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News
Mangalore (India)

1st Mission Congress
of Asia and Oceania
( 7 )

 

 

Dialogue in a New Key

 

Michael Amaladoss, S.J.

Institute of dialogue with Cultures and religions, Chennai

 

 

 A look around the contemporary world makes us aware of various inter-religious conflicts and tensions between religious groups: Muslim-Christian, Hindu-Muslim, Buddhist-Hindu, Hindu-Christian, Sikh-Hindu, etc. This is true of North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. This situation is so well known to us that I do not need to elaborate it for my purpose here. These conflicts often have economic and socio-political dimensions and causes. Religious fundamentalism affirms and defends the identity of a group as opposed to other groups in the name of religion. Communalism is the use of religion as a political force. In the course of defending group identity and interests some in the group take to violence, either in perceived self-defense or revengeful offensive. Some of this violence may be terrorist, attacking innocent people. Terrorism can also be state-sponsored. While the phenomenon is global, I would like to limit my focus here to the Indian situation. In such a situation of conflict, religions often end up justifying the violence. But unlike economics that is guided by the quest for profit and politics that is directed by the search for power, religions which speak about values can also be elements for promoting peace and reconciliation. In a multi-religious situation, they need to dialogue with each other in promoting peace.

 

 What does dialogue mean in such a situation? The answer to this question will vary according to where one is talking from. I would like to make it clear that I am talking here as an Indian Christian.

 

 Dialogue between religions is an acceptable practice among Catholics at least since the Second Vatican Council. It is my contention that the perspectives that govern this practice have been changing in recent years in the light, precisely, of such practice. This is what I indicate in my title Dialogue in a New Key. ‘New key’ is a musical metaphor. It refers to a shift in tone which changes the way a piece of music sounds. I suggest that inter-religious dialogue is taking new directions today. At least, it needs to. As a matter fact, there are not one but three shifts in perspective and practice. Let me spell them out briefly before going on to explain them.

 

 The first shift is from dialogue as a preparation for mission to dialogue itself as mission with an objective proper to it. This follows a new theology of religions which looks at other religions as facilitating divine-human encounter which is salvific. The other religions are no longer objects of mission, but partners. This dialogue takes place at the strictly religious level. I think that we should stop talking about mission because of the overtones it still evokes, especially from those who are ‘objects’ of that mission. Mission means sending. Many people feel sent by God with a message. But in our case it has somehow acquired a colonial ring because of historical circumstances. Therefore we could speak in terms of a ‘Quest for the Reign of God’ in the world and in history.

 

 Religion is also a socio-political reality. The political use of religions demonstrates this. So inter-religious dialogue today ha to move from a strictly religious level to a socio-political level which involves religion. This indicates the second shift. Different religions can dialogue and collaborate in the promotion of common human and social values, even though each religion may justify them in its own terms.

 

 In a situation of conflict, as we are experiencing at present, inter-religious dialogue, promoting peace, will have to start as negotiation leading to conflict-resolution and reconciliation before going on to conversation, collaboration at the socio-political level and dialogue at the religious level. This is the third shift.

 

 Though our awareness of the shifts has grown in the order presented here the more logical order will be the inverse. However, as a matter of fact, in a particular situation all three kinds of dialogue may be going on at the same time, mutually supporting each other. Let us now look at the shifts one by one. I may also mention here that what I am saying about religions will also apply to ideologies, that are quasi-religious or even non-religious.

 

Inter-religious Dialogue and Conflict Resolution

 

Conflict resolution is a complex process. It has to be based on truth. It has to promote restorative rather than retributive justice. The guilty will have to acknowledge their responsibility for the violence, individually or institutionally or symbolically, before being forgiven. Economic and socio-political amends or restitution will have to be made to those who had suffered loss of persons, property and human dignity. All this supposes, not only conversion from anger, hatred and violence at various levels, but also control of various agencies that cause violence. A healing of memories will have to take place, especially when the conflict has been protracted. A third-party mediation, wide social approval and encouragement and backing by government authority may also be required in the process of reconciliation. I am not here going into this complex process. I shall only look at the role that religions in dialogue are called to play.

