Most interfaith gatherings are tame, trite, and tedious. Everyone pretends to get along, and few, if any, are willing to talk about the differences that render religions unique unto themselves and incompatible with one another. So it was refreshing to read in the November issue of Christianity Today an essay by Rev. Stan Guthrie entitled “All Monotheisms Are Not Alike.”
His concern is with Christianity and Islam, “the two great missionary faiths,” and he worries that in their efforts to get along their theological differences become blurred, and they even go so far as to say they both worship the same god. How horrible! How absurd!
To protect Christians from the delusion of believing such a thing (and the damnation that accompanies such belief), Rev. Guthrie says Christians should enter into dialogue with other faiths “with the Apostles’ Creed in hand.” He’s right. What’s the point of talking if we all claim to be saying the same thing? What makes religion interesting are the differences among them, not their similarities.
Here are some of the differences Rev. Guthrie highlights based on the Creed:
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. Guthrie says that while Muslims and Christians both believe in a creator god, only Christians call God “father.” Of course Jews also call God “father,” so this difference is only between Christians and Muslims.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. … Both Muslims and Jews find the idea that God has kids with human women anathema; and while Jews accept the death of Jesus (along with thousands of his Jewish cousins) under Pontius Pilate, Muslims do not, believing that God would not cause such suffering to one of his prophets. Since there is no Christianity without this idea, this is a real sticking point.
On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will judge the living and the dead. Neither Jews nor Muslims accept the resurrection of Jesus or the substitution of Jesus for God on Judgment Day. So again we have real grounds for disagreement.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Again neither Jews nor Muslims see the Holy Spirit, in which both believe, as being a separate entity, part of trinity of gods: Father, Son, and Spirit. Jews and Muslims are strict monotheists: one God and one God only. And while both Jews and Muslims believe in forgiveness, resurrection, and eternal life, neither believes these have anything to do with Jesus and the acceptance of his death as redemptive.
Rev. Guthrie concludes his essay with, “Let the dialogue continue, but with the Apostles’ Creed in hand.”
I agree. Let Christians be Christians. Let them come to the table and say unabashedly there is no salvation outside the church, and that the other presenters are going to burn in hell for all eternity. And let Muslims be Muslims. Let them say that the Koran is the final and only unadulterated revelation from God. And let the Jews be Jews. Let them say that God gave only one revelation, and He gave it us, and us alone—the Chosen.
If Jewish, Christian, and Muslim clergy were honest during interfaith dialogues, the dialogues would last about ten minutes, and then we could spend the rest of the time arguing over which unproven and unprovable position is right. This would be interesting, at least for a while, but a short while at most. It wouldn’t take the audience long to realize that the panelists are arguing over self-serving propositions at best, and that this so-called dialogue is nothing more than the religious equivalent of a Coke versus Pepsi taste test. And not even that—at least at a taste test you get free Coke and Pepsi. What do you get at an interfaith dialogue?
So is interfaith dialogue a waste of time? Not at all. It keeps clergy occupied and off the streets where they are apt to do real damage.