Sunday, April 05, 2009

Interfaith Dialogue is Boring

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.


C. Sam Smith said...

Thank you rabbi--it is refreshing to hear a voice of truth.

dtedac said...

Rabbi Rami,

Actually I think that interfaith dialogue could actually work if everyone agreed to disagree. If everyone recognizes that we all have different belief systems and that this situation will not go away in the near future, then maybe we can be honest about what we believe. We might be surprised and happy about the things we have in common, and we could respect and understand the differences. We could agree to disagree and even learn from the differences, seeing them as a possibility to learn and inform our own religious system. But I guess that would be boring too, since the sharing would probably be held in a spirit of friendship. Oh well.


Patti said...

I wonder why we elevate our beliefs to such a high level of importance. It seems like we are all trying to read the last page in some epic cosmic fiction. Can we ever rest in the unknown?

Karen said...

I think the focus of an interfaith dialogue should be what HARM religions have done over the thousands of years of their existence to people, the world, the universe -- how much blood has been spilled because of religion; how many borders are guarded because of religious differences; how much abuse and discrimination is meted out because of religion; etc. These are the similarities that need to be focused on and discussed. So much ugliness and badness in the name of God or Jesus across all three of these religions -- when it's all exactly opposite of what God most likely actually wants.

Jeff said...

All this is true if you believe in the literal truth of each religious system, something which is, as you said, at best unprovable, but also I think untrue as an expression of Godly will.

If you see all this language as a metaphor, and practice as a path to deeper understanding and awareness, then we can follow our different paths to awareness of the infinite beyond knowing.

Of course, most theologians, especially those who are stuck in literal understanding and teaching, could never accept this.

Claire said...

Let's not have interfaith dialog - all that yakity-yak just perpetuates the ego mind.

Let's have interfaith non-dialog: side-by-side meditation, chanting, movement - expressions that come from the other side of the brain. If you want to dance with the sufis or ring Tibetan bells, or whatever, you could during these experiences; or you could simply witness and appreciate, as the spirit moved you.

C. Sam Smith said...

Claire has found the way to really have shutting our traps and meditating together. Astute.

Patti said...

Hey Claire,
I hate to ask you to do this, but could talk more about the "other side of the brain" dialogue; chanting, movement etc. I never quite understood what that was for, maybe you have some insight that would help. Thanks!

AaronHerschel said...

How's this for interfaith "dialogue:" let's get representatives of all three Abrahamic religions together in a park, dress them in camo, arm them with paint guns, and play king of the hill, or capture the flag, or whatever. This way, we can maintain our clearly demarcated differences and our vicious 'othering' practices. We can all happily 'kill' each other, and there's no body count.

We'd be like sports teams. We could have three divisions, one for each faith, and the various denominations could fight it out in intrafaith games prior to the big armageddon bowl. Come to think of it, we could sell tickets. We could get the networks to cover the games and sell ad space. Think of the revenue! Think of the increase in 'church' attendance (and membership dues)!

The only thing we'd have to worry about is the pregame tensions and the postgame riots: "The Chosen Rules OK!"

Unknown said...

Dear Rabbi Rami:

If people don't have the right intention when they talk about dialog, then you are right. But they are sincere, then people can have 'true' dialog. Yes, we have differences but we need to see them as richness not as a reason of conflict.

I would like to suggest you a few websites where you can encounter with sincere dialog efforts.,%20O.pdf,%20DB%20(FP).pdf