 

Religions tend to justify violence, though it may have economic, socio-political or ethnic causes. Such justification sanctifies one group and demonizes the other. Islam speaks of jihad, Christianity of the ‘just war’ and Hinduism of the dharma yuddh (righteous fight). While religions must condemn injustice, they must refrain from encouraging violence, especially when it is indiscriminate. While economics is ruled by the profit-motive and politics is a game of power, religion stands for values. It is committed to promote community and peace with justice. In a conflict in which many religious groups are involved religious personnel and institutions must work for peace and reconciliation. They must provide motivation and inspiration for conversion, repentance and forgiveness. Religious institutions may have to be reformed and de-politicized. Religious perspectives on violence and conflict may have to be re-interpreted in new and evolving socio-historical contexts. They should also have a vision of community that respects freedom of religions and treats them as equals in the socio-political sphere. Religions can and should do this together in dialogue with each other. They can be mutually prophetic. But each religion must find the necessary resources for this within itself. This makes inter-religious dialogue concrete and relevant. Comparative theology or sharing of spiritual experience may not be relevant nor necessary at this stage. Leaders of different religions can come together to urge peace and reconciliation. This will have wider symbolic significance and a real impact on the warring communities. One dimension that we need to explore is non-violence, both as attitude and practice, as promoted by the various religions or other ideologies.

 

In the 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi in India had been the leading proponent and practitioner of non-violence, promoting peace between conflicting religious groups, not only through personal contact, but also through inter-religious prayer meetings. His non-violent methods of struggle had inspired other leaders like Martin Luther King, Don Helder Camara and Nelson Mandela. Gandhi’s practice of inter-religious prayer was picked up by John Paul II when he invited leaders of different religions to come together at Assisi in 1986 to pray for peace. Religions, however, can go beyond praying to convert the people who indulge in or promote violence in their own traditions and engage together in practices of conflict resolution and reconciliation when a conflict is taking place or has taken place. There are many organizations promoting conflict resolution in the world today. An inter-religious basis would certainly enhance their effectiveness.

 

Inter-religious Dialogue at the Socio-political Level

 

Before religions can dialogue with each other at the strictly religious level, they should be able to live and work together at the socio-political level. Even when the religious groups are not in conflict with each other there must be a formal equality at the socio-political level. Every shade of discrimination or domination of one religious group by the other must disappear. In practice, the majority and minority characteristics of religious groups with their socio-political consequences cannot be avoided. But at the legal level there must be equal recognition and respect. While the socio-political dimensions of religious identity cannot be avoided, religions should not become political tools.

 

 Such a collaboration between religions for the promotion of the common good has been encouraged by the Church. John Paul II told the other religious leaders at Chennai in February 1986:

 

By dialogue we let God be present in our midst; for as we open ourselves in dialogue to one another, we also open ourselves to God… As followers of different religions we should join together in promoting and defending common ideals in the spheres of religious liberty, human brotherhood, education, culture, social welfare and civic order.[44]

 

It is clear that this is not merely a political collaboration, but a religious one in the social and political sphere. At the same time the move from a strictly religious to a socio-political dialogue is also evident. Four years earlier (1982) a group of South Asian Bishops meeting in Chennai had said:

 

Since the religions, as the Church, are at the service of the world, inter-religious dialogue cannot be confined to the religious sphere but must embrace all dimensions of life: economic, socio-political, cultural and religious. It is in their common commitment that they discover their complementarity and the urgency and relevance of dialogue at all levels.[45]

 

But, in practice, multi-religious groups working for social justice seem to bracket their religious identities while inter-religious dialogue is understood and practiced largely at the religious level, focusing on intellectual and spiritual exchange, except for a few groups like the World Conference of Religions for Peace.

 

 Inter-religious dialogue at the socio-political level would then mean different religious groups dialoguing together in a multi-religious and multi-cultural situation in view of promoting the common good of all. Operating at the level of civil and political society they seek to evolve an overlapping consensus which can be the basis of concrete political and legal options.

 

 A rapid survey shows how the major religions in Asia can contribute to the promotion of the common good. Since we are familiar with our own Christian tradition we could perhaps focus on other major Asian religions, namely Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam.

