolerable and evil has no rights. But the only weapons which Christians may use against injustice and evil are personal persuasion and political legislation, both of which are to be enacted in an atmosphere of respect. While Christians are permitted under certain conditions to participate in police and military actions to enforce civil laws and to oppose criminality, we may not obey evil laws nor resort to evil actions in defence of the good. This means that Christians are inevitably called to suffer in this age, and perhaps even to die. This is our gospel, our witness and our defence.

To me tolerance means co-existing peacefully with people whose ideas and manners differ from my own. If it means no more than that, it means at least that.

If I discuss religion with people whose ideas differ from my own, then I want to be sure that if I disagree, then I disagree with their actual beliefs and not a caricature of them, and if I agree, then I agree with their actual beliefs, and not a caricature of them. This approach does sometimes, however, cause clashes with exponents of the Baha'i faith, who believe that all religions are fundamentally the same, and that theirs is a harmonisation of all of them. That can lead them to overlook areas of real disagreement.

In interreligious dialogue then, there are four elements:

  1. Your religion
  2. My religion
  3. Your interpretation of my religion
  4. My interpretation of your religion
Unless all four are present, we don't have dialogue, but two monologues.

_______

List of participants



Here are links to the other participants in this synchroblog

And here's a link for some matters arising from this synchroblog.

11 comments:

gracerules said...

Steve, I am sorry that I made a mistake when giving you the link to my post. Could you please make a correction? The correct link is

http://gracerules.wordpress.com/2008/10/07/interreligious-dialogue-risky-business/

Thanks so much.- Liz of Grace Rules

Yvonne said...

I really like Fr Thomas Hopko's definition of tolerance. I have argued along similar lines in the past.

seithman said...

If I discuss religion with people whose ideas differ from my own, then I want to be sure that if I disagree, then I disagree with their actual beliefs and not a caricature of them, and if I agree, then I agree with their actual beliefs, and not a caricature of them.

I think this is a powerful statement, Steve. It's too easy to disagree or agree with what we think people believe rather than taking the time to find out what they really believe. Since coming back to interfaith dialogue from a Pagan (rather than Pagan) perspective, one of the challenges I had to face is understanding how some Christians' understanding of their religion may differ from the theology I learned in the Baptist and Pentecostal churches of my youth.

-- Jarred.

gracerules said...

Steve - I really appreciate you drawing out the idea that this dialogue is designed to help us go deeper and wider than tolerance calls for. In my opinion tolerance most often finds its resting place in a narrow mind and does not leave much room for one to discover that they may have been wrong about something. I also don't think that tolerance helps much with building solid relationships that can withstand differences under stress.

Beth P. said...

Steve--
This is a very nice post on this topic--clear and easy to get the 'jist' of.

One of the most helpful parts of seminary studies (liberal United Methodist) was how to avoid syncretism and relativism. And that is to constantly be both digging deeper into our own theology and exploring our faith, and at the same time be welcoming criticism and debate. The two facets can keep us from deciding that 'it's all the same thing'.

I really liked the statements by Fr. Hopko: Tolerance is always in order...even when to do so is to risk the impression that truth is relative and all customs and mores are equally acceptable (as happens in North America).

I really appreciated this because it takes the practice of tolerance far beyond the idea of it.

Thanks for the really helpful post, Steve.

Andii said...

Thanks Steve for dropping by at
http://nouslife.blogspot.com/2008/10/more-tea-wicca.html
I did try to get it onto the synchroblog, it may by now have worked.

Agree about the elements of dialogue including interpretations each of the other. Important thing to note to avoid the so-called dialogue of the deaf.

I guess my own approach is influenced by an Irenaean 'recapitulation' theology which encourages me to listen for that of the Spirit in all honest searching and findings.

J. R. Miller said...

I think a combination of 2 & 3 are positive.

PS
thanks for organizing this.

Steve Hayes said...

Jarred,

One of the main uses I see in interreligious dialogue is going beyond caricatures. In my case it is a natural curiosity as well. I like to learn about different beliefs and cultures. But overcoming caricatures is important.

Some Christians, for example, see Wiccans as Satanists. That's a caricature. If they knew more, they might still end up disagreeing, but at least the disagreement would then be over actual differences and not just (mis)perceived ones.

Steve Hayes said...

Andii

Blogger keeps timing out on me. Recapitulation, yes. My taske is at Notes from underground: Towards a theology of religions

Martijn Rep said...

"exponents of the Baha'i faith ... believe that all religions are fundamentally the same, and that theirs is a harmonisation of all of them. That can lead them to overlook areas of real disagreement."

As an 'exponent of the Baha'i faith, to me this statement is not exactly spot-on. My understanding of the Baha'i view is that religions are not 'the same' and certainly the many different theologies derived from various scriptures are not the same. The core Baha'i belief is rather that the different messengers/sons/prophets are from the same source (commonly called God). Religious scriptures reflect the missions of these Figures. Of course this view leads to a certain take on theological issues and the history of religions. Differences are not ignored but placed in their historical context. In light of Baha'i scripture, certainly not all interpretations of earlier scriptures are accepted. Plenty material here for dialogue :-)

Anonymous said...

This is a fascinating idea. Has anyone checked to see if you could sync with http://www.irdialogue.org? It looks like they have a really valuable blog component, as well.

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