A person, who talks about his spiritual experiences, becomes a "confessor" or a witness of faith. If interreligious dialogue is not to end up in a mere exchange of information, it calls for a profession of one's belief. That is the case because people who approach each other with an open and sincere heart, cannot pass over their most precious good in silence. Who believes that he should conceal the most precious he possesses, is either egoistic or unwilling to share, or he himself is not convinced. Then he has to examine his attitude.

I remember one of my most impressive experiences in India, the visit of a Sikh temple in Bangalore. The priest showed us around on a Sunday morning and explained in detail the altar room, the holy book, the place of celebration. Before he dismissed us at the door, he put some glutinous mass into our hands from a little vessel. When I hesitated and did not know how to react, my Catholic companion said: "It is prasad" The word means "God's grace and benevolence." The gift came from the ritual in the morning. In a way the priest included us in the prayer he had offered in the morning. It was a kind of communion he shared with us by letting us participate in the most precious he had to give and which was important for him. Really, it was a sharing. Recalling this experience I am sure that some Asians who attended my Sunday mass in Bonn and stood in front of me with open hands before communion, understood the sermon as an announcement of prasad so that as a matter of fact they felt invited and participated in a sharing of what for Christians is most valuable and precious.

Unfortunately historical and rational thinking in the western world frequently covers the Christian profession like a frost. As mentioned before, one root of the ecclesial crisis is the rift between theological reflection and hermeneutical endeavor on the one hand, and religious exercises, sacramental and other devotions and life practice on the other hand. Wherever religion is practiced without reflection, it is endangered by fundamentalism. However, wherever theology is done without practice, there is the tendency that theology turns into a Christian science of religion where the Christian message neither determines one's standpoint nor leads to an adequate engagement any further. Occasionally Christian participants in interfaith dialogues and actions have to put up with being asked about their own religious commitments, as, for instance, westerners involved in actions in the Middle East have related recently. Another question connected with the case of truly existential involvement is concerned with the possibility of conversion.


For all religions it is essential that they bring to a world full of sufferings and pains, catastrophes and guilt a message of liberation and reconciliation, and that they show ways how people can find their way out and even go with them the way. Often the plurality of such messages leads - as in the dispute of the disciples about the first places in the kingdom which Jesus announced (see Mk 9:33-37par) - to the dispute about the validity of the messages. Here, however, I would like to call attention to the fact that the various ways of passing-over to other points of view, the use of different languages etc. include an even more important possibility: the existential change into another religion, what we call "conversion." We may even say that the existential side of religion should obtain greater preference compared with the objective findings in the history of religion and religions. Although these findings have their impact on the official and public negotiations between the representatives of religions, they are subordinate when it comes to the questions of personal existence.

"Conversion" - from Latin conversio = turn, Greek metanoia = turn of thinking, thinking differently, anew - is, first of all, the expression of a radical change of one's standpoint or point of view. Converts leave behind - at least externally - their former standpoint and choose another one which becomes for them normative. The change might be motivated differently. The simplest case is given where someone declares after a long time of quest and search: Up to now I did not know where I stand and what I believe; now I have found my standpoint in a new way of life. There are other conversions where the convert is certain to have a conviction, but at once gets the impression that by converting he does not give up his former point of view but is only radicalizing it. Thus quite a few people who convert from Christianity to Islam think that in Islam they finally converted completely to God because only a Moslem is ready to let God be God. They change -as they think - from anthropocentrism to true theocentrism because God is the unique and only center of their life and of everything.

Such a change in one's past attitude may occur where the Incarnation of God is denied, or where God's personality is refused because thus apparently all anthropomorphous characteristics are taken from God and he is not anymore a superhuman being with human features. In fact, here the Divine or - in the words of John Hick, one of the leading figures of the pluralist theory, - "the Real" appears to be superior to the personal God. It is easily understood as long as the concept of person is still primarily interpreted as individuality, and individuality is more considered in its limitations than in its uniqueness. Transferred to the person of Jesus, he is above all seen in his limited humanity, not in his infinite divinity. In a new formula, a distinction is made between totus Deus, which applies to Jesus who - in all his limitations - is totally God, and totum Dei, the totality of God which has to surpass even the limits of totus Deus.

