What is Interreligious Dialogue
"Interreligious dialogue is a meeting of people of differing religions, in an atmosphere of freedom and openness, in order to listen to the other, to try to understand that person’s religion, and hopefully to seek possibilities of collaboration. It is hoped that the other partner will reciprocate, because dialogue should be marked by a two-way and not a one-way movement. Reciprocity is in the nature of dialogue. There is give and take. Dialogue implies both receptivity and active communication." (Cardinal Francis Arinze, Meeting Other Believers (1997) 5.)
Why Interreligious Dialogue
The reasons for interreligious dialogue are many and varied. They can be divided into two main areas, the anthropological, social or philosophical (that is, according to reason) and the theological (according to faith). The latter can be subdivided into general theological reasons and specifically Christian motivations.
Anthropological, Social, Philosophical
The most basic reason for dialogue among human beings is our common humanity. We all share a common human nature. We are all sisters and brothers.
More specifically, at every stage of our lives, we grow through dialogue, through relationships. It is written into the DNA of our being. We are conceived in the sexual union of our biological parents. We become individual persons through the loving gaze of and interaction with our parents as they nurture and nourish us in our early lives. We are socialised into the family through relations with siblings and other relatives. We are drawn into the wider social world through teachers and school friends as we advance through the educational system. We contribute to our societies through career choices in the work force. Many people fall in love and enter into life-long partnerships, becoming the parents of the next generation. At every stage of life, who we become and how we contribute to our world is a product of dialogue, of relationships.
In recent decades, the relative ease of international travel has enabled the first, second and third waves of migrations, migrant workers, tourists and refugees fleeing conflict, famine and environmental degradation. The result is that people of different cultures, ethnicities and religions are now living, working and playing side-by-side in suburbs, schools, factories, universities, hospitals, shops in cities and towns across the world. Interreligious dialogue is essential for growing a culture of peace angenerating mutual respect and harmonious relations across the spectrum of religious diversity.
While science teaches us the what and the how of the universe, religions teach us the why and wherefore. Accordingly, religions acknowledge an ultimate purpose at work in the universe. Their teaching and practices are disciplines of mind and body to align the believers with this ultimate purpose. Many religions acknowledge a personal Creator and see the marvels of creation as the handiwork of God. They also acknowledge God as a Judge who holds humans accountable for their actions in life. However these beliefs are articulated, the sense of shared origin, of shared life and of shared destiny provides further theological motivation for interreligious dialogue.
Christians confess that God is Trinity, a communion of life and love, an exchange between persons. For Christians, this confession provides the ultimate justification for interreligious dialogue. Made “in the image and likeness of God” who is dialogue, we too must engage in dialogue to discover the richness of God’s various engagements with people, which Paul VI called “a many-splendored conversation,” (ES, 70).
We cannot call God our Father if we do not acknowledge others as our sisters and brothers on whom divine providence shines with equal affection (cf Matthew 5:45). We cannot truly confess Jesus as Lord if we do not acknowledge that rays of his truth enlighten all people (cf Jn 1:9). Similarly, the same Spirit which has touched our lives is present and active in the lives of all peoples. The church is the sacrament of salvation, not the repository of the saved. The Kingdom of God is the ultimate horizon towards which all creation is yearning.
All these themes of Christian theology and more are developed in the Catholic Church’s teaching on Interreligious Dialogue. It must also be mentioned that not only other churches, but also other religions, have developed rationale and motivations for interreligious dialogue according to their own traditions.