1. Religion has been accused of being a source of violence and discrimination in societies. It is curious now that one of the reasons why inter-religious dialogue is promoted is to address this problem of violence and discrimination. Religion itself is, hopefully, a possible vehicle for peace and human integrity. Pope Francis, in an audience with people engaged in this dialogue, emphasized this “walking together” of people of the different religious traditions to face together the major problems. Curious enough is that there is no more language for polemics. No more do we read about the Church documents saying (even implying) that “my religion is superior to your religion”.
2. We recall the levels of dialogue as proposed by the document Dialogue and Proclamation. First there is dialogue of life, second is dialogue of action, third is dialogue of prayer and fourth is dialogue of theological exchange. Let us look at this fourth one, theological exchange. We can “visit” the documents we read and see how they present themselves in front of religions.
3. If we observe the way the documents have evolved over time we cannot avoid but say that the Church is doing her best to relate with the other religions. She is not stuck in a century mentality that refuses to move and dialogue. We might criticize her, wrestle with her. We know how “lousy” many Christians can get. But never can we say that the Church is junk. She is filled with sinners but she continues to be holy by virtue of her vocation. Many people in the Church think, reflect, discern and speak out with courage and humility.
4. Observe some changes in the language of the documents we read. In the Vatican II document Ad gentes we read about the urgency to convert others. Although the Church evaluates positively other religions—and this is considered to be quite revolutionary in the Church—she still holds a kind of “high” status with the urgency, precisely, to proclaim and implant the Church. The document in fact leads us to strongly consider the establishment of a hierarchical Local Church, later sent on mission, as an ending point of mission.
5. We do not see this language in the last document we read, Dialogue and Proclamation (DP). In the DP the Church is presented as a community of disciples touched by intimacy with Christ.
6. In the Ad gentes document we read about salvation as a matter of bringing, still, people out of the darkness they are in. There is a strong negative tone in it. We do not see this in DP. Over the course of time salvation has been understood as adherence to the person and message of Christ. It is not to draw people out of their own miserable darkness it is to introduce them to the light and truth that is seen in Christ. Not to adhere is not even an issue made in the DP. In the documents of the Asian Bishops we read that it is even alright for the Church to remain as minority within the Asian population.
7. The encounter of different religious authorities in Assisi, initiated by Pope John Paul II, was a significant event in dialogue. From then on there was a stronger emphasis on the validity of the religious traditions. The question of “salvation” continues to be a major question and it seems to be a stumbling block for some Christians who do not want to feel superior to other religions. In the Christian tradition Jesus Christ is the unique mediator. All humanity still finds salvation in him. People of other religious traditions are not saved by their traditions nor by their mediators. They are saved by Christ.
8. In the DP we read that the Christian presence with others may stimulate others to raise questions about life and existence. Consequently the Christian may invite others to the Christian faith. But then, interestingly enough, the DP admits and recognizes as normal the fact that people of other religious traditions will also stimulate us, Christians, to raise questions and that they too will invite us to their religious traditions. This signals something to us.
9. It is perfectly normal that each religious tradition will believe the the centrality of salvation or redemption is in that tradition. It is perfectly normal, for example, that a Muslim will say that all will be saved within Islam. It is normal for a Christian to believe in Jesus Christ as unique mediator Saviour of all. To hold a stand is itself a condition of being-in-the-world. It is the condition of being “incarnated”. We are all incarnated creatures—humans in flesh, in body, in space and time and in cultures.
10. To ask ourselves to take no stand, to hold no position is to deny our incarnational existence. We are asking ourselves to be pure spirits with access to all reality. This is unlikely to happen.
11. If we are afraid of the term “being-superior” to others, let us read the DP in depth. Note the language of the document. There is no talk of imposing. There is no talk of “superior” versus “inferior”. There is not talk of who is better than the other. If we think that the Church is like this today—at least on the documentary level—we belong to another century. We are stuck somewhere in time. The Church has evolved. The Church today—at least on the documentary level—is no longer what we imagined her to be during the times of colonialization. As early as the document of Pope Paul VI, the Evangelii nuntiandi, we see it clearly that the language of Church documents have withdrawn from the “feeling superior” approach. Precisely we are a Church of dialogue. The Asian bishops have expressed it clearly: no more elitism in the Asian world.
