BXVI: Dialogue Not Monologue


October 21, 2005 / Volume CXXXII, Number 18

Dialogue Not Monologue

Benedict XVI & Religious Pluralism

**Francis X. Clooney **

Underlying Benedict’s various cautions about dialogue are two complementary convictions, one positive and the other negative. Positively, Benedict insists that dialogue is always about truth-participating in the underlying Word (Logos)-and it best occurs as a search for truth, not for mere tolerance…

At the same time, the search for truth cannot mean, “We have the truth; they are searching for it,” a view that would turn interreligious exchanges into pantomime and farce…

How all this works in practice becomes evident if we look at just four tantalizing examples Benedict ever so briefly mentions: meditation, rebirth, social abuses endemic to Hinduism, and mystical monism. Regarding each, Benedict opens a door, starting rather than finishing a conversation…

Second, I mention rebirth because of just one tantalizing remark Benedict made in a 1997 L’Express interview. Yes, this is the same interview in which he (in)famously spoke of the narcissism (l’autoerotisme) of either Buddhism itself (described as “un défi” to the church) or of some Western (mis)appropriations of Buddhist spiritual practice. He also remarked, “[Reincarnation] has a meaning in the Hindu religion, that of a path of purification. But outside that context, reincarnation is morally cruel, because these eternal returns to earthly life resemble a hellish cycle.”

As the pope suggests, endless return would indeed be hellish. Hindu and Buddhist theologians have said this for millennia. And yet even if most Hindus seek liberation from rebirth, there is a way in which Hindus also see rebirths as occasions for learning and purification. If Benedict recognizes in this tension between expectation and fulfillment a positive approach that is not morally cruel, then he is opening the door for a further and positive consideration of the wisdom Christians and Hindus may share regarding the religious idea of purification. Here too, to say more would require research that would surely complicate matters; if we do not merely discount rebirth as “unchristian,” then we will have to try to understand it, and ask again how our own views of life after death affect our lives now

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