Tiny House
More About The National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation • Join Now!
Community News

Pope Questions Interfaith Dialogue

NCDD member Martin Rutte just sent me a copy of this fascinating New York Times article, which reports that the Pope has written that “an inter-religious dialogue in the strict sense of the word is not possible…without putting one’s faith in parentheses.”  I’m honestly not clear on what the Pope means by “putting one’s faith in parentheses,” but it reminds me of several conversations we had during the conference planning process for NCDD Austin.  When we talked about organizing an interfaith dialogue among local religious leaders, some of the concerns expressed by representatives of different faiths who had experienced interfaith dialogue were that (1) we don’t want yet another Hummus Dialogue (“gee – we all like hummus!”) and (2) we don’t want a safe, contrived, self-congratulatory conversation that doesn’t get into any depth about the issues.  These two statements seemed to typify what they had experienced in interfaith dialogues before.

And while planning our panel of conservatives (which ended up being the best-reviewed and most appreciated session at NCDD Austin), one of our conservative friends expressed how for a long time he had felt like dialogue demanded that he “check his convictions at the door” in order to have an open mind and let go of assumptions. He explained that people who believe in absolute truths — including people with strong religious faith — can feel very threatened by the idea of open dialogue. Perhaps this is what the Pope was referring to.

Check out the article below, and please leave a comment to let us know what you think. What do YOU think the Pope meant by “putting one’s faith in parentheses”? And if you disagree with his statements about interfaith dialogue, how would you respond to someone who makes these statements?

Pope Questions Interfaith Dialogue

By RACHEL DONADIO
Published: November 23, 2008 New York Times

ROME — In comments that could have broad implications in a period of intense inter-religious conflict, Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday cast doubt on the possibility of interfaith dialogue but called for more discussion of the practical consequences of religious differences.

The pope’s comments were from a letter he wrote to Marcello Pera, an Italian center-right politician and scholar whose forthcoming book, “Why We Must Call Ourselves Christian,” argues that Europe should stay true to its liberal, Christian roots. A central theme of Benedict’s papacy has been to focus attention on the Christian roots of an increasingly secular Europe.

In comments from the letter that appeared on Sunday in Corriere della Sera, Italy’s leading daily, the pope said the book “explained with great clarity” that “an inter-religious dialogue in the strict sense of the word is not possible.” In theological terms, he added, “a true dialogue is not possible without putting one’s faith in parentheses.”

But Benedict added that “intercultural dialogue which deepens the cultural consequences of basic religious ideas” was important. He called for confronting “in a public forum the cultural consequences of basic religious decisions.”

The Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the pope’s comments seemed intended to draw interest for Mr. Pera’s book, not to cast doubt on the Vatican’s many continuing inter-religious dialogues.

“He has a papacy known for religious dialogue, he went to a mosque, he’s been to synagogues,” Rev. Lombardi said. “This means that he thinks we can meet and talk to the others and have a positive relationship.”

Instead, the pope’s remarks seemed aimed at pushing some more theoretical inter-religious conversations into the practical realm.

“He’s trying to get the Catholic-Islamic dialogue out of the clouds of theory and down to brass tacks: how can we know the truth about how we ought to live together justly, despite basic credal differences?” said George Weigel, a Catholic scholar and biographer of Pope John Paul II.

This month, the Vatican hosted a conference with Muslim religious leaders and scholars aimed at improving ties that had been strained in 2006, when some Muslims were offended when the pope quoted a Byzantine emperor criticizing the Prophet Muhammad.

The conference participants agreed to condemn terrorism and protect religious freedom, but they did not address issues of conversion and of the rights of Christians to worship in majority Muslim countries.

The Church is also engaged in dialogue with Muslims organized by the King of Saudi Arabia, a country where non-Muslims are forbidden from worshipping in public.

Sandy Heierbacher on FacebookSandy Heierbacher on LinkedinSandy Heierbacher on Twitter
Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

  More Posts  

Join In!

We always encourage a lively exchange of ideas, whether online or off. Questions? Please feel free to contact us directly.

  1. TJ Bowen says:

    Does anyone have the full text of the letter the Pope wrote to Marcello Pera?

  2. Kenoli Oleari says:

    I heard a conversation recently on Proposition 8 and the woman from a Sacramento church that support Proposition 8 said she'd be willing to talk to people with other positions but she didn't see much point in it as her position was absolute.

    We ALWAYS tell people in the meeting we design and facilitate that we want them to be uncompromising in telling each other what they think and feel.

    I think one of the issues here is thinking that the goal is resolving conflict. If instead you see it as discovering common ground between people who may hold even diametrically opposed "positions," it changes the game. The goal becomes, "Given who we are, what can we discover that makes sense to all of us," if it turns out that hummus is the only thing people share, that may be all they share.

    We find, actually, however, that people generally share much more in common than they disagree on. Also, the process of listening to all perspectives and seeking a shared outcome, often makes unimagined possibilities available and allows people to change long or hard held belief systems.