 

One Without A Second

 

 Hinduism starts with a multiplicity of gods, some of whom were divinized forces of nature like the sun and the wind, the fire and the water. Deeper reflection leads them to realize the oneness of all being. Brahman is seen as the principle of the world. Atman is the self of the persons. Brahman and Atman are not two, but one. This is the principle of advaita (not-two).This leads to a universal vision. Isa Upanishad says:

 

Behold the universe in the glory of God: and all that lives and moves on earth. Leaving the transient, find joy in the Eternal: set not your heart on another’s possession… Who sees all being in his own Self and his own Self in all beings, loses all fear. When a sage sees this great Unity and his Self has become all beings, what delusion and what sorrow can ever be near him?[46]

 

To unite oneself with the Atman (Self) then becomes the goal of life. Through the Self one is actually uniting oneself with the whole universe. This universal communion is illustrated by the Bhagavad Gita, when it describes Arjuna’s (the seeker) vision of Krishna (God in human form): “There, in the body of the God of Gods, the son of Pandu (father of Arjuna) then beheld the entire world, divided in manifold ways, all united”. (11:13)[47]

 

 The Hindus look on this world as hierarchically ordered according to the caste system. People work out their salvation in this world according to the fruit of their karma (action) through a multiplicity of births. But the final goal is a communion where all will be one. It is certainly not an earthly paradise or utopia, but a fullness that is rooted in, but transcends history.

 

 We might be tempted to see this as an inward-oriented, otherworldly utopia. But Swami Agnivesh, a contemporary social activist struggling for the liberation of bonded laborers, says:

 

It is unthinkable to attain truth within, without simultaneously fighting the forces of untruth outside. Therefore the fight against untruth, bondage, and unjust social order based on violence and greed and usurpation become part and parcel of one’s spiritual pursuit.[48]

 

For Mahatma Gandhi, inspired by the Isa Upanishad quoted above, the goal of life was to realize Truth or Being (Sat), though he was aware that this can be done only through a succession of partial realizations. But this is an ethical process of love and service. He outlines his utopia:

 

I shall work for an India, in which the poorest shall feel that it is their country in whose making they have an effective voice; an India in which there shall be no high class and low class of people; an India in which all communities shall live in perfect harmony. There can be no room in such an India for the curse of untouchability or the curse of intoxicating drinks and drugs. Women will enjoy the same rights as men. Since we shall be at peace with all the rest of the world, neither exploiting, nor being exploited, we shall have the smallest army imaginable… This is the India of my dreams.[49]

 

This historical utopia is not the final communion with Truth which is Being. But it is a necessary and inevitable mediation. Though this vision has Hindu accents, Gandhi’s ideal reached out to the whole world, as he found God in every being, particularly the poor. He proposed inter-religious harmony.

 

I do believe that there is only one religion in the world, but I also believe that although it is one mighty tree, it has many branches… And even as all the branches take their essence from one source, even so all religions derive their essence from one fountain-source (God).[50]

 

 But this universal, inclusive tradition of Hinduism, lived by Gandhi and many other modern Hindus, is being negated by contemporary religio-political forces like the Hindutva (Hinduness), which is not only against all other religions, but also promotes a hierarchical domination by Brahmanism within the Hindu fold itself. The Ram Rajya (the Kingdom of Ram, one of the ‘incarnations’ of God ) which one evokes in this context is a kind of millennial vision, which prolongs the existing social order freed of its enemies. Gandhi may have used it in a more acceptable sense from a political and economic point of view, but at the social level he was supportive of the caste system. .

 

Inter-Being

 

 Buddhism is often thought to be an individualistic religion, centred on the monk seeking his own emptiness (nirvana). The Buddha’s four noble truths affirm the reality of suffering, craving as the cause of suffering and the possibility of overcoming this craving by following the eight-fold path consisting of right awareness, action and mindfulness. But modern commentators like Bhikku Buddhadasa of Thailand and Thich Nhat Hanh of Vietnam have developed a socialist vision from Buddha’s teaching. One of the important teachings of Buddhism is the denial of an ego. What we experience is actually a chain of inter-dependant phenomena. But one could argue that what is denied is not the ego as such, but the ego as an independent source of action. The ego is always caught up in a network of relationships. Contemplating this network, Buddhadasa will affirm that reality is itself socialist. Thich Nhat Hanh speaks rather of inter-being. To be in this world is to inter-be. There is no other reality beyond this net-work of beings.

