True Dialogue with those of Other Faiths

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The Church teaches that we are to engage in dialogue with other faiths. We are not to be syncretic, incorporating whatever it is we like. Nor are we to engage in wishful thinking about what other faiths truly think and believe.

However, how does one carry one a dialogue in ignorance of what other faiths believe? How can we show the path to the fullest revelation of God, if we have no notion of where a believer of another faith is with respect to God?

I've always been intrigued by Eastern Religion. This may be because they are so utterly alien to the western mind. It may be because they systems that are so ancient and hence partial, incomplete, revelations of God's will.

The passage that follows came to hand by an act of serendipity (providence) and it clarifies for me some of the misapprehensions that have been acquired through years of inaccurate schooling.

from Dancing with Siva
Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami

Do Other Gods Exist Apart from Siva?

Sloka 21

Supreme God Siva has created all the Gods and given them distinct existence and powers, and yet He pervades them wholly. They are separate but inseparable. At the deepest level, nothing exists apart from Him. Aum.


God Siva is the Supreme Being, the Lord of lords. He alone prevails everywhere. Not an atom moves except by His will. Ganesa, Karttikeya, Indra, Agni and all the 330 million Gods of Hinduism are beings just as we are, created by Lord Siva and destined to enjoy union with Him.

Reading this dispelled vague notions instilled by past courses of Hinduism as a polytheistic system. It is admittedly quite different from Christian belief, and any comparisons between the two are likely to strain on system or another. For example if one were to liken Hindu Gods to Angels, it would probably not convey the fullness of what Hindus believe about their Gods. So, it is not possible to compare one on one. But it is fascinating that a system that boasts of 330 million deities boils down to the statement that "nothing exists apart from Him." Right there, the Christian and the Hindu have a common ground for conversation and for beginning to explore the truth. What precisely does it mean for this to be so. If all other Gods are created beings who partake of His divinity, then what is it that they are most like in a Christian system of thought.

Ignorance precludes evangelism. We needn't believe what the Hindus believe, but it were best to understand it lest our communication be insulting and immediately off-putting with respect to sharing the common truths of our faiths. The most frequent mistake in evangelism (that I have seen) is arrogance and a presumption of superiority that alienates the person being approached from the truth. "Be ye as cunning as serpents and as harmless as doves." Speaking to a person of another faith, particularly a faith we do not understand, it is best to have a grounding, to really listen to what the person says before we start laying the truth on them. Perhaps they already know something of the truth. Perhaps they already know of a supreme God without whom nothing at all exists, without whose every thought being itself would collapse.

I don't know why this occurred to me today, but I was looking through a modern Hindu Catechism and was struck by how much that was there is reminiscent of much of Catholic teaching--the purpose of sex in marriage, the necessity of the preservation of chastity before marriage, the belief in one God.

But then there are great chasms between us--Hindu teaching holds that there is no intrinsic evil in the world. (Now we might get into a debate about what is meant by "intrinsic evil"; however, my brief reading has made clear that even if I acknowledge that everything was created good, I am still miles away from what a Hindu seems to hold true about creation.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to hear how the voice of God has made itself heard, even if differently, and to our ears indistinctly, outside of His central and definitive revelation in the persons of the Chosen People and in the single person of the Lord of All, the Incarnation, the Crucified.

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I got this truth when I studied Vatican II in grad school. We must build on the truth the other has in order to evangelise him or her. I am glad you are seeing this, too.

Our parish is about to start a series of classes on the other major faiths so that we might learn about what they believe. This will give a starting point for dialogue and for evangelising. Since I know some Buddhists, I am hoping to attend that class in order to broaden my understanding of their beliefs. (My pastor is head of Ecumenism and INterfaith dialogue for our diocese so this sort of class offering is only natural in his parish.)

Dear Katherine,

This has long been one of my working principles. The difficulty has always been finding unbiased sources or sources intimately familiar with the religion in dialogue. Too often what we get is a western interpretation filtered through miles of gauze either leaning toward syncretism or leaning toward Feeneyism. Neither direction is acceptable, as you are well aware. So I stumbled across this book which was labelled "A Modern Hindu Catechism." And was astonished at the depth of my ignorance of this religion of nearly a billion people (or perhaps more than a billion, I don't rightly know at this point.)

Anyway, good luck in your own studies, and I shall continue to read this book and share points from time to time. What is EXTREMELY interesting is the view of western religion through these eyes. Very, very interesting and revealing--and startlingly wrong on some points. Just as I would be were I to try to describe the central beliefs of a practicing Hindu.



"Be ye as cunning as serpents and as harmless as doves."

It's interesting that you quote this, because it came into my mind the other night after a conciliatory conversation with a family member I don't know very well and was estranged from. I found myself thinking, "Okay, but how do I combine a friendlier, more open attitude to them with the convictions that may really not be as amenable to an easy relationship with them as they may think?" and the above came to mind, though I wasn't sure if it really applied.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on January 2, 2005 3:37 PM.

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