When I started to deal with the theology of religions in the 1970s, it was rather a hobby for specialists. In the last decades, however, it became a strong challenge for theologians and for Christian communities around the world. Wherever we are, we meet with a variety of different ethnic and religious groups. By surfing the internet we come across plenty of invitations to events in Hindu, Buddhist and new religious centers and circles. And yet, in view of many questions about religion which are posed today the readiness and ability of Christians to answer seems to be rather poor. For too long a time people were accustomed to the strength of their environment, so that personal efforts in deepening religious knowledge and practice were apparently unnecessary. In those days in Europe where I used to live, people felt a mixture of uneasiness and curiosity toward religion, even resistance, often criticism, and indifferentism. Often all this was covered up with a call for tolerance.
The situation changed when the horrible terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington awakened the population of the western world and opened their eyes for the aggressive elements in Islam and the presence and expansion of Islamic influence worldwide. Soon they made them reflect about violence in religion as such. In many conflicts religion is involved, in Palestine and the Near East, in many African countries, in Indonesia, in India and Pakistan. But in all its ambivalence religion is not dying. It is changing its appearances, it is true, but by no means can religion be considered a merely private affair, since its impact on public life can hardly be denied. In this sense the overall situation is rapidly changing. However, we are not living in the world of one religion anymore, the one to which we belong. Different religions are competing with each other, and we have to learn to deal with a plurality of religions which are calling for our reaction. That leads to some first observations:
(1) People of today need an increased knowledge about alternative ways of thought and life, as we can experience them in adherents of different religions who live side by side with us. Knowledge, however, means that we come to know how other people understand them selves and that we overcome prejudices which still are prevalent and often handed on to the next generation.
(2) People have to know that nobody - no state, no science, also no religion, Christianity included - is entitled to lay claim to a position above all other positions, a so-called meta-position. Everybody starts from his or her own original viewpoint. That does not mean, of course: a person cannot give up or change it, or that he or she is unable to see things from a different point of view.
(3) As any other person in his or her religion, Christians should know about their own Christian position. And before we enter into dialogue with other religions, other churches and communities, dialogue is required and to be exercised inside one's own - here: the Catholic - Church. Therefore, it does not suffice that ecclesial authorities only pronounce, they have to do it in an argumentative way. Unfortunately inner-church dialogues are still not well cultivated everywhere, which stands for a grave hindrance in today's demanded interfaith dialogue.
(4) In fall of 2001, 1550 years had passed since the Council of Chal-cedon with its authoritative dogmatic assertions concerning the person of Christ took place. 50 years earlier some theoretical research in the history of dogma had been done, it is true, but in our days Chal-cedon's teaching is again on the agenda of Christian theology, and that all the more, since the denial of Christ's divinity implies a weakening of the Christian position. How much Roman authorities must have been alarmed today, can be gathered from the fact that the Congregation of Faith released three notifications which all were dealing with more or less the same Christological questions: against the Belgian Jesuit Jacques Dupuis on February 26, 2001, against the US-American Jesuit Roger Haight on February 7-8, 2005, and against the Spanish Jesuit Jon Sobrino who for many years lives in El Salvador, on March 15, 2007. In a way, the basic position of the Church was summarized in a declaration of the same Roman congregation entitled Dominus Iesus. But let us say frankly: All this is done in a rather non dialogical way.
Some of the current questions will be discussed in this book, which first was written after the publication of Dominus Iesus. The main reason for it was the fact that in my country Germany the main purpose of the declaration was rather obscured, because most of the people who read the text got upset about its judgment about the character of their (Protestant) churches. However, we are living in the time of plu ralism in which we have to reexamine our attitude toward ourselves and toward the others. Undoubtedly religious pluralism also makes Christians pay their tribute. This consists above all in a kind of self-relativism, in a restraint of Christian claims to the inner-church domain and a radical change of our missionary activities since we have to restrain from active proselytizing. However, is a peaceful "convivence," where people simply live together side by side, really enough to call it a truly human life? Has not the time come that we learn and reflect more about mutual behavior, that we are more eagerly engaged in knowing others in their otherness and that at the same time we do not forget to insist and to deepen our own belief?