Conversions can be, first, processes of deepening the past way of life; secondly, processes of removal from a former way of life combined with an approach to a new foundation and meaning of life. Finally, they can be simply discoveries on the way of life which lead to new orientations and a fundamental orientation of life as such.

In the meantime it is part of human conduct that people select from the supply offered by various religions whatever apparently fits their life. As mentioned before, historical facts of the history of religions become less important than the fascination of personalities like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, the popes John XXIII and John Paul II or the Dalai Lama. It is interesting to note that for Mahatma Gandhi the historicity of Jesus played a secondary role. Indeed the Sermon of the Mount was so impressive for him that it did not matter whether Jesus had lived or not, if only he had proclaimed the words ascribed to him.


For quite a few people it is annoying that representatives of different religions quarrel with each other and plead obstinately in favor of their own positions. From the concrete Asian situation Aloysius Pieris calls this kind of dialogue "a luxury."2 In fact this rather theoretical attitude becomes intensified where religions peremptorily judge each other in the question of salvation. We mentioned the famous Catholic slogan "Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus" (= "Outside the Church there is no salvation"), which in the meantime it is replaced by the sentence "Extra Christum nulla salus" (= "Outside of Christ there is no salvation"). Both phrases are not any longer to be interpreted in an exclusivist sense, but are only to be understood in an inclusivist way, and that in a way of mutual inclusiveness.

The advantage of mutual inclusiveness consists in the fact that - as opposed to the pluralist approach - the different points of view are not only noticed, but put into relation to each other. People of different sides open themselves to each other in mutual inclusiveness, and that in such a way, that a different understanding of salvation does not exclude one another existentially as long as the incompatibility is not proved. In relation to this the representatives of the pluralist theory are content with the confirmation of the actual existence of a plurality of religious convictions without entering into a comparative evaluation. Such an attitude is not truly dialogic, and that all the more as it does not surpass the level of a theoretical intellectual game. In a time of unrest, distress, epidemics and poverty where every day thousands of people die by starvation and undernourishment some friendly perceptions and the improvement of atmosphere alone do not suffice.

After all, the best known explanation of an inclusive attitude is still Karl Rahner's conception of an "anonymous Christian." In fact it was originally phrased from a merely Christian point of view, but soon it provoked reactions from other sides replying with sentences like "If I am an anonymous Christian, then you are an anonymous Buddhist," or even "an anonymous atheist." At first sight, the concept "anonymous" apparently leads to an imposing or a neutralizing one's own name or even its loss. Yet wherever names are exchanged and mutually applied, first of all, one's own name is not destroyed, on the contrary, it produces an opening to someone else and then it presents the other with

2 See A. Pieris, Fire and Water. Orbis: Maryknoll, N.Y. 1996, p.156.

the most valuable which someone possesses, and this opening occurs mutually. We only have to realize that the name stands here for the identity of a person which cannot be easily exchanged.3

In the practice of Zen Buddhism several methods are applied to lead the disciple to a more rapid realization of the goal. E.g., the master gives him a so called köan, usually a short story which implies a problem or a puzzle which can hardly be solved in a rational or argumentative way so that it calls for some intuitive grasp. Well known is Master Hakuin's (1686-1789) demand: "Go and listen to the sound of one hand clapping!" Keiji Nishitani recounted a köan in order to introduce to his understanding of a perfect I-Thou relationship; it is titled Kyözan and "your Name":4

Kyözan asked Sanshö, "What's your name?"

"My name is Enen."

Kyözan laughed loudly.

The full name of Kyözan is Kyözan Ejaku, and the full name of Sanshö is Sanshö Enen. Evidently the mutual exchange of names can be taken as a contribution to the question treated here.

In view of the attitude requested for an interreligious dialogue we can return to the basic question regarding the relation of Christ to other religions by drawing some conclusions which could be - maybe should be - examined by the our partners in dialogue.

3 For an Islamic discussion of the problem of inclusiveness see M. Ayoub's article Nearest in Amity: Christians in the Quran and contemporary exegetical tradition, in I. Omar (ed.), A Muslim View of Christianity. Orbis: Maryknoll, N.Y. 2007, pp. 187-211.

4 See K. Nishitani, On the I-Thou Relationship in Zen Buddhism, in: The Eastern Buddhist [Kyoto] II/2, p. 71; for the Chinese context of the köan see The Blue Cliff Record. Ed. Thomas and J.C. Cleary. Shamala: Boulder & London 1977. Vol. II, pp. 429-433, case nr. 68 of the collection (Chin. Pi-yen-lu; Jap. Hekiganroku).