12. The Asian bishops have shown efforts to move in this direction. Of course Church behavior in the concrete is another matter for discussion. (We also have “fundamentalists”—people who refuse the existence of pluralism—in the Church.) But again, on the documentary (theological) level, the Church—and notably the Church in Asia—has evolved to a moral dialogical style. Remember that the Asian bishops see the Church more as inter-gentes. Is that not dialogical?
13. The DP notes that we Christians tend to feel exceptional. This may be true. Yes, at one point in history Christians really felt “superior” and “above” other religions. That was the period of exclusivism. But then today many Christians want to be an exception and this time by willing to compromise the faith. While people of other religious traditions hold on to their faith, some Christians are exceptionally willing to give up their own faith because they do not want to be “superior”. So as not to offend others, some Christians would rather drop their own Jesus Christ.
14. Have we not noticed that when a Christian says that “Muslims are ‘terrorists’” fellow Christians will be quick in correcting that. That is a swift and proper correction, it must be done. But then if another Christian says that the Church is imposing and her gospel message terrorizes cultures, correction does not come quickly. Is it possible that many among us Christians today tend to feel “low self esteem” regarding our faith? This is a question we can ponder on.
15. There is a danger of “intolerance”. Once upon a time religions looked so intolerant. Today we want to be pluralistic. Pluralism calls for “tolerance” of differences and uniqueness. This is alright. But together with this is a possible danger which is the rise of intolerance against the right of a religion to have its own mediator. Within our own Christian world with some Christians exceptionally trying to be so tolerant of other faiths we might become intolerant of our very own belief in Christ as unique mediator. Some of us do not want him to be Saviour; we cannot seem to tolerate it! If once upon a time Christianity seemed to be such an intolerant religion today we notice that some Christians, for the sake of relating with people of other religions, have become intolerant of Christianity.
16. Let us be realistic. Which religion wants to compromise itself? This is why we have dialogue. If a Christian wants to compromise his or her faith for the sake of dialogue this Christian is not really into dialogue. Dialogue accepts differences. Dialogue is based on the recognition of pluralism. If out of respect for this pluralism a Christian compromises the Christian faith in Jesus Christ then this Christian stops admitting pluralism and fuses with others. This is no longer dialogue. Meanwhile others are not giving up their faiths and beliefs; they do not fuse, they dialogue. Others continue to be who they are; they continue to accept dialogue. After the Ratisbon event of Pope Benedict XVI, a group of Muslims wrote him a letter telling him of their desire to dialogue with Christians—and emphasizing that they continue to be Muslims. Notice the risk a Christian might do: become someone who tries to be nobody in the midst of people who are firm with their religious identities.
17. There is a trend in dialogue circles called “relative pluralism”. This approach does not promote any single religious tradition. It is said to be influenced by the Kantian philosophy in which there is the level of experience that is so beyond what we perceive and know. Religions belong to the perception level while the true God belongs to the “beyond”. So all religions actually revolve around that God “beyond”. People in religious traditions do not say this. It is the relative pluralists who say this. This is a construct of the relative pluralists.
18. Everyone, according to the relative pluralist, is under that one single God who is “beyond”. Although this is attractive it is violating dialogue. Why? This position, the relative pluralist position, wants to place everyone in a new box—a box constructed by the relative pluralist. Dialogue stops here. For the Christian God is Trinitarian. For the Muslim God is Allah and so Transcendent. The relative pluralist will say that these two may look different—since they have different fields of perception—but they have actually the same God who is “beyond” and encompasses them.
19. Where is that God? That God is in the relative pluralist’s box; the Muslim and the Christian are told to enter that box. So that both the Christian and the Muslim be united, they are put in the box and will have “the same God”. The Christian cannot resonate with this “same God”…nor the Muslim. The relative pluralist is actually creating a new religion. Christians with an exceptional attitude of compromising the Christian faith can be so attractive to this because it will allow them to compromise the Christian faith. It will allow them to do what they want to do.
20. Dialogue presupposes differences. Dialogue presupposes pluralism. It is not a task of making everyone uniform. It is a task of making all—in their differences—communicate together. This is where Pope Francis is most practical and realistic. Sure we are different and unique in our religious traditions and we may all be irreconcilable with our notions of mediators. But Pope Francis asks us to walk together and work out the problems of violence, discrimination, unjust inequality, ecological disaster, etc. If over the centuries religions have been sources of conflicts and pain for many people, why can religious traditions not enter into dialogue to be sources of peace and respect and fraternity?
21. Certain trends seem to be happening today within the Catholic side…in theology of religious pluralism, in philosophy of religion and even in spirituality and mysticism. We will need space and time and more study for these….