In these days"dialogue" has become a key-word. The term counts for the observation that humankind does not only possess language, but that humans are essentially "conversation"; in German we say "Gespräch" whereby the prefix "Ge-" connected with a noun forms a collective in which a plurality is gathered as in "Gespräch" which consists in a collective of speech actions and leads to an exchange of speech. Thus humans might be even defined as beings who essentially are existent by
1 See Brhadaranyaka Upanishads III, 9.26 (Appendix 2, nr.1); Laotse, Tao Te Ching ch. 1 and ch. 11 (Appendix 2, nr. 3).
the exchange of words and who even are constituted in their being by togetherness in speaking. Often two things are overlooked, though:
(1) Dialogue is stressed especially where humans are being taken serious in their personality and their individual dignity. It does not make sense to talk about inter-personality and inter-subjectivity as long as humans are not respected as human subjects and human persons. Unfortunately, what in the western world is widely considered a matter of fact cannot be taken for granted for all other cultural regions. If dialogue is supposed to be more than an instrument of peaceful conduct, it must be understood as the central way of human togetherness, in the sense that the other is respected as a human person and as a subject. Therefore, westerners are not only to discuss the question of human rights and dignity in general; they have to bring up the questions in other cultural regions, also in Asia, in China etc. and ask very concretely for their understanding of the single person. That the question of "person" is a grave problem wherever we deal with the beginning and the end of human life also in our own hemisphere should not be passed over in silence.
(2) Dialogue attains a place of central importance for human togetherness where Weltanschauung and religions assign to language a special place. That is in no cultural and religious ambient so much the case as in Judaism and Christianity. This insight is not to be understood simply in the sense of superiority, even if for a long time the western world gave that impression. However, it offers an occasion to examine mutually the way of human encounters and behavior.
The fact that the western world also passes through a process of learning, can be gathered from the fact that we live in the post-Cartesian and also the post-secular time. For many centuries westerners have been living by the short formula attributed to the French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650) "Cogito ergo sum," "I think, therefore I am"; since then the emphasis put on the human ego determines human consciousness. Only toward the end of the 20th century the situation changed, and more attention was given to the other and strange. In fact, increasingly the own consciousness was thought from the side of the other, almost in the sense of "You are, therefore I am." Jewish thinkers like Martin Buber (1878-1965), Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929) and lately Emmanuel Levinas (*1906) changed western thought toward "you -> I -> we."
The concept "person" lost its one-sided stress upon individuality and gained as a second essential characteristic relationality - innerwordly, inter-human and transcendent. In Christian theology new attention was paid to the Trinitarian understanding of God. At the end the emphasis upon the relational element in the concept of person led to the point that those who so far defined person above all as individual being, had to reformulate their understanding. This will be necessary especially in the dialogue with Asians, but also in the western discussion of the human subject.
As soon as we introduce the points mentioned into the dialogue of religions, the other religions are being asked for their anthropological arguments and premises, and they are invited to reconsider the basic elements of dialogical behavior. Unfortunately doubts against a still prevalent western and Christian claim of absolutism and superiority are existent as before, which impedes a true competition. Actually it does not help much if we work more with insinuations and suspicions and not with clear arguments. This applies also to the dealing with basic convictions of belief which should be discussed without agitation, calmly and with equanimity.
It is basic for a true dialogue that all partners be treated as equals in that they are all subjects. In being human as such there is neither hierarchy nor any other kind of rank. On the long run content of a dialogue, however, is not dialogue itself. In the case of formal dialogues it is meaningful to come to an agreement about concrete procedures and conditions, about purpose and topics and similar points beforehand. But usually in the process of dialogue the participants are less concerned with themselves but with a third element: the project in mind, the problem to be solved, the questions which call for an answer in theory or practice. In this sense people of different origin are struggling with the great existential problems like the beginning and end of the universe, the meaning of humanity, concretely also with poverty and the just distribution of the goods of the earth, the balance between ecology and economy, with justice and peace, the overcoming of conflicts, the ethically responsible behavior regarding human life, its begin and an end worthy of a human being, with the limits of human disposal, finally with what is totally beyond human disposal, what after all many call "God."
In their anthropology all religions return to their origin. As a religious origin it is not simply historical; for it refers also to the inex pressible core, to the "empty space" or - in our language - to "God." In-terfaith dialogue is essentially grounded in human experiences - again in Christian terms - with God, in the presence of his Spirit in our life and in the world. Therefore, we talk about "spiritual experiences" and connect dialogue with living spirituality. However, by talking about spiritual experience we are not to overlook that all our experiences occur as bodily experiences, in history and in world, not isolated from the reality we are living in every day.
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