Finally we may well ask: Are not all stories of humans after all stories of God? And do not all religions, after all, speak about the same God? And religions "without God" do they really exist? Answers to those questions differ as ever.
To mention it in advance: Religious people of the western world tend to see the same God working everywhere. This results from the fact that the Jewish God is the same whom Christians adore, and that the God of Islam - Allah - is absolutely God as such. In these replies we are not dealing with images of God, but with his reality. The alternative to the affirmation of God are not other images or fictions but is the denial of God, radical atheism.
What is being said regarding the three Abrahamic religions, however, cannot be simply transferred to all other religions. This becomes plain as soon as we look more exactly what "stories of God" imply. In fact, the Jewish Bible with all reflections is basically a book of great narratives, of history and stories, and though in many parts it narrates from the encounter of humans with God, it even more relates about the dealings of God with humans. For it is astounding that God speaks with man at all, that dialogues between God and humans occur, and that God interferes in history, directs it or abandons it in ways recognizable to man. World history turns out be a drama performed between God and humankind. Since humans are provided with knowledge and freedom, intellect and free will, human life is essentially shaped by the acceptance or refusal of God's guidance. Consequently God's reactions are described in both Testaments in a way that he shows himself not unconcerned. He becomes angry, where man turns away from him, he courts him like a lover, he displays all his love and at the end he is merciful and ready to forgive.
The story continues in the New Testament where it gets a new accent by the fact that God so distant and at once so close in his Incarnation becomes part of his creation and member of the human race - the infinite in the finitude of the man Jesus. That the event determines the entire history of humankind does not need to be argued again, wherever it is faithfully accepted. But we have to insist on it in a time where an increasing number even of Christians, above all intellectuals like John Hick tend to discard the importance of the Incarnation of God. Of course, people who do not accept the Christian message of Jesus Christ have to tell their own stories. And yet, even then questions which are common to all people are awaiting their reply.
Here we have to ask: Does God appear in the other stories of humans, or what takes his place when it comes to the fundamental ques tions of life?9 Where do they see the foundation of life, where its aim? We cannot, of course, repeat the numerous stories with and about God which we find in history. It suffices to know that these stories exist. A rough division can be made by starting off with stories about the personal God, not withstanding that the concept of person has its own history. That Jews, Christians and Moslems deal with a personal, Christians even with the triune God, follows from the fact that God made possible a dialogue between him and humans by calling and determining them to human thought, speech and action.
In a way even early history reminds us that there have been times and places where evidently gods (in plural) were working. Whether speaking about many gods is to be understood in the sense that people were convinced about the real existence of many gods or that the plurality of gods is rather to be taken as expression of God's multiformity and variety and his inexhaustible plenitude can remain unanswered. However, wherever God's personal figure is nothing but an anthropomorphous representation, and as the inaccessible he is only the holy and divine one and an impersonal entity, speaking about God's words and even about the Word of God becomes powerless. For the human word as such is not God's word. It makes only sense to talk about God's word, when the word as such refers to God himself. As Christians we enter here the inner life of God where we speak about the "triune God." In other words: In the real and full sense we can speak about the word of God only where we speak about the triune God.
Where man strives beyond himself - and this can happen by turning inwardly or outwardly to history - at first, silence becomes the infinite ocean which carries or in which man perishes and becomes extinct. Here man cannot withdraw himself because what surrounds him temporarily and spatially is always greater than he is; opposite to the always greater he finally is absolutely powerless. If this silent ocean should be able to speak, it can happen only by virtue of God's initiative. Maybe many Christians are so accustomed to the divine initiative that they are not surprised and astonished anymore and consider God's speaking so much a matter of fact that they conclude that God must have spoken in other religions as well or that people are thinking
9 See for Islam and Buddhism my considerations in H. Waldenfels (note 1), pp. 36-39. 54ff. 73-86.
this way, too. In fact, for too long a time the term "revelation" has been used in an inflationary manner.10
A story of God appears rather limited where on the one hand, God remains from his side totally taciturn and inaccessible, and this is affirmed, on the other hand, people are not interested anymore in the message of God's self-communication and self-revelation. This also is the case where God as such is considered to be "the Real" (John Hick),11 but the "many names" are only human approximations which at the end might neither touch upon him nor reach his essence. Whoever argues this way, runs the great risk that he will miss the true Christian self-understanding so that he cannot speak any longer in the name of the Christian fellowship.
