The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: Can You Define Interfaith Dialogue?, part 2

What does it look like to engage in multi- or interfaith dialogue?

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at http://topics.mlive.com/tag/ethics-and-religion-talk/. More recent columns can be found on TheRapidian.org by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

A reader of Ethics and Religion Talk asks, “What does it look like to engage in multi- or interfaith dialogue?”

Several weeks ago we shared a presented three panelists’ answers to this question. This week, we conclude with four more responses.

Dr. Sahibzada, the Director of Islamic Center and Imam of the Mosque of Grand Rapids, responds:

“Humankind consists of various faiths and denominations. Some are God given, some are made by humans and some are invented, adopted, updated in accordance to self-plans to meet personal desires and ulterior motives.

“Multi- or interfaith dialogue is very crucial to engage in to achieve a positive perception for humanitarian results. It is a painstaking approach to find commonality in applying wisdom. A very slight misunderstanding may create a mishap. Such dialogue must be entirely based on a desire to cement human communication with openness. One must agree on shared objectives for the benefit of humans and understanding. People, in general, are not aware of it and no serious efforts are being made to attract them at large scale. Lay persons are not familiar with this initiative. They stick to the point in their entire life what clergies have advised them to behave or they know themselves according to the level of their study or intellectuality.

“There is no charter for the framework or set rules for this issue. Clergy minds must come together to create such guideline.”

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Adjutant Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

“In the Roman Catholic tradition, one begins by looking at the document nostra aetate, Latin for ‘our age,’ of the Second Vatican Council. From this document, one may find the Church defining interreligious dialogue as ‘speaking and listening, giving and receiving, mutual growth and enrichment. It is based on witness to one’s faith as well as openness to the religion of another. It is not a betrayal of the mission of the Church, nor is it a new method of conversion to Christianity’ (www.pcinterreligious.org).

“To engage in interreligious dialogue means one is open to speaking to someone of another religious tradition by sharing the tenets of one’s beliefs. In doing so, all individuals witness to the presence of God in that faith tradition. These individuals are not looking to change the other but to learn the truths present. The uncovering of similarities and differences then allows the people involved in the discussion to celebrate those principles held in common while working to develop understanding of the differences. These discussions are peaceful and tranquil because the goal is not to convert the other but, instead, to understand what another believes and why.”

Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

“There are at least two kinds of interfaith dialogue. One kind that was in vogue in the 1960s was an exercise in religious relativism. Church leaders who questioned or frankly disavowed the doctrines of their own churches and regarded all differences among churches as mere idiosyncrasy, reached out to leaders in other denominations who were of the same mind. These apostles of unbelief and indifference would sit down and confer together, formulate grand declarations, and go home feeling satisfied. These exercises generated few positive results and involved great expense to the churches these persons claimed to represent.

“The other kind of dialogue is one in which most us engage on a daily basis, as we interact with neighbors who differ from us in some, if not many things. It requires humility, patience, and self-control.  We should listen to what others have to say, and allow them to speak freely and honestly. We should claim to the same privilege, while affirming our commitment to live at peace with our neighbors and do them good. Our life and conduct should commend our faith and morals to others; if not, we should be silent until we have learned the ‘more excellent way’ commended by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 13.”

My response:

I believe that the multiplicity of religions in the world represent different paths towards the same God. I engage in interfaith dialogue in order to learn how and why I think, behave, and believe differently than followers of other faiths and practices.

I do not engage in interfaith dialogue in order to learn about what I have in common with others. This is a common misunderstanding of the purpose of such dialogue and leads to insipid conversations. The goal of dialogue between people of different religious traditions is not to identify a set of common beliefs and practices, leading towards a unified world in which all people think and act alike. In fact, a world which sees difference as something to be erased frightens me. Such a society would be repressive and totalitarian, intolerant of the smallest deviation from the norm. Better to learn to celebrate differences.

Therefore, the goal of interfaith dialogue is to celebrate the fact we are diverse and to learn how to live with people who are very different than ourselves, and to ask questions like, “How is your faith different than mine?” “What can I learn from the difference?” and “What is it in your faith that I admire?”

 

This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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