In a small book like this not all material available for a theology of religion can be elaborated as Jacques Dupuis SJ has done it beautifully in his voluminous work. I had to select and to restrict myself to some ideas for readers who will continue the study on their own. What I find important from the very beginning is this: In a way we have to live on two and more sides; at least we have to look from two and more sides back and forth. We have to clarify and to deepen our self-understanding, and at the same time we have to contemplate things from other perspectives; we have to see things with the eyes of the others and to come to an understanding of their point of view. We have to give account about our own conviction, and at the same time we have to understand how others - in our case outside of Christianity - are formed and educated in their own conviction. And we have to do it in view of the overall situation in the world.
In fact, inviting the members of the different religions to a common conversation is highly important today because there are so many problems in society inside and outside of religion which call for solutions. That means, the dialogue requested today is by no means limited to us and our interfaith topics; the dialogue that is called for today has to be a contribution to the world in its quest for peace and justice, for liberation and salvation, and that very concretely. It has to be less a dialogue in theory than in practice. Jon Sobrino and others express the challenge we are facing by calling our attention to the poor and oppressed in the world, to the numerous people without a voice so that we learn to see things with the eyes of the victims.
The book contains five chapters dealing both with Christianity and the approach to other religions. Chapters 1 and 3 insist on the fact that Christian faith begins and lives from and with Jesus of Nazareth;
jesús christ & the religions chapters 2 and 4 reexamine our attitude toward other religions. Finally in chapter 5 we concentrate on interfaith dialogue in its various perspectives.
Chapter 1: "It was in Antioch," as we know from the Acts of the Apostles 11:26, "that the disciples were first called Christians." They were followers of the "Way" (Acts 9:2; see also 18:26; 19:9.23: 22:4; 24:14.22), and mentioned only one person whom they called the "Christ"; they were followers of the "way of Christ." Actually, the word "Christ" implies the confession of Peter, "You are the Messiah." (Mk 8:29 par.), it was the confession that they - the apostles - had found the Messiah, in Greek: the "Christ." Whoever talks about Christianity but does not return to its founder, Jesus the Christ, and his way of life and death, has not understood what it means to be a Christian.
Chapter 2: While dealing with "religions" we have to examine and to correct our understanding of the basic concept. "Religion" is, first of all, an assembly of humans who search for fulfillment of their life and do this in view of a path shown and offered to them. Consequently, "dialogue of religions" is an interaction between persons, not between institutions. As a matter of fact, the history of the concept of religion proves that in the course of time the concept has been changed considerably, and we do well if we do not apply it in a rather general and generic way. Whoever deals with adherents of a concrete religion, cannot neglect its peculiarities.
Chapter 3: Christianity is focused on the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth and his significance for human existence and the salvation of humankind. This conviction found its obliging expression in the teachings of the early Councils of Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451): Jesus Christ in his person is "truly God and truly man." The formula was always threatened in a double sense: Either Jesus' humanity or - as in our days - his divinity is endangered or even denied. Moreover, today non-Christians (and even Christians) ask whether in fact all humankind has been saved by Jesus Christ as the only mediator. Therefore, we do well to deal with this important teaching of the Church again.
Chapter 4: World history is the sum of the histories of all individuals, all human groups and communities, but it also includes the common history of humankind and even of the universe in its cosmic features. In the process of globalization we become more and more aware of the communalities of this process and of the fact that we all are sitting in the same boat so that everybody contributes to world history in his or her own way. We recognize common features like suffering and guilt, progress and failure, expectations and despair, hope and promises, but also experiences of healing and reconciliation, liberation and redemption, and many people speak even about experiences with God. All these experiences have their bearing on the history of humankind as such. The question is: Where is the boat of humankind driving? And who is the Lord? What are the answers of the religions?
Chapter 5: In our time we live between Babel and Jerusalem, between the confusion of languages and the experience that, nevertheless, people are able to understand each other. The experience of pluralism can accomplish both: It can lead to desperate monologues and thus be hell, but it also can bring joyful enrichment and fulfillment, and it can help and save. All this depends on what people contribute. Dialogue, conversation and cooperation, in words and deeds, are a great chance of humankind. For in all their limitations humans are open to the unlimited, to the incomprehensible, to the "beyond," to the infinite transcendence and the mystery in and behind all things - in many religions people say: they are open to God. Religions invite people to share their most precious convictions with others. Therefore, interfaith dialogue in its depth entails spiritual and an all comprising sharing, mutual openness and the proclamation of active faith in words and deeds; after all, it is in itself a forceful invitation. If the little book can give some stimulus for such an active dialogue, it has served its purpose.
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