I got an interesting email from an NGO promoting interfaith efforts around the United States. As founder and director of Wisdom House, an interfaith center in Nashville, I am all for such efforts. What I found interesting, however, was the opening line of the promo:
“Religious diversity is an essential value in many faiths, including Christianity, Islam and Judaism.”
The Hebrew Bible makes it clear that there is only one true faith, and the Jews have it. If biblical Jews had any interest in other religions it was to destroy them, and while rabbinic Judaism lacked the power to continue in that vein, and with some amazing Medieval Jewish-Sufi exceptions, I don’t see where the rabbis were all that eager to claim equality with other religions.
Jesus in the New Testament doesn’t sound like a universalist to me: “I am the way and the truth and the life, No one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6). And the Catholic Church’s extra ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the Church there is no salvation) doesn’t sound all that welcoming of interfaith.
And while the Qur’an does say “Mankind! We created you from a male and female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you might come to know each other,” (The Qur'an , 49:13), Islam still argues that the Qur’an is the only uncorrupted revelation from God, and Judaism and Christianity are less than perfect faiths.
So are interfaith efforts really part of mainstream Abrahamic thinking? I don’t think so. If religious diversity were really an essential value in Christianity, Islam and Judaism, why would we need an NGO to promote it?
Let’s be honest: no religion is all that interested in any other religion, and authentic interfaith dialogue, dialogue that could lift us out of our respective boxes and into a more universalist frame of mind and heart, is revolutionary and subversive work. Which is why it is so desperately needed.