 

 Donald Swearer summarizes Buddhadasa’s teachings in the following words:

 

The individual is not-self. As such s/he is part of an ongoing, conditioning process devoid of absolute self-nature, a process to which words can only point. This process functions according to universal principles we call nature. It is the true, normative, and moral condition of things. To be a not-self therefore, is to be void of self, and hence, to be part of the normal, interdependent co-arising matrix of all things, and to live according to the natural moral law in a fellowship voluntarily restrained by other-regarding concerns.[51]

 

Such a vision is of course universal and inclusive. It is the socialist Buddhadasa who says:

 

If we hold fast to Buddhism we shall have a socialist disposition in our very being. We shall see our fellow humans as friends in suffering – in birth, old age, sickness and death – and, hence, we cannot abandon them[52]… Solving social problems is dependent on living in a socially moral way; acting in the best interest of the entire community by living according to nature’s laws; avoiding the consumption of goods beyond our simple needs; sharing all that is not essential for us to have with others, even if we consider ourselves poor…[53]

 

The Mahayana tradition of Buddhism has the ideal of the Bodhisattva, who, even after his/her attaining enlightenment, lingers along in this world to help other suffering people. Traditionally one speaks of the fourfold vow of a Bodhisattva. The first of these is: “Living beings are innumerable: I vow to save them all.” It is certainly a universal vision.

 

 In practice, Buddhism, though it had its origin in India, has spread across Asia by easily adapting itself to the different cultures and even religions found among different peoples. In this sense it has been more open to ‘ true globalization’ than other developed religions which are tied to a particular culture, even when they claim to be universal.

 

The Universal Community

 

 According to Islam, God has been manifesting Godself through various prophets in the course of history. Mohammed is the last prophet and his message is for all peoples. The foundation for the universality of the message is that God is one. There is no other God. Therefore God’s message is for all human beings. Submission to God’s directive is an obligation for every human being. Every one who submits to God belongs to the community of the umma which therefore is universal transcending cultures and borders. Every Muslim is a vicegerent of God. All people are therefore equal.

 

 Mawlana Sayyid Abul A’la Mawdudi of Pakistan, one of the well known modern interpreters of Islamic tradition, speaks of theo-democracy.

 

The right to rule belongs to the whole community of believers. There is no reservation of special prerogative in favour of any particular individual, family, clan or class. Such a society cannot tolerate class divisions, and it will not permit disabilities for citizens on the basis of birth, social status, or profession… All administrative matters and all questions about which no explicit injunction is to be found in the shariah are settled by the consensus among the Muslims.[54]

 

This is democracy because all are equally responsible. It is theo-democracy because it is based on the sovereignty of God, not of the people, like the modern democracies. All are subject to divine guidance. It is not theocracy because the religious leadership has no role in politics. The affirmation of political equality leads to a sense of justice, which is ready to tax the rich and to have special concern for the widows and the orphans.

 

 This universal, democratic vision is not without difficulties. First of all, such equality is only for the Muslims who affirm faith in the one God and accept Mohammed as God’s prophet and the Qur’an as God’s revelation. All the other believers are treated as second class citizens who have eventually to be converted to Islam. Unfortunately a drive towards converting the others can take the form a jihad, which does not exclude violent means. Secondly, in the Sufi tradition, the religious leader has a dominant role in interpreting God’s will. We see this phenomenon in Iran. Thirdly, though in the past Islam had been adapting itself to the various peoples and their cultures across Asia, a certain Arabization is increasingly operative today. There has been no real effort to liberate God’s message from its context in Arabic culture and history.

 

A Call to Collaborate

 

Today we are living everywhere in multi-religious countries. Believers in different religions share the same economic, socio-political and cultural context. Social change can be achieved in such a situation only if every one works together. One, seemingly easy, way to promote collaboration among all is to privatize religion and secularize public life. While every one would agree that the State or political power should not identify itself with any one religion, we must not ignore the powerful inspiration and motivation that religions can provide in our struggle for liberation. One cannot ignore religion in promoting liberation. On the contrary, such an ignoring of religion will give rise to fundamentalist movements, with people trying to defend their religious identity, especially in a pluralist situation. The only other alternative seems to be for people to draw inspiration, each from his/her own religion, but collaborate with others in the defense and promotion of common human and spiritual values like freedom, justice, equality, community, etc. Such collaboration in the context of struggle may eventually lead to a dialogue and mutual enrichment and challenge also at the religious level. One could go further and say that this is the only authentic form of dialogue.

