A Risk Or Opportunity? Cardinal Explains Dialogue

Gives Case of Christian-Islam Relations as Example

LONDON, MAY 28, 2008 (Zenit.org) - Is interreligious dialogue a risk or an opportunity? It’s both, said the president of the pontifical council dedicated to overseeing it.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, spoke Tuesday at the University of London’s Heythrop College about the many facets of dialogue.

His address began with a historical look at the role of religion in society, noting the 18th-century tendency to separate reason and faith.

He proposed that God — dismissed in recent centuries — “is reappearing in public discourse today. News stands are full of books and magazines on religious subjects, esotericism and the new religions. ‘The revenge of God’ has been spoken of.”

The cardinal suggested that “men and women of this generation are once again asking themselves the essential questions on the meaning of life and death, on the meaning of history and of the consequences that amazing scientific discoveries might bring in their wake.”

And thus, “we are all condemned to dialogue,” Cardinal Tauran said.

And he explained: “What is dialogue? It is the search for an inter-understanding between two individuals with a view to a common interpretation of their agreement or their disagreement. It implies a common language, honesty in the presentation of one’s position and the desire to do one’s utmost to understand the other’s point of view.

“In interreligious dialogue it is a question of taking a risk, not of accepting to give up my own convictions but of letting myself be called into question by the convictions of another, accepting to take into consideration arguments different to my own or those of my community.”

3 goals

In this context, Cardinal Tauran explained the goals of the pontifical council he directs: “To further mutual knowledge, respect and collaboration among Catholics and the members of non-Christian religions; to encourage and coordinate the study of these religions; to promote the training of people destined for interreligious dialogue.”

The Vatican official explained that it “is always in the interest of leaders of societies to encourage interreligious dialogue and to draw on the spiritual and moral heritage of religions for a number of values likely to contribute to mental harmony, to encounters between cultures and to the consolidation of the common good.”

“Moreover,” he continued, “all religions, in different ways, urge their followers to collaborate with all those who endeavor to assure respect for the dignity of the human person and his fundamental rights; develop a sense of brotherhood and mutual assistance; […] help the men and women of today to avoid being enslaved by fashion, consumerism and profit alone.”

Thus, interreligious dialogue is both a risk and opportunity, the cardinal said.

Be not afraid

Cardinal Tauran acknowledged that many are frightened by dialogue.

“I answer that we should not fear religions: They generally preach brotherhood! It is their followers of whom we should be afraid. It is they who can pervert religion by putting it at the service of evil designs,” he said.

The pontifical council president proposed a recipe for dialoguing: “It is necessary to have a clear-cut spiritual identity: to know in whom and in what one believes; consider the other not as a rival, but as a seeker of God; to agree to speak of what separates us and of the values that unite us.”

He proposed the case of Islam: “What separates us cannot be camouflaged: the relationship with our respective Scriptures: for a Muslim the Quran is a ‘supernatural dictation’ recorded by the prophet of Islam, while for a Christian, revelation is not a book, but a person; the person of Jesus, whom Muslims consider to be only an exceptional prophet; the dogma of the Trinity which leads Muslims to say that we are polytheists.

“But there are also realities which see us united and sometimes even collaborating in the dissemination of the same cause: faith in the oneness of God, the author of life and of the material world; the sacred character of the human person which has permitted, for example, collaboration of the Holy See and of Muslim countries with the United Nations Organization to prevent resolutions that damage families; vigilance to avoid symbols considered ‘sacred’ from being made the object of public derision.”

Cardinal Tauran then indicated areas where Muslims and Christians can collaborate in promoting the common good. He mentioned as an example the defense of the sacredness of human life before the United Nations.

To conclude his address, the prelate said: “If I may say so, believers are prophets of hope. They do not believe in fate. They know that — gifted by God with a heart and intelligence — they can, with his help, change the course of history in order to orientate their life according to the project of the Creator: that is to say, make of humanity an authentic family of which each one of us is a member.”