Dia-logue or Tri-logue?
Restoring God toDialogue
By Michael Amaladoss, SJ
Social and political conflicts are prevalent in many parts of the world today. Some of these use religion as a prop so that they are experienced also as religious conflicts. One of the many methods of conflict resolution in such situations is dialogue between religious groups. Even if there were no conflicts, believers following different religions living together in the same socio-political context cannot ignore their religious identities and differences. Some sort of interreligious interaction becomes part of living together. Efforts to make religious identity strictly private, ignoring and even forbidding it in public life, in countries like France have not succeeded. A nonreligious secular society is not possible. All that we can do is try to maintain the autonomy of common socio-political institutions from interference by religious institutions. We cannot prevent an individual’s faith convictions from influencing his/her social and political, not to speak of economic, life. Beyond this when people are living together they are free to interact also as religious believers.
Interreligious dialogue can take place at different levels. There is an official level where representatives of religious institutions meet together. Such institutional contacts are useful and often have a symbolic value. These are not merely political negotiations, but can have an impact on attitudes. A second level of dialogue happens when followers of different religions meet together with the aim of getting to understand the beliefs of each other. Such sharing can lead to mutual understanding and appreciation and to the removal of ignorance and prejudice. There is an element of comparison here, though it need not be explicit. At the level of experts it becomes comparative theology. The faith of each religious tradition is taken seriously, but convergences and differences are noted objectively. Such studies have a scientific character about them and they are very useful for interreligious understanding. Personal belief in what is analysed and exposed is not a necessary factor here.
A third level of dialogue makes people encounter each other as believers. Belief normally involves the truth of what one believes in. People then speak of the “clash of absolutes.” The advaita (non-dual unity) of Hinduism, the strict monotheism of Islam and the Trinitarian vision of the Christians do not image God in the same way. Attempts at openness are often condemned as relativism. On the other hand, we have people like Swami Abhishiktananda (Henri Le Saux, O.S.B.), Raimon Panikkar and Fr. Aloysius Pieris (SRI) , among many others,who speak of crossing borders and communicatio in sacris – sharing worship. Without elaborating, I suggest a possible approach. God alone is the Absolute. Given human, historical and cultural conditioning none of our understanding, even of revelation, is absolute. We cannot absolutize our affirmations regarding the Absolute. An apophatic tradition is present in all religions, though often we quietly ignore it. The Absolute is one and beyond all of us, but is the foundation of all out hesitant affirmations.
As a matter of fact, most religions, while affirming their own particular God-experience, acknowledge the fact of God reaching out to all peoples. The author of Gospel of John affirms a universal perspective when he says that “the true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world”. (Jn 1:9) Reflecting in the context of God’s covenants, Paul says: “God will render to every man according to his works…For God shows no partiality.” (Rom 2:6,11) In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna tells Arjuna: “In whatever way men approach me, in the same way they receive their reward” and “Even those who, devoted to other Gods, sacrifice filled with faith, even they sacrifice to me alone.” (4:11 and 9:23) The Qur’an states: “To each of you God has prescribed a Law and a Way. If God would have willed, He would have made you a single people. But God’s purpose is to test you in what he has given each of you, so strive in the pursuit of virtue, and know that you will all return to God (in the Hereafter), and He will resolve all the matters in which you disagree.” (5:49) The Sufi master Jalal ud-Din Rumi says: “Though the ways are various, the goal is one.Do you not see that there are many roads to the Kaaba?” Buddhism would look on all religions as “skilful means” or upaya.
When I meet another believer there is a hidden presence among us – the Absolute that both of us are searching. If both of us are open to listen to this Absolute, our differences become relativized. This is actually not relativism, but pluralism. In every dialogue at the level of faith there is a third interlocutor – the Absolute. Dia-logue then becomes really a tri-logue – a three-way encounter. The Absolute is silent. The other too may start talking. But as they go deeper they too will be reduced to silent concentration on the Absolute, discovering a communion beyond words. Praying together then will not be a problem, even if it is only in silence. It is in the context of such a trilogue that dia-logue at other levels become truly significant for life. Otherwise they remain a mere balancing of forces, useful in their own way but not truly a dialogue of believers.
Fr. Michael Amaladoss (MDU), usually resides in Chennai where he directs the Institute for Dialogue with Cultures and Religions and is Professor of Theology at Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi. He held the Jesuit Chair at Georgetown University during the 2008-09 academic years.
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