A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Why Interfaith Dialogue Doesn't Work

Rabbi Eric H.Yoffie, writes in The Huffington Post:
I have been participating in interfaith dialogue as a rabbi and Jewish leader for more than 30 years, and most of the time it just doesn't work.

Most of the time -- and it is painful for me to admit this -- it is terribly boring. Most of the time there is a tendency to manufacture consensus, whether it exists or not. Most of the time we go to great lengths to avoid conflict. Most of the time we cover the same ground that we covered last month or the month before. And far too often we finish our session without really knowing the people across the table and what makes them tick religiously.

And most of we time we are satisfied with mouthing a few noble, often-repeated sentiments. Thus, we affirm the importance of mutual understanding, tolerance and dialogue; we assert that all human beings are created in the image of God; we proclaim that despite our differences, all of our traditions preach love of humankind and service to humanity. Nothing is wrong with these sentiments, of course; in conceptual terms, I believe in them all. But if we don't dig beneath the surface and focus on substance rather than rhetoric, they mean very little.
Rabbi Yoffie highlights three problems with much current interfaith dialogue:
First, meaningful dialogue happens when the conversation turns to our religious differences. Platitudes are set aside when, as representatives of our faith traditions, we cease to be embarrassed by the particular; when we put aside the search for the lowest common denominator that most often characterizes -- and trivializes -- our discussions...

Second, inter religious exchanges become compelling when my colleagues and partners give expression to their religious passions. I am drawn in when they share with me their deepest beliefs and strangest customs, no matter how radically other they are from my own.

Third, inter religious dialogue truly touches us when we can discuss what we all know to be true but what we rarely say: that, in some ways at least, we all believe in the exceptionalism of our own traditions.
The good rabbi's comments resonate with me. I have argued for years that the major problem with most inter-religious dialogue is that because its participants are hyper-sensitive over offending the persons sitting across the table, they fail to engage in the rigorous intellectual work necessary for fruitful discussion and understanding between people of different faiths. At other times, the rigorous intellectual work is not engaged in because some participants have come to believe that what one believes is irrelevant; what is of critical importance is what one does. Orthodoxy is separated from orthopraxy and thus both are distorted and misunderstood.

But all religions have their orthodoxy and orthopraxy and it will not further the necessary discussion between faiths if the distinctives we have but do not share are ignored or downplayed as being unimportant. After all, it is not the similarities that religions share with each other that give them their unique identity; it's the differences that set them apart from one another. If we want to seriously engage folks who do not share our faith, but do share a stake in the common good, then we need to take the advice of Rabbi Yoffie and talk to each other about our "deepest beliefs and strangest customs." Why? Because those beliefs and customs do matter, and we cannot move forward with our friends of other faiths until we, at the very least, understand what makes their way of life and its motivations important to them... and they to us.

And it is possible to hold the view that Christianity is exceptional when compared and contrasted with other religious traditions (as I do) and still dialogue and work together with those whose faith I do not share. To think otherwise is to once again engaged in the intellectually shallow banter that has often made interfaith dialogue useless in the first place.

If interfaith dialogue is important, then let's do the serious and rigorous intellectual work necessary and cease looking for the easy "kum ba yah" moment in which we can all hold hands around the interfaith campfire seeking the warm fuzzy feeling of togetherness instead of pursuing with all diligence the understanding and relationships necessary that effectively work for the common good.


PamBG said...

And it is possible to hold the view that Christianity is exceptional when compared and contrasted with other religious traditions (as I do) and still dialogue and work together with those whose faith I do not share. To think otherwise is to once again engaged in the intellectually shallow banter that has often made interfaith dialogue useless in the first place.

I think this is true. It's also very hard to do.

My suspicion is that you need a group of individuals who get to know each other as individuals in order for the barriers of suspicion to break down.

But, I confess that in my more exhausted and simpler moments, I long for the "kum ba yah" simply because I'm not convinced that faith is all that complicated at the end of the day. Faith is difficult. But not so complicated.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Pam, yes, it is not easy, but it seems to me that effective interfaith dialogue requires hard work because it is so important.

Faith may indeed be difficult but not complicated, but this side of perfection as we see through a glass darkly, truth is complex. And since all religions make truth claims, the hard work of pursuing the truth in our ignorance is critical.

And, yes, I understand your desire for the "kum ba yah" moment.

Michael Cecil said...

Let me provide my perspective on why inter-faith dialogue does not work:

Because the exclusive goal of inter-faith dialogue is to preserve the separate religions themselves; even if all of those religions are based upon a fundamental error; which is the disinterpretation of the Doctrine of "resurrection" as the Egyptian-Pharisee doctrine of a physical raising of a dead body from the grave; when it was taught by Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Jesus and Mohammed as, instead, a Doctrine of 'Rebirth'.

That is, were it not for this ONE fundamental Doctrinal error, there would not be the separation between Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the first place; nor would there be so much of a distance between the monotheistic religions and, for example, Buddhism, which also teaches the Doctrine of 'Rebirth'.

PamBG said...

Ah yes, interfaith dialogue doesn't work because I'm right and everyone else is wrong. Pretty simple, really. :-)

Allan R. Bevere said...

Pam, I don't understand your comment. I am certainly not suggesting that, but the opposite. The complexity of truth and our own lack of understanding requires that we pursue the difficult questions with people of other faiths, and not simply ignore them.

Michael Cecil said...

Let me suggest that whoever says that Truth is complex is desirous of being paid for making that purported "complexity" simple.

