12 August 2016

We are caught today in a socio-cultural climate change. Angry self-serving rhetoric and fanatic religion are turning “God” into a fierce combatant, who protects “us the good people” against “them our enemy.” Control freaks manipulate their god to justify terrorism and slaughter. Not good Christianity. Not good Islam. Not good Judaism. Unhealthy religion….So many people seem to have forgotten that God is love.

Around the globe, the religious climate shows the danger signs of people edging toward the old fascism. History saw it in Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Pétain’s Vichy France, Franco’s Spain, Suharto’s Indonesia, and several Latin American regimes. Fear becomes the great control mechanism. Exaggerated ultra-nationalism replaces patriotism and displaces democracy.  

People become easily persuaded that human rights can be ignored; and religion too often becomes a tool to kill people and to manipulate public opinion. In February 2016, for instance, Defence for Children International accused the Israeli army of the intentional killing of Palestinian children in the West Bank. It said that the army had killed more than 180 Palestinians since the escalation in October 2015, including 49 children. In May 2016, a Muslim mob in Niger burned Christian churches and killed four people because of a ‘blasphemous’ post on Facebook. Around the same time, in the United States, the well-known Christian evangelist and Focus on the Family founder, Dr. James Dobson, said Christians should shoot transgender people using public bathrooms. He also called President Obama a tyrant, determined to destroy Western civilization…….The examples go on and on. Within all religions and between religions. 

It is time for a change. And healthy religious people have a serious responsibility to be alert to the problem and to accept the challenge to critique and halt religious violence. 

In all of our religious institutions and religious traditions, we need to embark on in depth intra- and inter- religious dialogue that is intelligent, well-informed, humble, respectful, and mutually collaborative in constructing a more humane way of life for people at home and around the globe. Faith to faith and face to face. In can happen in religious education programs in our schools; in adult study and discussion groups; and even by inviting a group of neighbors for coffee and conversation. 

Some suggested guidelines: 

1. Being faithful to one’s own religious tradition is no justification for violence or for arrogantly dismissing or demeaning the religious tradition of another. God is bigger than all of us; and no religious tradition has all knowledge about God completely captured in a text, doctrines, or ritual. 

2. Healthy and constructive inter-religious dialogue assumes the equality of all partners and creates opportunities for a free expression of opinions, perspectives, and beliefs.  

3. Participants in faith to faith and face to face dialogue have a double responsibility: to become better informed about their own religious tradition and then better informed about the other religious tradition. Healthy dialogue assists in avoiding prejudices and misinterpretations of all religious traditions. When 9/11 happened, for example, I read all kinds of nonsense about what was supposedly written in the Quran. It was prejudiced, ignorant, and untrue. 

4. If we do our job well, inter-religious dialogue can offer a way towards more peaceful coexistence, better global education, and more fruitful collaboration: all lessening the risk of religious and political extremism. It’s a bit like decreasing CO2 emissions in the religious world climate. 

5. Yes. Religions can play a vital and constructive role in the society, promoting the common good.  

 I close with some reflections from my old friend, and University of Louvain fellow alumnus, Ron Rolheiser:

 Different peoples, one earth

 Different beliefs, one God

 Different languages, one heart

 Different failings, one law of gravity

 Different energies, one Spirit

 Different scriptures, one Word

 Different forms of worship, one desire

 Different histories, one destiny

 Different disciplines, one aim

 Different approaches, one road

 Different faiths – one Mother, one Father, one earth, one sky, one beginning, one end.

Next time……some thoughts about God.

5 thoughts on “Faith to Faith and Face to Face

  1. Thanks so much, Jack. It is crucial in these perilous times that eachof us do our part as best we can. Betty 

  2. “turning God into…” Genesis 1:27 tells us that God made us in his image and likeness. Unfortunately we have ended up making God in our image and likeness. It is a long tradition. In the Old Testament God is jealous and quick to become angry and punish. From the middle ages of the Church until recently, God seems to be overly concerned about orthodoxy and membership. Even the violence of the crusades was but a reflection of how God treated the enemies of Israel in the Old Testament.

    We have outgrown the fundamentalist reading of the Bible and so should be able to understand what it is saying about God as opposed to what it is revealing about the culture in which it was composed. One way to get a healthy perspective is to study astronomy. We then begin to understand the divine act of creation, how it all began and the true dimensions of it. Only then can we put into perspective things like circumcision, wearing a burka, abstaining from meat on Friday or blaspheming (Does God really demand killing the blasphemer?) etc.

    The sooner we eliminate the anthropomorphic content in our image of God, the better we will be able to see the image of the divine in ourselves, all of us.

Leave a Reply