  3. I have a model, Birds of a Feather ™ that talks of canary's, penguins, eagles, barnswallows and swans. (more on my web site) The Pope is an eagles with strong ties to penguin. That means several things; 1)he want to write the rules, 2) rules are to be obeyed, 3) rules are only as "good" as the authority 4) the only rules that count are mine or those of the authority I serve. This model is NOT about religions, but about culture. Still it works.

    The issue is fear – a fear of being wrong, hence there is not much tolerance for diverse viewpoints because – i could be wrong and that's to frightening. Working to find common ground helps to diffuse the fear (not news to this group), the kicker is allowing more than one way of addressing common ground. Systems thinkers know this is normal, but most folks think there is only one way and that's why they have an attitude. Get around this belief and we can all work together. Go big picture and leave the details to small groups of like minded folks.

    Kathryn

  4. Pete Peterson says:

    It's important to focus on Benedict's words, "inter-religious dialogue in the strict sense of the word is not possible." Given what he's said over these last several years, his describing phrase, "strict sense of the word" must mean looking for consensus on doctrinal/dogmatic issues, which will/should never happen.

    Following Benedict's comments, Rome's leading Jewish leader, Rabbi Di Segni, said, ""Faiths cannot hold dialogue beyond a certain point because there are insurmountable limits. This is a limit to all religious dialogue: It's not like a political negotiation where I give you this and that and we make peace. It's not like we give up dogmas."

    This distinction in types of dialogues, and the subjects for which consensus is sought are important to keep in mind. Benedict has been very accommodating to dialogue opportunities with other faiths, and other Christian sects, but he is firm in his position that people should know why they believe what they believe, and should have the freedom to change their mind/heart. I'm not a Catholic, but there has hardly been a greater voice for religious freedom and freedom of conscience than Benedict in the last decade.

    At a speech given during his first trip to Turkey in 2006, Benedict said, "Our world must come to realize that all people are linked by profound solidarity with one another, and they must be encouraged to assert their historical and cultural differences not for the sake of confrontation, but in order to foster mutual respect." This allowance for celebration of different faiths is something Benedict has always defended.

  5. Rod Reyna says:

    The following article helped clarify things for me: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081124/ap_on_re_eu/e….

    Excerpts:

    Since becoming pope in 2005, Benedict has made improving interfaith relations a theme of his pontificate…The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Benedict's words do "not put in doubt the pope's interreligious commitment."

    "(Interreligious) dialogue does not mean questioning one's own faith," Lombardi said. "It deals with the many other aspects that come from one's personal belief, cultural, historical … as well as their consequences."

    Rome's chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni, welcomed the pope's remarks "for their clarity." He said the comments were "opportune and interesting" in that they set the limits of religious dialogue.

    "Faiths cannot hold dialogue beyond a certain point because there are insurmountable limits," Di Segni told The Associated Press on Monday. "This is a limit to all religious dialogue: It's not like a political negotiation where I give you this and that and we make peace. It's not like we give up dogmas." Di Segni, however, urged clarification on certain elements in the pope's remarks, such as where to draw the line between religious dialogue as opposed to cultural dialogue. "He has set the limits, which were necessary. We must then see where it goes from there," the Jewish leader said.

    A spokesman for an Italian Muslim Group, UCOII, also called for further clarification. He told Corriere della Sera that "dialogue among believers exists: We don't hold a dialogue on our faiths … but we do on how we can coexist, each in our diversity."

  6. Hi Sandy,

    We recently had an inter-faith dialogue where individuals were invited to attend. We had about 75 people people, about twice as many as we were hoping for.

    Religious leaders don't necessarily see the advantage of an exchange of ideas, but the congregations do. We had very enthusiastic participation.. We should look beyond the leaders and engage the members.

    Trip Barthel

  7. Here's an email NCDD member Trip Barthel sent me on Monday…

    Hi Sandy,

    We recently had an inter-faith dialogue where individuals were invited to attend. We had about 75 people, about twice as many as we were hoping for.

    Religious leaders don't necessarily see the advantage of an exchange of ideas, but the congregations do. We had very enthusiastic participation.. We should look beyond the leaders and engage the members.

    Trip Barthel

  8. Cynthia Gibson (author of Citizens at the Center) emailed this to me on Monday in response to the article…

    My church (Marble — the big one here in NYC) does an annual interfaith dialogue among three prominent religious leaders — Jewish, Islam, and Christian. If you're interested, you can go to:
    http://www.marblechurch.org/SermonArchive/tabid/2

    …and click on "Last Sunday's Sermon" on the top right hand corner….

  9. There is need of interfaith dialouges.

  10. Dr. Mcclay says:

    “Interfaith dialogue is a must today, and the first step in establishing it is forgetting the past, ignoring polemical arguments, and giving precedence to common points, which far outnumber polemical ones.” (Fethullah Gulen)
    Fethullah Gulen
    Fethullah Gulen News
    More

Post Your Comment!

 

-