We also have to pay attention to the religions and situations where God apparently is non-existent. According to Vatican II Buddhism is a fascinating movement in which people live religiously although God is not mentioned at all. However, there are some observations which make it meaningful to consider Buddhism a religion: Buddha's main concern was the radical liberation of people from the burden of suffering, finally from the cycle of reincarnations. Everyone who is ready to follow him can prepare himself for liberation. In his enlightenment the Enlightened One demonstrates that seeing and liberty, overcoming blindness and any form of attachment is possible for every person. The end-point, however, is ultimately nameless, nothing which could induce new attachments. As a matter of fact, today some people discuss the question whether while speaking about "True Mind," "Bud-dhahood" and "Buddha nature" Buddhists do not approach the point where other believers speak about God - I only mention, but do not decide it here.12
The history of religions, especially of Buddhism, has not reached its end because evidently from the sum of the histories of each single religion originated one history of religions - with and against each other - and this history is by no means completed. There are stories of oppression, syncretism, religious wars, in the meantime also of dialogues.
10 See again Chapter 2 note 12 with J. Sobrino's remarks on "unveiling experiences."
11 See J. Hick, God has Many Names. Westminster: Philadelphia 1982.
12 See in more detail H. Waldenfels, Buddhist Challenge to Christianity. Dharmaram Publications: Bangalore 2004.
The question is whether in this situation self-deception or a false form of self-abnegation is helpful. Quite a few Christians are inclined to replace their faith in Christ by a rather unqualified faith in God. However, a merely pluralist view which ends up in simply juxtaposing all religious options side by side is fundamentally un-dialogical, because for the sake of peace they own to everyone that they are right and leave the question of truth alone. As said before, in the long run it will not work.
All religions speak about truth whereby it does not matter whether they modestly speak about fragmentary knowledge or - in the mood of exaggerated self-consciousness - of the fullness of truth. In the way that the stories of God are unfinished, also the history of finding truth did by no means reach its end; we are rather amidst a continuous process of searching and finding. A human person has to know and to acknowledge two things:
(1) Every person is able to find truth; therefore, he should be ready and concerned to come to truth.
(2) There are many instances of truth which are not to be put in question; they determine human life and, therefore, oblige him to live accordingly. Radical selflessness, radical letting-oneself-loose and living from the true Self which appears where we overcome our little egoistic self describe the compass in which humans might discover their groundless ground in the totally-Other. Maybe the loud voice of rejoice by which humans praise God is less distant from the silent wonder without invocation of God's name than it may appear to people on behalf of their lack of imagination and their partial convictions.
I would like to conclude with a story which Aloysius Pieris recounted. It refers to an experience he made with someone from an Buddhist-Marxist background who some months later died by the hand of a Sinhala extremist. As participant of a seminar he related his earlier view of the Bible which for him was a fairy tale. But then Pieris continues:13
But he pointed out that, in their common struggle and the common reflections which each had on the other's religious literature, and in the sharing we had at that seminar, he discovered that the concept of "God" which motivates Christians to liberationist activity is radically different from the concept of God which the Buddha is reported in the Pali scriptures to have rejected as absurd and chime
rical. As a Marxist coming from a Buddhist background, he could not accept the idea of God, but "if I ever have to believe in a God, this is the only one worth believing in," he confessed. I responded: "To believe in any other god, as most Christians do, is idolatry."
"This is the first time I have heard of a God who has made a defense pact with the oppressed," he declared. And the Christian participants came to realize that what is unique about their religion is that Jesus whom they follow is the pact! We further realized that we Christians tend, unfortunately, to duplicate the institutional aspects of other religions in Asia and thus compete with them rather than preach and practice that which is our unique mission
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