How to establish a productive interfaith dialogue

Hi all, this is my first thread on this forum so please go easy on me if this is already a well-trodden topic. I know enough that when it comes to engaging Christians across ecclesiastical boarder, there is a big roadblock: epistemic authority (how we know things, in this case, regarding doctrine). For Protestants, it is the Sacred Scripture. For Catholics, it is the Magisterium, and for Orthodox, it is the tradition embodied in the 7 ecumenical councils. Because they each reason from a different set of assumptions regarding who or what has the final say in matters of doctrine, what is the purpose of interfaith dialogue? I know that the Roman Catholic Church desires communion with the Orthodox and they also desire the Protestants to return to the fold. But how can this be accomplished since all operate from mutually irreconcilable epistemic authorities?

“Desiring” communion with other adherents of other belief systems does not go hand in hand with “having the final say on matters”

If Truth is the cherished final outcome, then humility and “letting go” will always eventually unearth the Truth. Claiming to have the “totality of Truth” as yours is the only way to have UN-productive interfaith dialogue.

My humble perspective :slight_smile:


One worthwhile purpose (among other possible worthwhile purposes) would be intellectual and spiritual encouragement or edification.

Despite epistemic differences, there are areas of agreement (or partial agreement) in theory, practice, and experience.

“Letting go” can mean different things. In a highly dogmatic culture, where absolutes of correct doctrine, the permanent truths and goodness are predominant, “letting go” can have certain meanings. That isn’t the culture we live in. The culture in most of the world is highly relativistic, where truth and goodness are mostly subjective. “Your truth can be X, my truth can be Y, anyone can make their own truth, and all truths are created equal”. Our culture is dominated by Values, which are mostly defined by the Media, and mostly obeyed by a conformist society that wants to follow “what’s trending now”.

In Western societies today, “letting go” might mean reading Thomas Aquinas with an open mind. If you dare to teach Thomas in some universities you will be branded a heretic because you aren’t obeying “what’s trending now”. Whether it’s in Science, History, or any other field, it doesn’t go against humility to believe that some doctrines have more of the truth than others. While people can have different tastes in Art, it doesn’t go against humility to believe Mozart might be better than the latest commercial jingle, or that Shakespeare had more truthful insights than the Kardashians. “Letting go” means we should let go of Relativism, let go of “majority rule” for defining “what’s true now”. Letting go means, with Chesterton, giving a “vote” to our ancestors, rather than obeying Huffington Post. One student, alone in the library or chapel, might come to a fuller measure of truth than a whole hive of students over in the dorm.

Mother Theresa was humble, and she also believed she had the fullest possible measure of the Truth, in Catholicism. That did not mean she rejected truths found in Hinduism. Genuine humility does not mean we all can make our truths, together. It means truth is something we can find, gradually, with our mind and heart. The Truth leads you to God and God leads you to Truth.

I think most Protestant communions today acknowledge the need for at least some reliance on tradition, as well as Scripture, but there is enormous variation in how they view these. There is no one “Protestant episemology”. Orthodox churches rely on Scripture as well as tradition. The Catholic Church relies on Scripture, tradition and the magisterium. Some non-Catholic churches that don’t have a formal “magisterium” do have some current authority that will lead a focus on this or that aspect of Scripture or tradition. So there is a lot of potential common ground here. More important, all can trust in the Holy Spirit to guide them.

I would agree with you

If we were to let go of anything it would be the things that have no real bearing on how we engage and relate with our fellow human beings. “Who is the authority of the Church?” or “is Jesus God?” have no bearing on whether a person who does the humanitarian work of a Mother Teresa is doing it because they are Catholic or Orthodox or Hindu, or Bahai.

…just as it doesn’t matter if the work is being done by a black man, a white man, a woman, or a man, an elderly person or a pre-teen youth. What matters is that the work is done, and done in a way that brings inspiration, joy and humility to the hearts of others observing and receiving. All other things, we can just “let go” and not be insistent on, for we are all human beings, and our judgements on what is Truth or not (especially on matters relating to the supernatural) are in many ways limited and often ill-founded.