 

 Secondly, liberation today will have to be integral. The liberation theologies of Latin America, at least in its earlier phase, starting with Marxist inspired social analysis, focused on economic and political liberation. But we have realized that one cannot promote economic and political change without promoting social equality, changing people’s world views and value systems (culture), challenging the legitimating aspects of religion and converting people’s hearts. Any effective quest for liberation must reach out to and include all these levels. All these dimensions are mutually involving and there is no need of prioritizing them in the name of an ideology, though one or other dimension may have strategic priority in a given situation. This is what we mean when we say that liberation must be integral.

 

 In a situation of injustice, conflict is inevitable. In a conflict one cannot avoid taking sides. All religions would suggest that we choose to struggle with the poor. All religions, except Islam, with its ambiguous attitude to jihad, recommend non-violence as the most appropriate strategy. Christianity has had its crusades, declared and undeclared. But there is no doubt that the way of Jesus in the Gospel is one of non-violence and of humble service. Violence may occasionally overthrow a tyrant. But only non-violence can change hearts and bring about radical and permanent change.

 

 Finally, I think that all religions would agree that total liberation is eschatological whether it is envisaged as the Kingdom of God, Nirvana, Moksha, Umma, or harmony. Such a vision sets our present struggle in the horizon of hope, making it dynamic. That is what makes life worth living.

 

From Mission through Dialogue to Dialogue as Mission

 

Now we come to inter-religious dialogue at the strictly religious level. A living encounter with other religious believers however led Christians to a growing positive appreciation of other religions, recognizing the presence and action of God in them, so that they can really facilitate salvific divine-human encounter. Indian theologians, for instance, have recognized that the Scriptures of other religions may be considered inspired in a certain sense used for our enrichment.[55] They also suggested the possibility of sharing worship with other believers under certain circumstances.[56] John Paul II recognized this openness when he accepted the presence and action of the Spirit of God in other cultures and religions.[57] Reflecting on this experience, Asian theologians suggest that the goal of mission is the Reign of God and the Church as its symbol and servant. Other religions are seen as co-pilgrims to the Reign of God. Conversion of people who wish to become disciples and co-workers of Jesus is not excluded, but is not any longer the only goal of mission.

 

In his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, John Paul II affirmed formally the presence and action of the Spirit in other religions and cultures.

 

The Spirit manifests himself in a special way in the Church and in her members. Nevertheless, his presence and activity are universal, limited neither by space nor time (DEV 53)… The Spirit’s presence and activity affect not only individuals but also society and history, peoples, cultures and religions… Thus the Spirit, who “blows where he wills” (cf. Jn 3:8), who “was already at work in the world before Christ was glorified” (AG 4), and who “has filled the world,… holds all things together (and) knows what is said (Wis. 1:7), leads us to broaden our vision in order to ponder his activity in every time and place (DEV 53)… The Church’s relationship with other religions is dictated by a twofold respect: “Respect for man in his quest for answers to the deepest questions of his life, and respect for the action of the Spirit in man.”[58]

 

Two Approaches

 

 Such a recognition of the presence and action of God in other religions still leads to two different approaches to the way we relate to the members of other religions. John Paul II goes on to say:

 

Whatever the Spirit brings about in human hearts and in the history of people, in cultures and religions serves as a preparation for the Gospel.[59]

 

Dialogue with the members of other religions then becomes a means and a way to the proclamation of the Gospel leading to the others becoming members of the Church.

