DIALOGUE: YES; SYNCRETISM: NO

INTER-FAITH DIALOGUE IN A MULTI-FAITH AND MULTI-CULTURAL ENVIRONMENT © JS 2012




DIALOGUE: YES; SYNCRETISM: NO

INTER-FAITH DIALOGUE IN A MULTI-FAITH AND MULTI-CULTURAL ENVIRONMENT




Introduction

Words such as “globalisation” and “global village” describe our world as being closely inter-connected, due to great mixing of populations and fast means of communication. In our country now most of the world’s religions are well represented and an inter-faith dialogue continues to take place, which is both good and necessary. It’s through dialogue that participants listen, talk and try to understand one another, resulting, hopefully, in mutual respect, cooperation and peaceful coexistence.


The Need for Dialogue

The Second Vatican Council encouraged us to dialogue not just with other Christians but also with non-Christian believers. For dialogue to be genuine, however, it needs to take place in an atmosphere of frankness, respect and acceptance of differences. But courtesy and respect do not mean we have to agree with other religious views by downgrading our own.


Traps to be avoided

Such relativism can be a trap in dialogue, when one thinks: “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere about it.” You can be sincere and wrong at the same time. Perhaps by thinking this way, one is ducking out of frank religious discussions because one feels it is impossible to achieve any certainty in religion.

Another trap is thinking: “All religions are basically the same and they all lead to God.” Such truism sounds attractive but is too simplistic. One may feel that only by minimising differences and practising tolerance can we prevent prejudice. But while religions do have many elements in common, to ignore crucial differences is to lead to confusion, loss of identity, loss of faith and even serious conflict.

Sadly many Christians today present Jesus primarily as a moral teacher, at the expense of his mystical and divine attributes. This is giving too much into liberal thinking and the pressure by atheistic scientists who accuse Christianity of not being “reasonable” enough. Thus Jesus is deprived of any uniqueness and is regularly and mistakenly compared to other “prophets”.


Syncretism

The main danger, however, of living in our multi-faith and multi-cultural environment is syncretism. This can be defined as “the tendency to reconcile differing religious beliefs in order to create a universal religion.” Such mentality appears to be spreading in both Europe and America. A few years ago there was the famous case of an Anglican vicar who, having returned from a trip to India, happily announced that he was also a Hindu. He was eventually defrocked.

Syncretism is a “pick and mix” philosophy that offers an individual various religious ingredients that he feels comfortable with. Syncretism is encouraged by the weakening of institutional Christianity, the influence of secularism, and the prevalence of political correctness that disparages Christian symbols in particular for being “offensive” to others.

Christianity is Challenging

But Christianity IS meant to offend and challenge, as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:23 “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles”. Our religion is founded on a unique historical event centred on the person of Jesus Christ who, though divine, became human, suffered, died and rose in order to grant us eternal life. If we eliminate this supernatural dimension, we shall reduce Christ to a mere prophet and the gospels to a meaningless distortion.

While other religions base themselves on epiphanies, legends and philosophies, only in Christianity did God actually BECOME man at a particular point in history. All truth is now present in the Incarnate Lord who said: “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). While non-Christians can still be saved, it is only through the grace of God and the merits of Christ. By all means let us participate in dialogue and even learn from others, but let us not give into confusion or relativism, and certainly not syncretism.


(© JS, 2012, article previously published in Catholic Today, 12 February 2010, reproduced here with permission)





Know Britain Home Page
General Index