INTER-RELIGIOUS DIALOGUE VIS-À-VIS FAITH IN CHRIST
Dr. Ishanand Vempeny
III. OUR WAY OF ENTERING INTO DIALOGUE
A little more than a decade ago I was attending a seminar on Christian Fundamentalism in Manila, Philippines. I had the opportunity of meeting various groups of fundamentalists including those with military names like the Navigators of the Lord, Crusaders for World Conquest, etc. For the seminar, we had invited the representatives from some five groups for a panel discussion. All of them propounded the ideal that only those who have been baptized through the Holy Spirit and have had the experience of having been born again could attain eternal salvation. According to them not only the Non-Christians but also the Christians of the Main Line Churches who did not receive the baptism of the spirit will go to eternal hell. When I asked them whether they believed that the Christian God is a God of love, two of them with many familiar and unfamiliar Biblical quotations tried to prove to me that He is Love Itself. One spoke about God’s unconditional love quoting a number of biblical verses and said that any sin is forgiven by God, provided that we go to Him in repentance.
I told them bluntly that in spite of their quotations, the God whom they believed in is very much like the devil I had read about in the Bible. In spite of the uproar, shouting, “blasphemy, blasphemy!”, I managed to put in the following words, when slowly silence was being restored:
Please listen to me. You say that God created, as an expression of His love, the whole of humanity within the universe. But this God watches daily more than one and a half billion Christians of the Main Line Churches move towards eternal damnation day-in and day-out. Similarly he watches with no particular concern or interest more than a billion Chinese, a billion Muslims and some 800 millions Hindus move towards eternal hell ‘where the fire never gets extinguished and where the worms die not’. He is not a loving person if he does not do anything to stop this horror. He is sadistically cruel to watch the eternal torture and pain of his creatures when he could stop this horror by his supreme power. Certainly he is totally unwise to create and preside over such a horrible creation. The attributes of sadistic cruelty, the supreme power unwilling to help the hapless tortured billions, and unwise and loveless decisions, and so on, belong to my concept of the devil.
The basis of Christian faith is the experience of God as love (1 Jn. 4: 8 & 16), as an unconditionally loving Father (Lk. 15), and all humans as brothers and sisters (Mt. 23:8 and 9). We called this experience of various degrees of intensity and depth Abba Experience and we affirmed that it is the basis of the KG ideal. This is the reason why the Church insists that our approach to the Non-Christians should be with respect, openness and love.
Here an important point has to be made very briefly. One of the aspects of our faith commitment is our faith in the uniqueness of Christ for our Salvation. We shall not get into the various NT texts and their interpretations according to which salvation is only through Christ: “I AM THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE” (Jn. 14:6). “For of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved” (AA 4:12). “For there is only one God, and there is only one mediator between God and mankind, himself a man, Christ Jesus who gave himself as ransom for them all” (1 Tim. 2: 5-6). How can we find some sort of openness in these kinds of absolutistic statement?
It is far beyond the scope of this paper to answer this question somewhat satisfactorily. We shall make briefly a few points which could lead one to some meaningful answers. The first point is that we should read these apparently exclusivistic texts in the context of inclusivistic ones. We have given above considerable amount of space for this latter type of texts. Often theologians try to answer this question taking recourse to what they call ‘Logos-theology’ of the Apostolic Fathers. Here the inclusivistic aspect of Christ’s name, namely the ‘Cosmic Christ’, is taken up. Some theologians consider these exclusive texts in terms of ‘Love-language’ of legitimate ‘exaggeration’ rather than ‘the Science-language’ of precision and accuracy.
Non-Christian Scriptures in the Dialogal Context
After contextual involvement when the liberation theologians read the Bible they saw it in a new light. These theologians took seriously the socio-economic context. For us in India Religious Pluralism is another challenging contextual reality. This context leads us to biblical texts which are dialogue friendly. We can also make use of the non-Christian scriptures to get in touch with the dialogue friendly texts and texts that promote WF ideals.
One of the Rigvedic text very often quoted by the Christians as well as the Hindus is the following: Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti (=Truth is one but sages interpret diversely, Rg. 1:164:46) cfr. also Ekam santam bahudha kalpayanti (=Though truth is one, it is diversely imagined, Rg. 10:1l4:5). Since Hinduism is very much a dialoging religion the non-Hindus can find many such texts without laboriously looking for them. Islam however is usually considered not as a dialogue friendly religion. But once some initiatives were taken up for Christian-Muslim dialogue especially in the West, people began to point out various Quranic texts which are open to other religions. One of such texts is found in Quran 29:46: “Our God and your God is One; and it is to Whom we bow”. Another Quranic verse which is often quoted in the dialogal context is the following: “To each among you have prescribed a Law and an
If God so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to
test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The
goal of you all is to God; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters
in which you dispute” (5:48).
Inter-Religious Dialogue and Nation Building
In the Chennai allocution (1986) Pope John Paul II said that for creating a better world we need inter-religious dialogue which proceeds from the “internal drive of charity”. A little more than a decade back a Christian priest invited me to inaugurate a bridge on the river Manimala to help the pilgrims to reach Shabarimala through a short-cut. In the building of this bridge contributions in money and hard labour were made by Hindus, Muslims and Christians. On the inauguration day as on the days of the common works, women from all the three religions cooked food together and served it to all the participants.
A crying need of our country is the creation of an inter-religious front to oppose all pervading corruption. The so-called people who seem to be advocating the value of dharma do not seem to do much effectively to oppose adharma – in this case the adharma of corruption. This adharma is very powerful. But if all the religions in India bring their resources together they can effectively oppose the adharma of corruption. But unfortunately for us in India there are rivalries among religions and are divided among themselves.
There could be many other areas for dialogal cooperation. Education and medical care for the poor, finding employment for the unemployed, establishing whom for the aged, etc. are very much in need of inter-religious collaboration. But it is far beyond the scope of this paper to describe dialogal action in many such sectors. Indeed, dialogue in terms of Jnana (inter-religious research, seminars, etc.), karma (dialogal action in various fields) and bhakti (inter-religious prayer, celebrations of festival) is very much in keeping with the Indian Ethos and it can our country more and more united and powerful. Jai Hind.