 

The Asian Bishops, however, speak in different accents. They distinguish between the Church and the Kingdom of God. They think of the dialogue with the members of other religions as a common journey towards the Kingdom of God. The fulfillment in the Kingdom may transcend history. In their response to the Lineamenta before the Asian Synod, the Indian Bishops say:

 

As God’s Spirit called the Churches of the East to conversion and mission witness (see Rev 2-3), we too hear this same Spirit bidding us to be truly catholic, open and collaborating with the Word who is actively present in the great religious traditions of Asia today. Confident trust and discernment, not anxiety and over-caution, must regulate our relations with these many brothers and sisters. For together with them we form one community, stemming from the one stock which God created to people the entire earth. We share with them a common destiny and providence. Walking together we are called to travel the same paschal pilgrimage with Christ to the one Father of us all (see Lk 24:13ff, NA 1, and GS 22)

 

It is an accepted principle that we cannot comprehend a mystery; before it, our attitude needs to be one of reverent acceptance and humble openness. God’s dialogue with Asian peoples through their religious experiences is a great mystery. We as Church enter into this mystery by dialogue through sharing and listening to the Spirit in others. Dialogue, then, becomes an experience of God’s Kingdom.[60]

 

The Indonesian Bishops affirm:

 

Since in all religions and traditional religious beliefs the values of God’s Reign are found as fruits of the Spirit, to the extent that there is good will they all strive towards the coming of the Kingdom.[61]

 

The Bishops from the Philippines suggest:

 

The synod should correct or at least clarify what the Lineamenta seems to do – to equate the Church and the Kingdom of God… In the social context of the great majority of Asian peoples, even more use should be made of the model of the Church as servant, a co-pilgrim in the journey to the Kingdom of God where fullness of life is given as a gift.[62]

 

A theological consultation on “Evangelization in Asia” organized earlier by the Office for Evangelization of the FABC had stated:

 

The Kingdom of God is therefore universally present and at work. Wherever men and women open themselves to the transcendent Divine Mystery which impinges upon them, and go out of themselves in love and service of fellow humans, there the Reign of God is at work… “Where God is accepted, where the Gospel values are lived, where the human being is respected… there is the Kingdom.” In all such cases people respond to God’s offer of grace through Christ in the Spirit and enter into the kingdom through an act of faith…

 

This goes to show that the Reign of God is a universal reality, extending far beyond the boundaries of the Church. It is the reality of salvation in Jesus Christ, in which Christians and others share together; it is the fundamental “mystery of unity” which unites us more deeply than differences in religious allegiance are able to keep us apart.[63]

 

What is significant here is that we respect the freedom of God active in others and the freedom of the others in responding to God, then dialogue becomes the way of mission. The context in which Asian theologians speak about dialogue between religions is harmony[64] between peoples. We can see, as I had said earlier, that in Asia the focus is not on the Church, but the Kingdom of God and dialogue is seen as an element in the common pilgrimage of all the peoples towards the Kingdom. Dialogue is not seen as a first step and an instrument to found the Church, though we are open to welcome any one who is struck by out witness and feels called by God to become a disciple of Jesus in the Church.

 

Dialogue with other religions therefore is meaningful in itself. If the Spirit of God is operative in them, she may also speak to us through them. Christians therefore approach other religions and their believers, not only to convert and teach them, but also to learn from them and to enrich themselves. Dialogue is not comparative study. It is not an interaction between two systems. It is an encounter between two believers who are seeking God or the Ultimate. God or the Ultimate is always present as a third pole of this encounter. And it is an encounter in freedom: the freedom of God and the freedom of the persons. This kind of spiritual and intra-personal dialogue is limited to a few individuals. It has a symbolic value for others. It can have a trickle-down effect on the community. At this level we are not interested in a comparative study of religions. We respect the freedom of God and the freedom of the individuals in responding to God. The interaction between these two freedoms often take place beyond the limits of symbols, rituals and institutions.

 

Dialogue and Ecumenism

 

 In the context of increasing dialogue with other religions the kind of tensions there may be among Christians can really be a counter symbol. In most Asian countries where the Christians are in a minority, there is an outward fellowship and mutual support when there are confrontations with groups of other religions. There is collaboration at higher levels like the FABC and the Christian Council of Asia. Today many theological seminars tend to become ecumenical. But apart from the formation many decades ago of the Churches of South India and of North India we do not see any active movement towards union. The headquarters and roots of many of the Churches are in the West and any real ecumenism may be taking place there. The Asians do not feel their differences very strongly nor is there a movement for union. I think that, for the moment, all Christians should collaborate in witnessing to Jesus and the gospel, in promoting peace and harmony and reaching out to others in dialogue. Looking at the West I do not see any realistic movement towards union and nothing much will happen here.