We summarize our deliberations in some propositions:

(1) Faith in Jesus Christ, "truly man, truly God": Facing other religions there is no reason that Christians reduce their faith in Christ. The basic conviction of Christians is that God communicated himself in Jesus of Nazareth once and for ever, totally and in an unequalled way and that following Christ in his life and his death leads to salvation. What is given in the life of Christ is valid for all humankind. Christians have to testify as their most precious legacy the faith in God's self-communication and self-abandonment in Jesus Christ, and to announce that in Jesus "truly man" we encounter "truly God."

• Catholic theology is rooted in its sources, the belief in Jesus Christ as it is alive and handed on in the tradition of the Church and her three levels of teaching authority: the entire people of God, theological reflection and the episcopal magisterium with the Pope as its head. That implies: We have to listen to the various voices inside the

Illustration of Master Kakuan's Ten Oxherding Pictures, 8th Station. Both Bull and Self Transcended (From Google: The Ten Oxherding Pictures)

Church, and have to give special reference to the definitive and normative statements as they are promulgated in the Church.

• Whatever has been safeguarded in the doctrinal frame work of the early Councils of the Church regarding the understanding of the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ has to be filled always anew with the announcement of Christ's teaching and acting. Jesus of Nazareth pronounced the kingdom of God. In view of his life, death and resurrection it calls for its continuous realization throughout history.

• Encountering with the living Christ leads at the same time to a renewal of our understanding of God. For in Jesus Christ God, who existing beyond the universe seems to be so unconcerned regarding the world, becomes part of the world and gets involved. The almighty God shares in Jesus the weakness of creation and stands on the side of the poor and the weak. People who stand before God with open and empty hands find their perfection and fulfillment in a God who sides with them.

• Open and empty hands are a topic also used in other religions. I like to recount only the 10th and final station of the famous Ten Ox-herding Pictures of the Chinese Zen Master Kakuan (12th century A.D.). Each of the ten stations consists in a picture and its description followed by various poems.5 The title of the 10th station varies: "Entering the City with Bliss-bestowing Hands" (D.T.Suzuki); "Entering the Market with Open Hands" (K. Tsujimura). The scenery has a touch of Pentecost when the enlightened man enters the market place:

His cottage gate is closed, and even the wisest know him not. No glimpses of his inner life are to be caught; for he goes on his own way without following the steps of the ancient sages. Carrying a gourd [as a symbol of emptiness - H.W.} he goes out into the market, leaning against a staff {no extra property he has, for he knows that the desire to possess is the curse of human life) he comes home. He is found in company with wine-bibbers and butchers, he and they are all converted into Buddhas.

5 The description and the first poem are taken from an edition prepared by D.T.Suzuki, Manual of Zen Buddhism. Grove Press Inc.: New York 1960, p. 134; the second and third poem from: The Ox and His Herdsman. Ed. by K. Tsujimura and H. Buchner from Master Daizökutsu R, Otsu and translated by M.H. Trevor. Hokuseido: Tokyo 1969, p.94.

poem 1

Bare-chested and bare-footed,

He comes out into the market place; Daubed with mud and ashes,

How broadly he smiles! There is no need

For the miraculous power of the gods, For he touches, and lo!

The dead trees are in full bloom.

poem 2

In a friendly manner this fellow comes from a foreign race. From time to time his face clearly shows the traits of the horse or of the donkey. If he flashes the iron staff as quickly as the wind -Amply and wide suddenly opens door and gates.

poem 3

Straight into the face the iron staff springs out of his sleeve.

Sometimes he speaks Hunnish, sometimes Chinese, with a great laugh on his cheeks.

If one understands how to meet one's own self and yet to remain unknown to the self -

The gate to the palace will open wide.

(2) Invitation, not judgment: The witness and announcement of Jesus Christ and God's kingdom is no judgment on other people but an invitation for all to listen to the call about the God-given salvation and to accept it.

