DIALOGUE A NEW WAY OF BEING HUMAN
Tom Kunnunkal SJ
We live in a multi-cultural and multi-religious world.
We live in a world that makes us feel good. We also live in a world that is not at ease. Many, in our world, experience a lot of tension and fear about what could happen that would cause them injury, even serious injury or death. We live in a modern world created through knowledge and technology, a world of great abundance. Side by side, we also find many, both the rich and the poor, experiencing lack or absence of inner peace and hence a scarcity mentality. Adding more items to the many items we already have will not help us to find a solution. We need a new mindset, a new relationship, a new connection, a new way of being human. God in his wisdom has created a beautiful world. One great reason that the world is so beautiful is that it is so diverse. We see it well illustrated in Nature. We see it in every human being as well, so uniquely different from every other, with no duplicates. It does not take much imagination to realize how quickly we will get totally bored with a world and its peoples if everything and everyone looked the same and behaved the same way. That will be an insufferable hell on earth. So we thank God for diversity. We thank God for the diverse, multi-religious and multi-cultural India we have. Each community and its peoples have made so many significant contributions to create the beautiful India we have. This is also the strength of India. Therefore, inter-faith dialogue must remain a non-negotiable constituent of the new India we want to build together. We then see Dialogue as a planned effort to sustain and take forward this beautiful India. That is why we need to resist strongly any attempt to make India a mono-cultural, a mono-religious society.
What are the stumbling blocks?
Religions were meant to promote togetherness and communion and not to divide people. I find a fundamental cause for division in the three religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which share a common Abrahamic spiritual foundation. Each makes the claim that they have the truth and the whole truth and that God has made a special revelation to them alone. God’s saving presence in the world and the way God reveals Self to us humans is a mystery. God is beyond any borders and boundaries that we humans create. Can truth be proprietary to any one group or religious tradition? Obviously, only God can claim to be the sole and ultimate proprietor of all truth. But God shares His truth with all of us and to some of His saints and prophets, He shares more specially and deeply.
Restoring the integrity of God’s world, a world corrupted by our human actions, can only be a joint venture, by persons of all religious traditions. Why do I say that? Such a huge cosmic project cannot be successfully achieved, by any single group. Christians and Muslims, forming nearly 40 percent of the world population, have a major share of that responsibility.
Dialogue is an effective strategy to recreate God’s beautiful world. It is a strategic instrument for this re-creation and for the fashioning of an alternate human society. If we see dialogue as an opportunity to convince the other of our truth and show them their error, we will surely fail, as we have numerous records of such failures in the past. Today’ world is an inter-connected world, with many wide open spaces in all sectors of life that are accessible to those who wish to do so. While this “open space” is expanding greatly in many sectors of life, there is a growing tendency to shrink within narrow borders, whether as a philosopher, a scientist or a believer in a particular religious tradition.
In the present state and conditions both globally and in India, the invitation is that we seek strategies to create an alternate universe, a new human community, the India without borders, as envisioned by the Constitution.
ISA, founded 33 years ago, is a small organization but with a large objective. It works to build harmonious relationships between Muslims, Christians, Hindus and other faith traditions. Specifically it aims to provide opportunities for Christians to have an experience of Muslim life. Listening to several of our Muslim brothers and sisters talk of how their Islamic faith is guiding and directing their practical life and decisions will provide great inspiration to us, Christians.
We are all pilgrims seeking to find God in our human hearts. The invitation is that we join hands and travel together as fellow pilgrims. Commitment to integral human liberation can become the meeting point for all religions. The invitation is to develop a culture of dialogue in our life. It will demand that we respect all that the Spirit of God brings about in our human history, including the multiplicity of religions. While engaged in dialogue, we remain rooted in our own religious identity. We have beautiful instances of many persons from different religious traditions (true of many Christians and many Muslims) who have successfully built bridges of understanding with other faith traditions. There is enough evidence that those who approached followers of other faith traditions with preparation, knowledge and respect, have often found that a fruitful dialogue is indeed possible. We accept the mystery of God who is in constant dialogue with all whom He has created and in imitation of God, we are also invited to engage in dialogue with others.