Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

A Swidlerian and Jain Prolegomenon to Dialogue

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

A Swidlerian and Jain Prolegomenon to Dialogue

Article excerpt

I. The Pluralistic Milieu

Religious pluralism is a complex sociological phenomenon in the modern world that -- despite its presenting a timely and fertile milieu for understanding our neighbors and ourselves more fully -- arouses fear, suspicion, and intolerance. Dialogue can become an effective precursor to understanding, if it is undertaken with the appropriate attitude. It should not be dialogue on my terms or yours but on our terms by mutual agreement.

Dialogue must not become polemical or dialectical; the former functions on the basis of confrontation and refutation and the latter on the basis of systematic reasoning for the juxtaposition of opposing views in order to find a resolution to conflicts. This resolution itself can become a new thesis, only to be confronted by its antithesis for further debates. If partners in dialogue would recognize that the assertion of every proposition is only a point of view and, thus, incomplete with regard to the knowability of reality in its totality, then dialogue could steer clear of confrontation. Moreover, the false belief that originates from a specific point of view that is erroneously assumed and dogmatically asserted to be the whole truth would no longer be an issue, and dialogue could become conversational with a sincere determination to communicate, tolerate, understand, and grow.

Leonard Swidler, in giving a brief definition of dialogue, states that it is a conversation between two or more individuals with different points of view on a subject. The fundamental goal of dialogue is for partners in dialogue to learn from one another, understand, grow, and change for the better.(1) Patience, courtesy, and the ability to listen attentively with an open mind will be helpful in this process. Swidler makes it clear that dialogue does not mean debate, nor is it intended to force change. Partners in dialogue must be open-minded and sympathetic to one another's points of view, willing to empathize, and even prepared to change voluntarily with dignity if convinced by arguments so to do. This approach is quite different from that of the past, when the ultimate aim of dialogue was intended to defeat our partner because we believed that no one but us had the absolute truth. Such a dogmatic position is brought out in Pope Gregory's condemnation of those who believed that salvation was possible through faiths other than Christianity(2) and in the well-known declaration of Pope Boniface VIII, "extra ecciesiam nulla salus" (outside the church there is no salvation).

There are two issues to be considered here. First, there are different apprehensions, interpretations, and expressions of truth. The ancient text of Hinduism, the Rig Veda declares (I.164.46), "Truth is One, the wise call it by different names"; hence, "Brahman" for the Hindu, "Dharmakaya" for the Buddhists of the Mahayana tradition, "Tao" for the Taoists, "God" for the Christians, and "Allah" for the Muslims. We cannot meaningfully speak about the Christian truth or the Hindu truth, for example. We can, however, make sense by speaking about the Christian or the Hindu apprehension, interpretation, and expression of truth within their respective historical and cultural context. Any religion that makes exclusive and absolute truth-claims about the revelation of God -- and on that basis asserts itself as the only authentic religion -- seeks to do the impossible by putting a limit on the infinite love of God and on God's powers of manifestation. The Hindu mystic, Sri Ramakrishna, explained that the manifestations of God are many and that God can be known through any one of them.(3) The celebrated Muslim poet-mystic, Rumi, wrote in his poem, "The One True Light," that God is the core of existence but that the disagreement among the religions of the world are due to different points of view.(4) From the Judaeo-Christian tradition, the prophet Malachi poses the timely soul-searching questions when he asks, "Have we not all one father? …

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