Sometimes I have heard the phrase ‘ecumenical dialogue’ for discussions among people within one religious tradition (for example, Christianity), and the phrase ‘interfaith dialogue’ for discussions involving more than one religious tradition (for example, Christianity and Hinduism). I think that part of the interest in these areas is learning about comparative theology (or theological correlations). For example, we can start with Christian doctrines concerning grace and then search for some partially similar ideas in other traditions. As a picture to grace this page (no pun intended, lol), here is an old 15th-century painting by Fra Angelico that might symbolize some ecumenical or interfaith dialogues or discussions.
attribution public domain

So, whether Jesus is God or not is really of little to no importance? It matters not what we believe? All that stuff you heard about Jesus, just “let it go”?

Following this logic, I see no reason to believe anything. As long as I am a nice guy and help my fellow man my eternal destiny should be secure. An atheist could do the same.

Sorry, Servant, but you are way off the mark here. God became incarnate in order to dwell among us and reveal himself to us. He came to defeat sin and death by giving his very life for us. And we are suppose to just “let it go”?

Dear Steve,

You and I have absolutely zero idea, not one single smidgeon of a hope of an idea, what the eternal destiny of Gandhi, for example was, and he didn’t believe that Jesus is God. I don’t believe Jesus was God, what is my eternal destiny ?

It is these “unknowns” that we must be less insistent on if we are to have a constructive interfaith dialogue.


Servant, my own eternal destiny is not known at this point. While I might have great confidence in my salvation I must still persevere in the faith until the end. I don’t know the eternal destiny of either Gandhi or you either. We hope in a merciful God but only He makes that call. I pray that if you continue to reject the divinity of Christ that it is truly out of ignorance and that he will be merciful. I hope to see you in heaven.

But to hold the position that it matters not what we believe because we cannot know the eternal destiny of various people from various faith traditions is not sound reasoning. Does it matter if we worship a false God? Does it matter if we know the truth? If not, then every single utterance from a prophet of God is meaningless and you have no better reason to follow Baha’u’llah then you do the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.

I hope to see you in heaven too dear brother :slight_smile:

All the peoples of the earth have within themselves a duty to seek God to the best of the heart and mind. What is sound reasoning for me to accept Bahaullah is no different to the sound reasoning that you accept the Divinity of Jesus.

I do not reject the Divinity of Jesus, I simply view from a different frame of reference.

It is totally sound reasoning to me… :slight_smile:

Would God punish me for giving me an intellect that reasonably rejects Jesus as God?
Would God punish you for giving you an intellect that reasonably rejects Baha’u’llah as the Father?

I’ve done all the praying and studying of both Jesus and Baha’u’llah as I can possibly muster, and I’m pretty studious. I still find more reason ability to accept Baha’u’llah as the Father than Jesus is God. I hope to see you in heaven, if not for the very least that I was wrong and you are right and God showed mercy because he made me stupid enough to study and pray so much yet I couldn’t see the light :slight_smile:

I also pray for interfaith dialogue that forgets about all of these things :slight_smile:


God didn’t give you an intellect that reasonably rejects Jesus as God. He gave you an intellect with the rational ability and freedom to seek truth and either accept or reject it.

Do you believe that God gave an atheist a different intellect than you or I so that he bears no responsibility for his outright rejection of God’s very existence?

Hi Steve, there are so many factors that come into play as to why a person rejects or accepts something that you might see as Truth.

We are all born with a God-given capacity to know and to love Him. How that is expressed in action is as a response to various degrees of genetics, and education and our environment.

Who am I to say that a Muslim is wrong for putting God above all and everything else, without equal? To a Muslim it is totally unreasonable to assign partners unto God. Would that be a focus for constructive dialogue with a Muslim? I think not.

Instead one would focus on commonalities and keep all other inner beliefs relating to unknowns to oneself and pray for Gods Truth to shine resplendent through our deeds, not our words.


