Disclaimer #1: Inter-religious dialogue is NOT my area of expertise. I took one class on it in seminary, but it was during my last semester and by then (sorry Candler) I was cleared for graduation and had kind of checked out.
(I did manage an A- in the class, though.)
(For what it’s worth.)
That being said – the title of this book intrigued me.
It intrigued me mostly because if this actually happened, I would kind of like to be running by at the time.
Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?
Christian Identity In A Multi-Faith World
by Brian D. McLaren
(available on amazon here)
Disclaimer #2: I am an idiot. I only read the first half of the book title when I started reading. I was a few chapters in and started to get annoyed that McLaren seemed to be coming into this conversation from a Christian perspective (which didn’t seem inter-religious at all). Then I read the rest of the title and realized that was the point of the book. Duh.
(Susan Henry-Crowe might want to take her A- back.)
Just a note – McLaren uses the phrase “inter-faith” but I am much more comfortable using the phrase “inter-religious”. I think faith and religion are two very different things and when we are talking Christianity vs. Islam vs. Judaism vs. Buddhism vs. Hinduism we are talking about religion and not faith. In theory (because everyone’s faith is individual and personal) interfaith dialogue happens any time two people have a conversation with one another.
Here is my issue with inter-religious dialogue – to some extent, it is just too much over my head. While there are a lot of similarities between the major religions of the world, there are also stark contrasts that contradict basic foundational integrity. I keep coming back to the question, “Is this even possible?” I just wonder how I can be in meaningful dialogue with other religions while still being faithful to Christianity.
Brian McLaren is a Christian writer – that is why he comes at inter-religious dialogue from a Christian identity. I have mixed feelings about this – on the one hand, I want to know that my religious beliefs lend themselves to this kind of dialogue, but on the other hand, I do not want to disrespect anyone else by talking about their religious beliefs solely through a Christian lens.
Truth be told – this book kind of frustrated me. I was hoping for a “how-to” in terms of inter-religious dialogue and community and that wasn’t what it was. Because honestly – there is no such thing. There can’t be. Inter-religious dialogue is not a mathematical equation. There is no answer or destination to arrive at.
After I finished the book, I was almost ready to throw in the towel when it came to my own reading on this subject. But then something happened.
Tragedy struck in Newtown, CT.
The Sunday evening after the shooting I sat and watched the Inter-Religious Worship Service at Newtown High School on TV. As different religious leaders from around the community got up to speak, pray and worship I just kept thinking, “This is it.” That service was such a beautiful expression of inter-religious compassion for a community in need.
Perhaps inter-religious dialogue isn’t about finding similarities or celebrating differences – perhaps it is simply about journeying with one another.
Obviously my thoughts on this subject are still very raw, but I did want to post something before I put the book back on the shelf.
I have a feeling I won’t be letting it gather dust anytime soon …
“Isn’t the real scandal not that our religious leaders might be imagined walking across a road or talking as friends together in a bar, but rather that their followers are found speaking against one another as enemies, day after day in situation after situation?”
“How do we disassociate from the hostility without abandoning the identity? How do we remain loyal to what is good and real in our faith without giving tacit support to what is wrong and dangerous? How do we, as Christians, faithfully affirm the uniqueness and universality of Christ without turning that belief into an insult or a weapon?”
“I’m convinced that the only viable response to religious hostility is love, empathy, compassion, understanding – not more hostility.”