INTER-RELIGIOUS DIALOGUE VIS-À-VIS FAITH IN CHRIST
Dr. Ishanand Vempeny
At the beginning of a course in Missiology I placed the following issues before the students of Theology: “Even in secular discourse, ‘with the missionary zeal’, ‘with a sense of mission’, ‘taking risks like a missionary’ etc., have become common phrases to express a person’s single-minded and wholehearted dedication for a cause. With the awareness that the non-Christians can be saved in their own religions and with the knowledge of the Church’s imperatives for inter-religious dialogue, can a missionary today be as zealous, dedicated and focused as a St. Paul, St. Francis Xavier or a Matteo Ricci to preach Christ and His Kingdom Ideal, to the non-Christians?” As far as I am concerned the responses of most of the students were somewhat satisfactory.
One said: “I do not believe in a Dante’s hell where a virtuous Socrates and a righteous Seneca had to be thrown into, albeit into relatively less painful and tormenting flames, for the only reason that they were not baptized. But I am outraged at the sight of the coexistence of dehumanizing poverty and misery in India and elsewhere, side by side with shameless and heartless luxury and consumerism. For instance, have a look at the multibillion rupees (eight thousand crores) mansion, near Malabar Hill, Mumbai, built by Mukesh Ambani for private use. According to a report, from the terrace of its 27th floor one can see some of the huge slums of Mumbai. I consider it my bounden duty to fight against this type of anti-Christian injustice and economic inequality”.
Another student responded saying: “I consider the God preached by Jesus Christ is a God of love and compassion as seen in the parable of the Prodigal Son and that of the Good Shepherd who goes after the lost Sheep. But for many Christians religious practices are meant to escape from the eyes of a revengeful, angry and cruel God. This is even more obvious among many non-Christians who spend a lot of time and money in rituals to placate, angry, vindictive and cruel gods and goddesses. But a God of love cannot be preached meaningfully without loving the preached at. The message of a God of love will become exceptionally effective if it is done in loving dialogue with the non-Christians themselves”.
The response of another student was more or less in these terms though he made special reference to Christ’s Kingdom of God ideal. He said: “I will preach as Christ preached the Kingdom of God ideal in a world where there are so many anti-Kingdom structures like caste system, socially approved anti-feminine attitudes and the economic policies of the private as well as public institutions which caters primarily to the rich and the influential. I would like to spread the message of fellowship and justice of the Kingdom in collaboration with the non-Christian religions which too have similar institutional frame-works”.
I shall limit myself with these responses overlooking some other important ones like the intense desire of some to get involved in fighting the rampant corruption in India and the plan of another student to work with groups, both Christian and non-Christian, for inter-religious harmony and cooperation. These responses directly or indirectly can lead us to the heart of the topic of this article, namely, responding, on the one hand, to the Church’s imperatives for inter-religious dialogue and on the other hand, remaining committed to Jesus and His cause without unhealthy compromises. By and large, most of the students were opposed to any sort of one-sided preaching. The implied idea of this one-sided preaching is that “I know more than you” and “I am better than you”. In normal adult discourse such ideas are very odious. The Christian Preachers should also become listeners to the non-Christian message in the spirit of inter-religious dialogue and cooperation.
The issues placed before the students and their responses can help us to begin this article in the right context. On the one hand we have the dialogue imperatives starting from Vat. II and on the other, the imperatives of Christian faith to preach the Gospel all over the world in response to Christ’s final commission. In the first part of this article we shall describe the Church’s teachings on inter-religious dialogue. In the second section of this part we shall briefly sketch the reasons behind these teachings and the emphasis on the love-centredness of dialogue. We shall also consider some Biblical texts which are dialogue-friendly when read in the context of religious pluralism and inter-religious dialogue and cooperation.
Our concern in the second part is to look at the saving message of Christ in the context of the world religions. Here we shall present the core of the Christian message in terms of the Kingdom of God (KG) ideal interpreted as World Family (WF) ideal, an ideal central to Hinduism and less obviously to the main stream religions in India. In the third part some points will be made about the praxis of dialogue.
Dr. Ishanand Vempeny