Tuesday, July 24, 2007

John Taylor on the Theological Basis of Interfaith Dialogue

I am continuing to work through various bibliographical materials on interreligious dialogue in preparation for the fall workshop on this topic that I will be teaching at Salt Lake Theological Seminary. Last night I read through various chapters in Gerald H. Anderson and Thomas F. Sttransky, eds, Faith Meets Faith (Paulist Fathers & William B. Eerdmans, 1981), and a couple of items in John V. Taylor's chapter caught my eye. The chapter is titled "The Theological Basis of Interfaith Dialogue." The first quote is helpful as Taylor defines what he means by dialogue:

"Dialogue, as I understand it, means a sustained conversation between parties who are not saying the same thing and who recognize and respect the differences, the contradictions, and the mutual exclusions between their various ways of thinking. The object of this dialogue is understanding and appreciation, leading to further reflection upon the implication for one's own position of the convictions and sensitivities of the other traditions."

Later on on this same page just a couple of paragraphs below, Taylor discusses the function of dialogue in respect to maturity in the process of discussion with others with whom one disagrees:

"The loving which is expressed through the attempt to listen and understand and honor, through the frank recognition and appreciation of convictions that deny one's own, through the opening of one's imagination to the real otherness of the other, is, in my view, the function of interfaith dialogue."

On the following page Taylor then moves to a discussion of barriers to dialogue on the part of Christians in a section titled "Past Isolation Has Bred Ignorance and Suspicion." After discussing the society of Western Christendom that developed in reaction to Islam, which included an aspect of isolation from other religious communities, Taylor states:

"As a counter-aggression the Church developed a crusading ethos that became a fundamental feature of its tradition, an ethos which even today is second nature to many Christians."

I find each of these quotes helpful in reflecting on contemporary dialogue between Christianity and the new religions, particularly in the contexts in which I am involved, that of evangelical-Mormon dialogue and Christian-Pagan dialogue. First, Taylor defines dialogue, and although dialogue is taking place in various ways between Christianity and the new religions it is not always defined for those involved and those watching the process. In the second quote Taylor discusses dialogue as a means of both respect for the "religious other" and as a means of self-transformation on the part of the Christian dialogue participant. This aspect is similar to that expressed by Leonard Swidler in his "Dialogue Decalogue" discussed previously on this blog. Third, in the final quotation Taylor notes that a "crusading ethos" has become an important part of the Christian tradition in relation to the "religious other." Perhaps if we are reminded of this facet of our tradition that persists in our postures in regard to the new religions then we will be able to move beyond it.

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