Teaching a class on Dialogue with Asian Religions, I noticed a lot of the advice related to inter-religious (or interfaith) dialogue is related to the advice that Dale Carnegie gave to people in “How to Win Friends and Influence People” published back in 1937.
This slide presentation deals with some beliefs that Evangelical Christians have as to how to influence and communicate with people of other religions. Much of these beliefs lead to counterproductive results. The presentation looks over some such beliefs, then connects some of the answers with one of the chapters from Dale Carnegie’s book.
If you feel that it is inappropriate to get religious advice from a self-help book, I am sympathetic to your concern. But I might still suggest that you look at the presentation. Then consider reading Carnegie’s book (it is actually on free download online in .pdf). A lot of it is quite relevant in Inter-religious Dialogue.
For those students of mine who are taking Dialogue with Asian Religions, here is a list of my posts that relate to this topic:
- What View Should Christians Take of Non-Christian Religions
- How Do We Dialogue Among Faiths
- Dialogue and Different Faiths
- Dialogue With Other Faiths
- Seven Rules of Dialoguing
- Problem With Debating
- Quote from Philip Jenkins and Timothy of Seleucia
There is definitely some redundancy… but there would still help out… especially those in class.
In “Acts of Faith,” Eboo Patel (2007), founder and director of the Interfaith Youth Core, reflects on the issue of religious diversity. Mirroring W. E. B. Du Bois’s famous statement that “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line,” Patel suggests that “the twenty-first century will be shaped by the question of the faith line” (p. xv). He goes on to defend a form of religious pluralism “that affirms the identity of the constituent communities while emphasizing that the well-being of each and all depends on the health of the whole” (p. xv). This approach neither reduces truth claims to the lowest common denominator, nor relativizes religious truth. Rather, it emphasizes the need for open dialogue between persons from different traditions that enables them to learn from, and even experience, each other’s perspective. Given the reality of the “faith line,” the need for interreligious dialogue on
-Marion Larson & Sara Shady (2009) Interfaith Dialogue in a Pluralistic
World: Insights From Martin Buber and Miroslav Volf, Journal of College and Character, 10:3, , http://dx.doi.org/10.2202/1940-1639.1086
I will be teaching Interfaith Dialogue this coming semester. I really look forward to that course. The above quote by Larson and Shady, I think is excellent. I would, however, not use the term “religious pluralism” as they use it since for me the term relates to a soteriological viewpoint, not an inter-religious attitude.
The key point is that good dialogue does NOT relativize our view regarding truth and faith convictions. A person of definite beliefs and understanding of ultimate truths is not necessarily less committed to or competent in interfatih dialogue.
It also does not involve trying to come up with common beliefs, often done by wording things vaguely enough so that it sounds like we agree– ignoring important differences. I remember talking to a guy who was a 5-point Calvinist (I am probably more like a 2-1/2 point Calvinist, or maybe a non-Calvinist) who was trying to dialogue with me based on the thesis that “really we both believe the same thing.” Then he went on and described his beliefs with language so loose and vague that almost any Evangelical Christian could agree with the wording. However, using language that obscures beliefs is not good dialogue. The same problem comes from the “Well, don’t we all really worship the same God?” camp.
Dialogue comes from honesty and respect, and just a wee bit of humility. Beyond that, I don’t know. I am hoping to learn a lot this semester, along with my students.
In 781 A.D., there was a discussion between Patriarch Timothy I, and Mahdi, the third of the Abbassid Caliphs at Baghdad.
Excerpt from Timothy’s Apology for Christianity. You can read the rest of it HERE.
“O our victorious King, in this world we are all of us as in a dark house in the middle of the night. If at night and in a dark house a precious pearl happens to fall in the midst of people, and all become aware of its existence, every one would strive to pick up the pearl, which will not fall to the lot of all but to the lot of one only, while one will get hold of the pearl itself, another one of a piece of glass, a third one of a stone or of a bit of earth, but every one will be happy and proud that he is the real possessor of the pearl. When, however, night and darkness disappear, and light and day arise, then every one of those men who had believed that they had the pearl, would extend and stretch his hand towards the light, which alone can show what every one has in hand. He who possesses the pearl will rejoice and be happy and pleased with it, while those who had in hand pieces of glass and bits of stone only will weep and be sad, and will sigh and shed tears.
“In this same way we children of men are in this perishable world as in darkness. The pearl of the true faith fell in the midst of all of us, and it is undoubtedly in the hand of one of us, while all of us believe that we possess the precious object. In the world to come, however, the darkness of mortality passes, and the fog of ignorance dissolves, since it is the true and the real light to which the fog of ignorance is absolutely foreign. In it the possessors of the pearl will rejoice, be happy and pleased, and the possessors of mere pieces of stone will weep, sigh, and shed tears, as we said above.”
