Is Interfaith Dialogue Possible When you Think Other Religions are Inferior?


Reuters reports that "Pope Benedict, who is sometimes seen as insensitive to other faiths, will reach out to other religious leaders during his first visit to the United States."

The question I have is this: how it is possible to "reach out" to other faiths that you denigrate as inferior to your own? He not only believes that his religion is the only true religion, but he also believes that his denomination is the only legitimate Christian church. Any "reaching out" that takes place is not from a perspective of humility or a desire to engage in a give and take and to learn from what others might have to offer; it is rather from the perspective of "I'm right and you're wrong, but I'll condescend to talk to you."

I think that the value of interfaith dialogue under those circumstances is limited, at best.


OneSmallStep said...

That's an interesting perspective ... it would really depend on the whole purpose behind why one evangelizes, wouldn't it. If it's the "I'm right, you're wrong" then you can't really have a dialogue, can you? Because anything you learn you'd be sifting through your own religion, rather than taking the other religion on its own terms.

On the other hand, if you evangelize because you found something great and want to share, then I think it's possible. Because another religion doesn't mean that they don't also have something great. The key would be recognizing that, and exploring how great they both are.

Jaume said...

According to Catholic doctrine, the spirit of Christ is present in all major non-Christian religions, and particularly in other Abrahamic faiths, although not in its full power and glory. This has been called "inclusivism" or "inclusive pluralism", i.e. all religions share the same underlying truth that the Catholic Church holds, although with varying degrees of intensity, but only the Catholic Church (and other Christian churches although their organizational forms are defective) carries the fullness of revelation. That's the idea behind Catholic efforts in interfaith dialog.

Mystical Seeker said...

The key would be recognizing that, and exploring how great they both are.

I agree. True interfaith dialogue means not just speaking, but also listening and respecting the unique vision of those other faiths. If you treat other religions as inferior to your own, then you probably think you have nothing to learn from the other faiths. That's not a dialogue--that's a monlogue.

Jaume said...

Ratzinger's agenda is not about learning from other faiths, but to establish broad alliances with major religious bodies in order to stop "relativism", i.e. a world order that ignores religion and believes in the autonomy of humankind to deal with all sorts of issues. If you read his discourses since his famous sermon during Wojtila's funeral (many say that it was this sermon that gained the papacy for him), the aim of all his actions have this guiding force: unite all religions against secularism and postmodern relativism. This is a very different kind of "interfaith dialog" that we harmless well-intentioned liberals usually think of, but it is very real and with many possibilities of success in the not so long run.

Mystical Seeker said...

I'd say that's a pretty limited agenda, if that's all he thinks inter-faith dialogue is supposed to accomplish. The pope wrote an encyclical late last year in which he railed against secularism (I commented on it in my blog at the time.) He seems a little obsessed over that issue, but frankly, I didn't find that what he wrote made much sense to me. He also really seems to be so traumatized by the events of 1968 that he still goes on about things like liberation theology.

Personally, I'll work with anyone who wants to build a better world; When it comes to that, I don't care what God they worship. or whether they worship any God at all.

Frank said...

"Denigrate as inferior" ?? That's a pretty strong charge for a person who is typically seen as making blunders in speeches. I'm curious to know when he's done something that would merit those words.

Sometimes, he's taken out of context, speaking as an academician and the average listener may not be able to or bother to follow the whole train of thought.

He's made a living immersed in and feeding off of the scholarship of people from all faiths and backgrounds, so its a bit hard to see how he doesn't value other faiths. Just because a person has an option doesn't mean they lose respect for others.

My concerns with Ratzinger is that he believes in runing a chruch like an authoritarian state. Free speech is seen as threatening, i.e. the people can't handle it. This is somewhat at odds with his theology. He's somewhat rooted in fear that way, and so was JP II.

Jaume said...

Liberation theology is alive and well in those places where it is most needed, i.e. Third World countries. Unfortunately it is facing now the aging of its leaders and some lack of response after the demise of Marxism. Dollar-backed Evangelical fundamentalist churches have also achieved important growth, particularly in Central America and Brazil. As a response, it is Leonardo Boff who has made more valuable contributions and innovations, particularly in the field of deep ecology, and he is the main spokesperson of the movement.

I personally think that liberalism makes no sense today if it is not liberationist. As it happened with New Age, if it is only concerned about "spirituality" and "personal growth" and is not inspired by social justice, it becomes entertainment for the comfortable middle class.

Samuel Maynes said...

If you are interested in some new ideas on interfaith dialogue and the Trinity, please check out my website at, and give me your thoughts on improving content and presentation.

My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic theology.

In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan Hindu conception of the Universe Absolute Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist apprehension of the Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept of the Holy Trinity.

The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the logic of world religions, as follows:

1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the first person of the Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known as Allah or Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other names; represented by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty messenger prophets), and others.

2. Christians and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person through a second person, i.e. the experiential Universe or "Universal” Absolute Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or Vishnu/Krishna; represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and savior of souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human consciousness, which we expect will be the "body of Christ" (Mahdi, Messiah, Kalki or Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.

3. Shaivite Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis of the first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality – unqualified Nirvana consciousness – associative Tao of All That Is – the absonite* Unconditioned Absolute Spirit “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected to be Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being – represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas, Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.

Other strains of religion seem to be psychological variations on the third person, or possibly combinations and permutations of the members of the Trinity – all just different personality perspectives on the Same God. Taken together, the world’s major religions give us at least two insights into the first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions of the second person, and at least three glimpses of the third.

* The ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither existential nor experiential, but their ultimate consummation; neither fully ideal nor totally real, but a middle path and grand synthesis of the superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.

** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit is a synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme, so it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit Synthesis of Source and Synthesis – the metaphysical Destiny Consummator of All That Is.

For more details, please see:

Samuel Stuart Maynes