NCDD member Martin Rutte just sent me a copy of this fascinating New York Times article, which reports that the Pope has written that “an inter-religious dialogue in the strict sense of the word is not possible…without putting one’s faith in parentheses.” I’m honestly not clear on what the Pope means by “putting one’s faith in parentheses,” but it reminds me of several conversations we had during the conference planning process for NCDD Austin. When we talked about organizing an interfaith dialogue among local religious leaders, some of the concerns expressed by representatives of different faiths who had experienced interfaith dialogue were that (1) we don’t want yet another Hummus Dialogue (“gee – we all like hummus!”) and (2) we don’t want a safe, contrived, self-congratulatory conversation that doesn’t get into any depth about the issues. These two statements seemed to typify what they had experienced in interfaith dialogues before.
And while planning our panel of conservatives (which ended up being the best-reviewed and most appreciated session at NCDD Austin), one of our conservative friends expressed how for a long time he had felt like dialogue demanded that he “check his convictions at the door” in order to have an open mind and let go of assumptions. He explained that people who believe in absolute truths — including people with strong religious faith — can feel very threatened by the idea of open dialogue. Perhaps this is what the Pope was referring to.
Check out the article below, and please leave a comment to let us know what you think. What do YOU think the Pope meant by “putting one’s faith in parentheses”? And if you disagree with his statements about interfaith dialogue, how would you respond to someone who makes these statements?
Pope Questions Interfaith Dialogue
By RACHEL DONADIO
Published: November 23, 2008 New York Times
ROME — In comments that could have broad implications in a period of intense inter-religious conflict, Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday cast doubt on the possibility of interfaith dialogue but called for more discussion of the practical consequences of religious differences.
The pope’s comments were from a letter he wrote to Marcello Pera, an Italian center-right politician and scholar whose forthcoming book, “Why We Must Call Ourselves Christian,” argues that Europe should stay true to its liberal, Christian roots. A central theme of Benedict’s papacy has been to focus attention on the Christian roots of an increasingly secular Europe.
In comments from the letter that appeared on Sunday in Corriere della Sera, Italy’s leading daily, the pope said the book “explained with great clarity” that “an inter-religious dialogue in the strict sense of the word is not possible.” In theological terms, he added, “a true dialogue is not possible without putting one’s faith in parentheses.”
But Benedict added that “intercultural dialogue which deepens the cultural consequences of basic religious ideas” was important. He called for confronting “in a public forum the cultural consequences of basic religious decisions.”
The Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the pope’s comments seemed intended to draw interest for Mr. Pera’s book, not to cast doubt on the Vatican’s many continuing inter-religious dialogues. (more…)