In other words, the Doctrinal foundation of "do unto others as you would have done unto you" is really as *simple* as it can POSSIBLY be:

Because you may very well have been those "others" in a previous life, and may very well be those "others" in a future life (whether Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Palestinians, Israelis, women, men, rich, poor, etc.)

That is the fundamental simplicity of the Doctrine of "resurrection" and the Doctrine of 'Rebirth'.

But no one can make any MONEY from such a Teaching. (And too many people would LOSE too much money if that Truth were publicized.)

I know that from experience.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Michael, with all due respect, your comments make very little sense to me.

Michael Cecil said...

Hi, Allan,

Well, if you have any specific questions, I would certainly be willing to address them.

To me, all of this is really quite simple:

The Doctrine of "resurrection" in the Prophets, the Gospels and the Quran is a Doctrine of 'Rebirth'; and a necessary corollary to the Doctrine of the Righteousness of the Creator and His Absolute Power over the physical creation, as asserted in Chapter 28 of Deuteronomy.

What is it about these specific statements that does not make any sense to you?

I am genuinely surprised that this is not easily understood; or maybe I am missing something?

Would certainly like to discuss this if you are interested.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Michael, your separation between rebirth and resurrection is unbiblical. The notion of bodily resurrection is definitely taught in the NT. To remove the idea from Jesus and Paul is to tear both of them away from their Jewish context.

In another comment thread you mention Marcus Borg. I disagree with Borg on so many levels it would take far too long to address them all.

Michael Cecil said...

Hi, Allan,

Your statement that something I have said is "unbiblical" really makes no sense to me at all since the "Bible" includes the cryptic description of the revelation of the memories of previous lives in both Isaiah 26:19 and Luke 20:36 AND the Pharisaical teaching of Paul that the "resurrection" is, instead, the Egyptian doctrine of a physical raising of a dead body from the grave. In other words, how can a Revelation and a specific *contradiction* of that Revelation BOTH be included in a composite work that claims to be a Revelation?

In any case, if Jesus taught the DOCTRINE of a physical raising of a dead body from the grave, he would have been an ally with the Pharisees against the Sadducees. But he DIDN'T.

And that is why the Pharisees needed him DEAD: his contradiction of their DOCTRINE.

And about Marcus Borg...

I would probably have to agree with you.

But, on the other hand, a stopped clock is right at least twice each day; and the similarity between the Teaching of Jesus and the teaching of the Buddha is something that cannot reasonably be denied.

Appreciate the reply.

Most religious people simply ignore my comments altogether or become enraged.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks for the discussion. I am certainly not enraged but it is very clear that you and I share widely divergent assumptions and perspectives, so it is doubtful we can find much common ground, at least on this subject.

Michael Cecil said...


With all due respect, what specific assumption is it that I am making?

Jesus had to die for either one of two reasons:

1) Because his Teaching was a significant THREAT to both the Sadducees AND the Pharisees; or,

2) as a "vicarious atonement for the sins of men".

I would suggest that the wrong answer to this question not only previously resulted in the Holocaust; but, also, is at the very foundation of the theological conflicts--and the separation between Judaism, Christianity and Islam--underlying the political conflicts over Jerusalem; certainly NOT a trivial matter at all.

Michael Cecil said...


Apparently, but not all that surprisingly, you are no longer interested in pursuing this discussion.

Which, you should know, is precisely the reaction I have received from, literally, thousands of other religious ‘authorities’ in the United States and the Israel over the past 33 years.

But this is not merely trivially unfortunate.

This reaction over more than 33 years is significantly tragic.

And the significantly tragic will soon morph into the horrifically catastrophic (this according to the Visions and Prophecies I have received):

The politicians, the diplomats, and the media officials are, at this very moment, doing everything they can possibly do to drag and push this civilization into the horrors of the “time of trouble” Prophesied by Daniel.

Something which, however, the religious ‘authorities’ could have prevented had they wanted to prevent it.

But they did not WANT to prevent it.

Because, to prevent it, they would have had to acknowledge that they are WRONG about the Doctrine of the “resurrection”.

Something which they would NOT do.

Each and every one of the, literally, thousands of religious ‘authorities’ I contacted over the past 33 years has, like you, walked away from any serious discussion about the Doctrine of “resurrection” (as a Doctrine of ‘Rebirth’); preferring, consciously or unconsciously, the very annihilation of human civilization itself than to acknowledging that they could be so fundamentally WRONG about the Teaching of Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Jesus and Mohammed.

And, so, millions of people will die.

Because the religious ‘authorities’ were simply unwilling even to discuss the Doctrine of “resurrection”.

I suggest that you keep that in ‘mind’ should you live to see the fulfillment of the Prophecies of Daniel.

Allan R. Bevere said...


I have not continued the discussion because I have never felt it necessary that I have the last word in a discussion. I like for people to express their views and I do not always feel the need to respond.

But I will say it again, and especially in light of your last comment, you and I do not share much in common when it comes to this subject, so I am not sure how fruitful the discussion will be.

And if you claim to have received visions and prophecies there's not much I can say in response because no matter what I say you are certain you are right.

So I am content to leave it at that.

Michael Cecil said...


So, let me see if I have this right:

Millions of people are going to die as a result of a military confrontation in the Middle East because several thousand religious 'authorities' are simply 'not sure how fruitful' any further discussion about the Doctrine of "resurrection" would be; and because they are simply unwilling to acknowledge even the possibility that they could be wrong about the Doctrine of "resurrection".

And you are "content to leave it at that"?

Never mind.

You don't have to answer.