And our victorious King said: “The possessors of the pearl are not known in this world, O Catholicos.”—And I answered: “They are partially known, O our victorious King.”—And our victorious and very wise King said: “What do you mean by partially known, and by what are they known as such?”—And I answered: “By good works, O our victorious King, and pious deeds, and by the wonders and miracles that God performs through those who possess the true faith. As the lustre of a pearl is somewhat visible even in the darkness of the night, so also the rays of the true faith shine to some extent even in the darkness and the fog of the present world. God indeed has not left the pure pearl of the faith completely without testimony and evidence, first in the prophets and then in the Gospel. He first confirmed the true faith in Him through Moses, once by means of the prodigies and miracles that He wrought in Egypt, and another time when He divided the waters of the Red Sea into two and allowed the Israelites to cross it safely, but drowned the Egyptians in its depths. He also split and divided the Jordan into two through Joshua, son of Nun, and allowed the Israelites to cross it without any harm to themselves, and tied the sun and the moon to their own places until the Jewish people were well avenged upon their enemies. He acted in the same way through the prophets who rose in different generations, viz.: through David, Elijah, and Elisha.
And our victorious King said: “We have hope in God that we are the possessors of this pearl, and that we hold it in our hands.”— And I replied: “Amen, O King. But may God grant us that we too may share it with you, and rejoice in the shining and beaming |90 lustre of the pearl! God has placed the pearl of His faith before all of us like the shining rays of the sun, and every one who wishes can enjoy the light of the sun.
This passage seems valuable today in ways that were, perhaps, less true just a few years ago.
- The scenario comes closer to today than in the last several hundred years in terms of the relationship between church and government. Timothy as Patriarch of the Eastern Syrian church was leader of a Christian group that was at the mercy of a non-Christian political entity. Up until the World Wars, the majority of Christians lived in lands that were predominantly led by Christians. Prior to World War I, in fact, there was still a certain amount of belief in Christendom. A majority of Christians today live in lands that are either dominated by a hostile or at least unsympathetic religious majority, or a secularized (often a civil secular religion) government. This is not, necessarily, bad. Christianity seems to have always been at its best when it is not a wielder of power. I personally think this is true of all religions. This conversation shows Patriarch Timothy as thoughtful, respectful, and honest with the caliph— even expressing admiration for the other faith in terms that most of us would have difficulty accepting today. It is hardly surprising, I think, that up until the mid-20th century, the dominant groups in converting Muslims to Christianity were not Protestants or Catholics, but those of the Orthodox faiths.
- The parable clarifies, in some ways, much in a challenging topic today. Many people argue as to whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Those who say “No” are often thought close-minded, and those who say “Yes” are often viewed as heretical. The parable of the lost pearl provides an answer of sorts. First, both groups are SEEKING to worship the same God, much like the people in the story are seeking the same pearl. Second, however, is that both seeking the same pearl is not the same as both attaining it. Of course, this doesn’t solve things totally. If one says that the two religions are the same since they seek the same God… this opens the door for viewing many many religions as the same, since so many seek the God who is the great creator of all things. To say then that there is sameness due to this one similarity is neither rare nor, perhaps, even important. On the other hand, if you argue that the uniqueness of the pearl limits promotes exclusivity of the true faith, one must also face the fact that it may divide even more than we want. No two people, Christian or otherwise, completely picture God the same, and none see God truly as He is. As such, one might argue that no one truly has this pearl. This is part of the reason for the confusion today. Still, the parable I think points more to the idea that our faiths differ, ans so our Gods differ.
- This pearl has considerable relevance in this age we describe as “post-modern.” Post-modernism can involve the belief in no absolutes… no metanarrative, no objective reality. This parable, or at least its explanation denies this. There is true faith and untrue faiths. On the other hand, it affirms one aspect of post-modernism. Doubt is not a rejection of faith. In fact, doubt is normal and healthy, since we are limited in this present world to be groping for truth in the (semi-) dark.To me the parable gives not only a better picture of faith and doubt for a post-modern age, but a clearer picture in most any age.
I have made a few changes/updates to an old presentation… so here it is for you consideration.
How does one do interfaith dialoguing? From the John Hick camp comes the idea that both must relativize their own beliefs. That is difficult to do in practice, and hardly seems appropriate for many— suggesting a sort of virtue in weak convictions.
A better, in my mind, view comes from an article (written in Afrikaans, one of many many languages I cannot read) from South Africa. I am drawing from someone else’s blog– a South African who can read that language. It all ties together with “Seven Rules for Dialogue Between Christians and non-Christians” by Max Warren. So rather than rehash anymore, I would suggest clicking on the various blog posts by Arnau van Wyngaard.