 

 The situation, however, is different with the Pentecostal churches that seem to be spreading every where. They tend to be fundamentalist. They seem to fish their ‘converts’ more from the main-line churches than from the other believers. They also seem to be funded by foreign financial interests. Their appeal is based on a certain popular religiosity based on healing. I do not think any meaningful dialogue is possible with fundamentalists, Christian or other. We have to learn to live them peacefully and protect our own people by making our own religious practice more meaningful to them. 

 

Conversions

 

 Another irritant to smooth relations with other religions in multi-religious countries is the activity of converting people, that is making them change their religious allegiance. To start with, this gesture tells the ‘others’ that their religions is wrong or inadequate. (Dominus Iesus said it, actually.) Some of our documents do make aggressive statements. Besides, this is not merely a religious phenomenon. It has political implications, since religious groups often tend to become vote banks in a democracy. There are also financial implications. Some people may choose to become Christian also for social, political and economic reasons. Of course God can act through all kinds of means. Let us not forget also that our religion has a colonial past. Of course, we have to insist that people have the freedom to practice any religion of their choice. But we should do it quietly and not be shocked if there is opposition. Do not the Bishops in Latin America complain about the Pentecostals taking away their people and accuse some in ‘North America’ of plotting this? While we should be open to welcome into our community people who wish to become disciples of Jesus, any sort of hidden agenda making conversion a goal of dialogue will simply destroy dialogue and mission.

 

Conclusion

 

 Our discourse on dialogue often remains at the strictly religious level. But dialogue is not merely between religions, but between believers. Religion is only one element in society, even if it may be the deepest in terms of giving meaning to life. Because of its meaning giving function it affects and is affected by other elements that constitute society together with it. We must therefore avoid both privatization of religion and its politicization. While we have to realize its identity, we also have to understand its relatedness. Awareness of the relationships of religion will also make us perceive its limitations. Dialogue with another religion is possible without any real reference to its socio-cultural and historical context as in the case of Swami Abishiktananda. While he was deeply engaged in encountering Hinduism in the depth of the advaita, he was not directly involved, though not uninterested, in the socio-political situation of India. But it is interesting and inspiring and it shows the positive value of difference. At the same time it is not going to solve problems of inter-religious violence which have economic and socio-political causes. The practice of dialogue also supposes that we wish to live as a multi-religious community at the regional or national level, recognizing, respecting and accepting each other as different but complementary. Dialogue can no longer be looked at merely as a preparation for mission as proclamation. On the contrary dialogue must lead to collaboration on our way to the Reign of God to which God invites all of us.

 

 

 ________

 

[44] Origins 15 (1086) 598.

[45] G. Rosales and C. Arevalo (eds), For All the Peoples of Asia (Manila: Claretian, 1992), p. 199.

[46] The Upanishads. Translated by Juan Mascaro. Hammondsworth: Penguin Books, 1965, p.45.

[47] The Bhagavad Gita. Translated by Antonio de Nicolas. York Beach: Nicolas-Hays, 1990. p.84.

[48] Swami Agnivesh, “Vedic Socialism”, Seminar, 339 (1987) 21.

[49] Quoted in Ignatius Jesudasan, A Gandhian Theology of Liberation. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1984, p.128.

[50] Ibidem., p.77.

[51] Donald K. Swearer (ed), Me and Mine. Selected Essays of Bhikku Buddhadasa. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989, p. 6.

[52] Bhikku Buddhadasa, Dhammic Socialism. Bangkok: Thai Inter-Religious Commision for Development, 1986, p. 102.

[53] Swearer (ed), Me and Mine, p.180.

[54] Quoted in John L. Esposito (ed), Voices of Resurgent Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983, pp. 110, 117.

[55] Cf. D.S.Amalorpavadass (ed), Research Seminar on Non-Biblical Scriptures (Bangalore: NBCLC, 1974)

[56] Cf. Paul Puthanangady (ed), Sharing Worship.(Bangalore: NBCLC, 1988)

[57] The Mission of the Redeemer, 28.

[58] Nos. 28-29.

[59] Ibid. 29.

[60] Peter C. Phan (ed), The Asian Synod. Text and Commentaries. Maryknoll:Orbis, 2002, pp.20-21.

[61] Ibid., p.26.

[62] Ibid., p.39.

[63] For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol II, p.200

[64] For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol II, p. 285.

 

 
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