Why Interreligious Dialogue?

First we must ask and answer the question: How can I be true to my faith without being false to yours? The great Sage Hillel enjoined us not to judge our fellow human being until you stand in his or her place. One must do something more, to look at yourself with the eyes of the other. With what eyes do you see me?

– Rabbi Jack Bemporad
John Paul II Center Co-Director

Can interreligious dialogue help us give meaning and substance to the universal human rights we all feel are foundational for furthering respect for all human beings and the necessary requirements for peace?

We certainly have to acknowledge most religions have not only misunderstood other faiths, but have eyed them with suspicion, and with the tragic distinction that we are the children of light and everyone else the child of darkness. While we believe that the Scriptures of our religion teaches the path to peace, we must also acknowledge that our various sacred writings have been and continue to be used to justify violence, war, and exclusion of others.

For these dark reasons, and to forge a foundation of respect and a path forward, toward peace, we must all recognize the need for new, contextual studies and a deeper understanding of our various Scriptures that clearly enunciate the message and value of peace for all humanity. Common words mean very different things in different traditions. Only dialogue can bring about clarification by devising a more abstract terminology so that our own and the other’s religion can be described. Engaging in active and on-going dialogue is needed to replace fear of the unknown, with an embracing of The Other.

It can be done. Three questions need to be asked and answered:

First, How can I be true to my faith without being false to yours?
One must recognize oneself as properly characterized by the other in the dialogue process. This challenge is to remain true to our own faith without disparaging or distorting that of others. Believers need to examine those Scriptural passages that depict people of other religions in ways that conflict with their own self-understanding. This requires a renewed effort to educate properly our own adherents to the values and beliefs of others. Such interreligious education, that takes seriously the self-understanding of other religious traditions, is essential.

Second, What is the place of the other religions in one’s own faith perspective?
That is, what place do we provide for the other religions in our religious theologies? As we review our past teachings about the other, we must find a proper place for the other.

Third, How can we use the great resources of world religions for the common good?
We must dialogue to discover the common moral and ethical elements that are essential to our religions and try to unite on a common ethic independent of our theological perspectives. We cannot expect the major religions to agree on theological issues but for the sake of our future and the future of our children they must agree on moral issues.

Author: Rabbi Jack Bemporad John Paul II Center Co-Director