Perspective: United States
Religious difference can bring people together
Religion is personal; it expresses our way to be. Religio means “to bind,” so religions are meant to bring people together.
To talk with other Christians (Protestant, Roman Catholic or Orthodox) is INTRA religious exchange. To converse with people of other living faiths or world religions reflects INTER religious dialogue.
Originally from Sri Lanka, retired professor Wesley Ariarajah defines true religion via terms of “compassion, nonviolence, self-giving, universal love, and the rejection of material acquisition.” His book Your God, My God, Our God, with the subtitle “Rethinking Christian Theology for Religious Plurality,” writes of how religions share in common a concern for an Ultimate Being.
Christianity has a strong Jewish base. It relies on Hebrew Scripture, the story of Yahweh the One God’s faithful interaction with Israel. Israel, the people chosen to convey to other nations God’s welcome or openness toward all human creatures, lived among ancient religions. Recall the Tower of Babel incident (Genesis 11:1–9). Those of a dominant language and symbolic tower seemed intent to control everything, even to compete with God. But rather than allow such dominance, the Creator who values difference scattered their desire for false power over the face of the earth.
From the Second Testament, we learn how Jesus our mentor valued his Jewish heritage. He taught through parables and direct action about God’s Way of Welcome. Ever-pointing a Way among ways to God, he stressed a Divine kin-dom for all faithful followers. Not intent to start a new religion, Jesus called Judaism to re-form, to re-new its pattern of covenants, of human-Divine agreements. Before returning to God’s realm, he enabled the Spirit, who had been co-active in Creation, to replace his direct being with believers.
Spirit of Pentecost
The Spirit of Pentecost (Acts 2) brought scattered voices together. Although different, people of varied locations understood one another. A measure of unity within diversity came through verbal exchange, through God’s wide gift of difference. Religious pluralism continues as a gift to us, to show God’s will to save all.
Decades ago, German Max Muller comprehended the value of being duly informed of distinct insight from diverse religions in order to respect and compare them while engaged in personal journey. He shaped history with the observation that “To know one religion is to know none.” In other words, knowing only one religion fails to even know it with depth. Faith grows through understanding what others find meaningful.
I have learned from our good Sikh friend how deeply he honours his scripture, his present guru, the Guru Granth Sahib. To express or witness to my Christianity, without arrogance, and sincerely welcome, be open to learn from, the integrity in other religions, enriches my sacred being.
Peace with dialogue
“There will be no peace among nations without peace among religions and there will be no peace among religions without dialogue,” said Hans Kung. Mennonites claim a history of being peace-oriented. Although with that stance we are not alone among Christians, each generation in distinct locations needs to reaffirm what peacemaking means and how best to express peacebuilding for situations that emerge.
An attitude of readiness to learn from other religions helps. Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu with Jain influence, emphasized ahimsa (nonviolence) long ago. Gandhi’s close friend Abdul Ghaffer Khan enabled strong peace efforts among his Muslim people. And Thich Nhat Hanh lived, taught and wrote about basic peace principles for more than loyal Buddhists.
Receiving Divine truth
Can we receive as surely as extend Divine truth?
Acting together, people loyal to diverse religions enable peaceful efforts that overcome injustice. To retain attitudes of revenge, or resist overcoming stereotypes that misrepresent others, or block another from being fully valued all reflect handicaps toward peaceful existence. When religious teachings violate others through negative judgments because they differ or when people loyal to religions prompt conflict, the need for repentance recurs. How might sincere dialogue about principles held in common enable religious good-will?
Religious plurality will persist in our world; for that fact, be grateful. We choose between religions and denominations regarding rituals for worship, patterns of belief, and holidays. As we meet people whose choices differ, opportunity presents itself for honest dialogue.
Exchange conveys perspective with faith. Dialogue partners expect to be comfortable with and loyal to, not defensive or fearful about, personal faith. Each expects to listen carefully to the other’s confession, to formulate and clarify measures of personal truth, and to absorb or withhold what is further learned. Not debate, religious dialogue conveys mood or attitude, honours integrity, welcomes deepened insight and promotes friendship.
May you readers find it to be so!
—Dorothy Yoder Nyce is a member of 8th Street Mennonite Church, Goshen, Indiana, USA.
This article first appeared in Courier/Correo/Courrier April 2021.
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