• Long time non-Christians have been judged on behalf of the Christian self-understanding. Today it is the unanimous opinion of the Church that God "those who through no fault of their own are ignorant of the gospel" can lead "in ways known to himself" to faith (see Ad gentes nr.7; also Lumen gentium nr. 16).The role of the various religions in this process has to be clarified further in time to come. In Dominus Iesus as well as in the notification about Jacques Dupuis we not only find general statements about the salvific vocation of men, but also some assertions about the religions. With reference to Dei verbum nr.11 it is stated in Dominus Iesus nr.8 that God "does not fail to make himself present in many ways, not only to individuals, but also to entire peoples through their spiritual riches, of which their religions are the main and essential expression." The restrictive remarks added "even when they contain 'gaps, insufficiencies and error'" can be disregarded because, when dealing with them, we had to recall similar charges against Christianity in view of its history, too.

• The various attempts to separate the different ways of God's presence in history from his presence in Jesus Christ do not help much, because human history is one and God's presence in Jesus Christ is a moment of the entire reality of world history, also independently of the position a single person takes or is able to take to it concretely. Wherever humans make a decision in history, they make it in the horizon of its totality.

• Contrary to previous impressions witnessing and proclaiming Christ by the faithful do not include a judgment about the salvific state of non-Christians and about the importance of other religions; they are an invitation. We have to insist on the character of invitation all the more because people are called to decide themselves freely about the way to life.

(3) Mutual invitation: Each true religion is inclined to call people through its message to the way which leads to fulfillment. Therefore, we have to admit the possibility of mutual invitations and mutual evaluations.

• One of the premises of interreligious dialogue is the will of seeing the other in the way he sees himself and grant mutually the possibility to share with each other whatever is precious and valuable for them. Accordingly, the mutual invitation should primarily serve a mutual strengthening and confirmation. All religions are called to cooperate in renewing a world which yearns for liberation and fulfillment in a comprehensive sense.

• Cooperation does not exclude that religions are motivated in a different way. Motivations are by themselves also claims to each other and demands to reexamine their own approach. Also in this sense Christianity may bring into the dialogue its understanding of salvation as founded in Jesus Christ.

• Christians should pay attention that facts and their impact count more than possibilities of thought, and that this also applies to the person of Christ. For the concrete dialogue it is important that re ligions include in their arguments the historical facts. Whoever acts accordingly does not have to insist on something like absolute claims etc.

• Dialogues on salvation do not exhaust themselves in theoretical disputes. They have to perceive and to find out where people live in situations calling for rescue, liberation and salvation, and have to seek ways and means to overcome them.

(4) "Called for freedom" (Gal 5:13): Because dialogue and proclamation take place in the free encounter of people, both are accomplished by human persons who know themselves to be called to freedom and open themselves freely for salvation granted by God.

• Freedom is one of the main features of human existence determining human life in the pluralism of today's daily experience. Therefore, where people are engaged in interreligious dialogue, they have to make liberty a topic of mutual exchange.

• Even if freedom is highly esteemed today, the limits of our humanity, including our freedom, are not to be overlooked. On the one hand, individual freedom finds its limits in the freedom of other persons; on the other hand, freedom as such is a gift, in theological terms: a grace. But where we speak about grace, we directly or at least indirectly speak about God.

• At this point we have to recall also the fact that State and society have to respect the religious freedom of the citizens including the freedom of religious communities to regulate their inner life according to their own rules and laws.6

• Part of our encounter with Christ's liberating and saving action is our own engagement in liberating activities in the various fields of oppression in the world. As followers of Christ we are obliged to share Christ's concern for the realization of the kingdom of God wherever people need and cry for help.

(5) In solidarity with all men, open for God: Believers of all religions come together more closely when they cooperate in solidarity to help people in their various needs. Where people join in supporting others they become aware of what they can do, but also of the limitations of their possibilities. In situations of need numerous people even today call for God and gather in prayer to God.

6 See H. Waldenfels, The Principle of Religious Liberty and its Impact on Society, in: Pro Dialogo (Rome) nr. 121 (2006/1), pp. 98-111.

• At times of distress many people start walking some distance together; they begin to reflect on their life and ask what is really human. Since the search of the truly human is less a question of theory but of practical response to concrete requirements and urgencies, interreli-gious dialogue is by itself focusing on the concrete modes of redemption.

• In spite of all human engagement, in the final analysis the central message of any religion is that total rescue is a divine gift. Therefore, people have to look beyond all limitations and to admit that there exists a non-human center. Ultimately human life is non-anthropocen-tric; it is based on a ground about which man cannot dispose anymore. As a matter of fact, the emphasis on a non-anthropocentric core is shared very much by people in Asia and Africa.