So… Yes… this is a blog of a blog or an article of an article.
Introduction Blog: Click Here
First Rule: Acceptance of our Common Humanity: Click Here
Second Rule: Divine Omnipresence: Click Here
Third Rule: Accepting the Best in Other Religions: Click Here
Fourth Rule: Identification: Click Here
Fifth Rule: Courtesy: Click Here
Sixth Rule: Interpretation: Click Here
Seventh Rule: Expectancy: Click Here
This is an extended quote from Philip Jenkins book, “The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Goden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia– and How it Died” (HarperOne, 2008). I suppose it may be a longer quote than normal copyrights approve. But I do heartily recommend getting the book for those who are interested in Christian history… even more so since Asian and African Christianity are gaining in importance. Interfaith dialogue and interaction are also gaining in import, so there is much to be gained from this book. This section speaks of Bishop Timothy living in the 8th and 9th centuries AD in Selucia. I am quoting from pages 16-19.
“Timothy’s church also had critical interactions with Islam, inevitably because for the past century and a half most Eastern Christians had lived under Muslim political power. Christians largely flourished under that authority, although subject to legal disadvantages. Timothy lived in a universe that was culturally and spiritually Christian but politically Muslim, and he coped quite comfortably with that situation. As faithful subjects, the patriarch and his clergy prayed for the caliph and his family. The catholicos was a key figure at the court of the Muslim caliph, and when the city of Seleucia itself went the way of ancient Babylon, fading into ruin in its turn, the caliphate moved its capital to Baghdad; and Timothy naturally followed. Most of his patriarchate coincided with the legendary caliphate of Haran al-Rashid, the era of the Arabian Nights.
As in the case of Buddhism, Christians had to engage intellectually with Islam, and the interactions were impressive, even moving. Timothy’s famous dialogue with the caliph al-Mahdi survives as a precious monument of civilized, intelligent religious exchange. …. He asked the king to imagine that
we are all of us as in a dark house in the middle of the night. If at night and in a dark house, a precious pearl happens to fall in the midst of people, and all become aware of its existence, every one would strive to pick up the pearl, which will not fall to the lot of all but to the lot of one only, while one will get hold of the pearl itself, another one of a piece of glass, a third one a stone or a bit of earth, but every one will be happy and proud that he is the real possessor of the pearl. When, however, night and darkness disappear, and light and day arise, then every one of those people who had believed that they had the pearl, would extend and stretch their hand towards the light, which alone can show what everyone has in hand. The one who possesses the pearl will rejoice and be happy and pleased with it, while those who had in hand pieces of glass and bits of stone only will weep and be sad, and will sigh and shed tears.
In the same way, Timothy said, the pearl of true faith had fallen into the transient mortal world, and each faith naively believed that it alone possessed it. All he could claim– and all the caliph could assert in response– was that some faiths could see enough evidence that theirs was the real pearl, although the final truth would not be known in this world.
Timothy could speak so freely because Eastern Christians played such a critical role of building Muslim politics and culture, and they still had a near stranglehold over the ranks of administration. Their wide linguistic background made the Eastern churches invaluable resources for rising empires in search of diplomats, advisers, and scholars. Eastern Christians dominated the cultural and intellectual life of what was only slowly becoming the “Muslim world,” and this cultural strength starkly challenges standard assumptions about the relationship between the two faiths. It is common knowledge that medieval Arab societies were far ahead of those of Europe in terms of science, philosophy, and medicine, and that Europeans derived much of their scholarship from the Arab world; yet in the early centuries, this cultural achievement was usually Christian and Jewish rather than Muslim. … Timothy himself translated Aristotle’s Topics from Syriac into Arabic, at the behest of the caliph. …
It was during Timothy’s time that Baghdad became a legendary intellectual center, and the caliph’s creation of the famous House of Wisdom, the fountainhead of later Islamic scholarship. But this was the direct successor of the Christian “university” of Jundishapur, and it borrowed many Nestorian scholars. One early head of the House of Wisdom was the Christian Arab Hunayn, who began the massive project of translating the Greek classics into Arabic: the works of Plato, Aristotle, and the Neoplatonists, as well as medical authorities like Hippocrates and Galen.”
It is sad that the congenial relations were not mirrored in Western Christianity. It is also sad that the usually peaceful relations in “Muslim” territories between Muslims and Eastern Christians ended starting in the 13th century continuing until today. However, as more and more Christians live in countries whose government is not aligned with Christian beliefs (be they Muslim, Buddhist, Secularist, or otherwise) we may find better models from the 1st Millennium Eastern Christianity in how to relate in their societies.