Only God know all of our circumstances which is why the Catholic Church has never proclaimed that a single person has been condemned to hell and continues to rely on God’s mercy for every single human being. Do I think God would condemn a ten year old Muslim boy who has grown up in a remote village of Pakistan and has never been taught about Christ? Of course not.

This has nothing to do with the fact that we are responsible for informing our own consciences and seeking truth. We will be judged upon what we have done with what we have been given.

The problem with the Catholic Mother Theresa is that there are so few Catholics like Mother Theresa.
Actually she did perceive a close connection between these 3 things:

Doctrinal Content - she didn’t denounce heretics but spoke at conferences organized by groups promoting doctrinal content; her sisters still emphasize doctrinal content a great deal in their formation, and in their ministries

Devotion - besides daily Mass, her sisters spend an hour a day in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. This is backed up by frequent sacrament of Confession. They apparently make no commitment to “Spirituality” as such, from what I have read.

Spiritual and Corporal works of mercy - their ministries of help; they work long hours; their ministries are sometimes dangerous, unhealthy, stressful; they are still human.

The problem is that you probably meet few, if any, Catholics like her. You meet lots of Catholics like me. If I were more like her - or rather, more like Jesus, my arguments would carry more credibility.

Yes but do you think that God would condemn a Catholic Bishop who chooses to follow Baha’u’llah and leaves the Church to be a Baha’i?

Does the Catholic Church condemn such a person?


So, dear friend, let us have interfaith dialogue that creates constructive frameworks by which we can have more Catholics, Bahais, Muslims, Jews and in fact all people that can carry out saintly works for the betterment of their fellow human beings, without prejudice or injustice.

Isn’t that a sound framework for interfaith dialogue?


The Church can condemn no one. But to answer your question, yes, the Church would hold that such a bishop was apostate. Presumably the bishop had known the truth and had traded the truth for a lie.

Faith, like truth, is not a matter of preference.

We first need to consider what position we occupy in the general scheme of things.

I had the pleasure of a presentation by Msgr. Andrew V. Tanya-anan, Undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, at the 2009 World Oblates’ Congress.

A brief summary of his thoughts based on the notes I took during his presentation: theological interfaith or ecumenical dialogue is well above our pay grade. The levels of dialogue are:

*]Dialogue life: daily life, living with our neighbours. Being a Christian fanatic is not Christian. He gave as examples a mosque in Jakarta that was designed by a Catholic, living together in respect in areas where we share with other faiths;
*]Dialogue of action: joint projects, human solidarity; he gave as example working together for tsunami relief, running/building schools, hospitals, community services, etc.
*]Theological dialogue: this requires expertise, knowing who we are; these exchanges should occur at expert levels; he cited as an example the opening of dialogue with Saudi Arabia on the issue of places for Christians to pray, what had previously been a closed issue.
*]Dialogue of experience: an example is Thomas Merton visiting Buddhist monasteries, or when my wife and I attend each others’ services (she’s Anglican).

At our level dialogue is not talk of beliefs, but respect of faith and its action in our lives. Dialogue is not proselytizing, and evangelization begins with leading a life of Christian witness in a manner that is consistent with the great Truths of our faith: i.e., walk the talk. We don’t start out with an intention to convert, but with deepening our own faith. He gave an example of focusing on core issues: in Coke, Pepsi and orange juice, the core “truth” at the center is pure water. A similar concept in religion would be the “Golden Rule”. That is the common ground for dialogue.

We shouldn’t confuse political and spiritual issues but I think we can work together on joint projects, such as opposition to abortion (something not limited to Catholics!).

He stated though, that we must avoid some risks in interfaith dialogue:

*]Relativism (all religions the same) that leads to loss of Christian identity;
*]Syncretism: everything mixes together, also with loss of identity;
*]Secularism: this one should be obvious

Given the presenters credentials, this would appear to be the way the Vatican looks at interfaith dialogue. I think with ecumenical dialogue (i.e. between Christian Churches and denominations), we at least have a much wider common area, namely Christ with the Protestants, and even wider: Christ and the sacraments, with the Orthodox.

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