• Insisting on a non-anthropocentric core does not prevent us from professing that from there revelation and self-communication has occurred, and that the self-revelation of - whom we call - God enables us to dialogue with him and to speak about God who has become an efficient Word.

• In 1986 Pope John Paul II convoked members of various religions in Assisi to pray for peace. In that occasion the various representatives prayed in front of each other, purposely not together. At least since then it is discussed whether and under what conditions people can invoke God together. That God has revealed himself is not simply to be presupposed because we do not dispose about God's own freedom. Therefore, Christians and other believers should not simply presume that all people follow the conviction that God has revealed himself.

(6) In silence and prayer before the living God: Whether people of different faiths may pray together depends much on their insight of how close they live consciously with God who is communicating with us and enables us to reply. However, in any situation people can remain in silence before and with him.

• Jews and Christians can pray together because they share the common prayer-book of the Jews, the Psalms, which has also been the prayer-book of Jesus of Nazareth. Numerous official prayer texts of the Christian Churches have been borrowed from Judaism. Even in the weekly rhythm we still follow the Jewish distribution of time, although for quite a time Sunday as the day of Christ's resurrection was considered the first day of a week; nevertheless, even today's interna tional way of counting Sunday as the 7th day of the week is meaningful if we take it as the day on which God finishes his work.

• Where Moslems and Christians recognize in Allah and in the "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the God of Jesus Christ" the same God, a common prayer is not simply excluded, but can be developed. This is all the more the case as for Moslems there is "no god but God."7

• Even if the image of God differs in various points from the monotheistic understanding of God, the way of common silence remains as long as someone is open to the infinite and incomprehensible God. In fact, the way of common silence and exercise of silence are modes of opening and of searching for an inner width. Besides, silence as it is practiced in many forms of meditative contemplation and in religious services, admits that individual persons break it and exclaim loudly and understandably. The space of inner and outer meeting with God is greater than human reason can imagine.

• Christians may insist on more common action of all religious people in the world by which they enter more deeply into the mystery of God, who from his side by his Incarnation in Jesus Christ entered this world in a healing and liberating way. Christians have to proclaim this mystery as an invitation provoking the world; we have only to consider the place of the cross: It was "ex-posed" "outside the gate" (Hebr 13:12). How else Eph 2:13-18 will be fulfilled?

Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ.

For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh,.

and might reconcile both with God, in one body, through the cross, by putting that enmity to death by it.

He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.

For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

By looking at Jesus of Nazareth crucified, Christ in his weakness, Christ on the side of the little ones, the needy, the oppressed and the poor Christians are admonished to treat people who do not believe in him while struggling for their salvation, in a way that "the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning" (1 Cor 1:17). Quoting this word of St. Paul about the proclamation of the cross of Christ, I

7 See R. Aslan, No god but God. Random House: New York 2005

like to recall Kosuke Koyama's assertion that the cross has "no handle." And I add what Aloysius Pieris emphatically asserts:8

... there cannot be a Christ minus the Cross, and, conversely, Christ cannot be absent wherever a Cross is carried anywhere on earth, whatever be the religion of the one who carries it, for he or she is a disciple of Jesus.

In this lies the uniqueness ofJesus and the uniqueness of the mission he entrusts to those who publicly claim to follow him.

Aloysius Pieris makes himself the voice of people who have lost their voice to protest and the power to counteract against their sufferings. His voice gives hope which is based upon the promise of God which has become visible in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ on the Cross. Wherever people find salvation in the world, it will be granted in view of the Cross. People, therefore, should not thwart each other; they should help each other to perceive the word of reconciliation, to make peace, to find happiness and to receive love, freedom and salvation. Where people do not impede each other, but cooperate to open up ways leading to salvation and liberation, at the end there will be the desire to sing hymns of gratitude and praise together.

8 See A. Pieris, Christ Beyond Dogma. Doing Christology in the Context of Religion and the Poor, in Louvain Studies 25 (2000), pp. 182-231; quotes: pp. 223f and 220. See my response Chapter 3 note 14; and H.Waldenfels, Gott. Auf der Suche nach dem Lebensgrund. Benno: Leipzig 2nd ed. 1997, pp. 63-72.

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