Friday, December 28, 2012

Why Inter-Religious Dialogue?

One question that has appeared more than once in my reading of Paul Knitter's No Other Name? A Critical Survey of Christian Attitudes Toward the World Religions concerns the purpose of inter-religious dialogue.   Knitter wants for it to be much more than chit-chat in which people from one religion affirm other religions, and vice versa.  My impression, and I'm open to correction on this, is that Knitter would like for inter-religious dialogue to get at a truth.  But Knitter also appears to be skeptical of Christian claims that Christianity is superior to other religions.  He refers to thinkers who regard such a stance as inhibiting dialogue rather than fostering or encouraging it.  Moreover, he seems to believe that the claim crashes against reality, in which history and culture are in flux, and people from non-Christian religions appear through their good lives and their insights to have experienced the divine.

I suppose that one reason to be aware of other religions is that this helps us to better understand our own religion, as we see what we are like in comparison to others.  There are evangelicals who practice this principle.  Some look at Islam and think that Muslims have something to teach evangelicals, since Muslims have a much less casual attitude to God than a number of evangelicals do, or Muslims are serious about their regular practice of worship.  Others look at Islam and conclude that the evangelical intimacy with God is preferable, and they may regard the Muslim rituals of worship as legalistic.  Either way, they're thinking about their own religion as they compare it with another.

Mutual understanding is another reason for inter-religious dialogue.  There are plenty of stereotypes out there.  These stereotypes shape how we view and treat the other.  Listening to people define themselves rather than how others define them can help correct this problem.  It's important to hear people's own side of the story.

I'm rather skeptical of the notion that Christians have to become liberals for inter-religious dialogue to occur.  Not only do I believe that genuine dialogue occurs when people are themselves, but I also think that excluding conservative practitioners of religions from the discussion----just because they hold a stance that is not considered conducive to dialogue----brackets out a significant number of people who play a key role in shaping the religion.  If you want for inter-religious dialogue to be an elite enterprise, then perhaps a way to do that is to say that only liberal Christians can show up as representatives of Christianity.  I don't think that approach is very productive, however.

I'd say that from the standpoint of my own spirituality, however, I prefer a Christianity that does not dismiss the notion that God may be at work in other religions, and that other religions may have insights to teach me.  But that's part of my own spiritual search, not so much my stance on inter-religious dialogue.  At the same time, I think that being open to learning can assist dialogue, and that even conservative Christians can see their own blind spots as they compare themselves with other religions, and may in the process even draw the conclusion that other religions have insights that are compatible with Scripture.  On page 163, Knitter refers to a thinker who held that Christians can learn important lessons from Judaism, such as "the Jewish insistence on salvation as communal and as demanding historical transformation, the goodness of creation, and the danger of making anything final before the kingdom of God has come" (Knitter's words).


  1. If you are interested in some new ideas on inter-religious dialogue and the Trinity, please check out my website at, and give me your thoughts on improving content and presentation.

    My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic theology.

    In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan Hindu conception of the Universe Absolute Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist apprehension of the Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept of the Holy Trinity.

    The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the logic of world religions, as follows:

    1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the first person of the Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known as Allah or Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other names; represented by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty messenger prophets), and others.

    2. Christians and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person through a second person, i.e. the experiential Universe or "Universal” Absolute Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or Vishnu/Krishna; represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and savior of souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human consciousness, which we expect will be the "body of Christ" (Mahdi, Messiah, Kalki or Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.

    3. Shaivite Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis of the first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality – unqualified Nirvana consciousness – associative Tao of All That Is – the absonite* Unconditioned Absolute Spirit “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected to be Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being – represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas, Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.

    Other strains of religion seem to be psychological variations on the third person, or possibly combinations and permutations of the members of the Trinity – all just different personality perspectives on the Same God. Taken together, the world’s major religions give us at least two insights into the first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions of the second person, and at least three glimpses of the third.

    * The ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither existential nor experiential, but their ultimate consummation; neither fully ideal nor totally real, but a middle path and grand synthesis of the superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.

    ** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit is a synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme, so it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit Synthesis of Source and Synthesis – the metaphysical Destiny Consummator of All That Is.

    For more details, please see:

    Samuel Stuart Maynes

  2. Thank you very much for your comment, Samuel. It's very interesting, as I'm sure your web site is.

  3. James... Yes, please read the preview on my website at You won't be disappointed.

    Why religious pluralism? Because as the world becomes more and more religiously and culturally diverse, we will have no choice but to practice pluralism in order to avoid a “clash of civilizations” over what amounts to a possibly preventable and ultimately correctable misunderstanding. To quote from my Homepage, I maintain that:

    “As religious communities and as growing nations, our futures are inextricably linked, being joined at the hip so to speak. We must develop a truly multi-cultural, multi-religious society in order to get along. Religious variety would be a wonderful source of cultural stimulus, if religious beliefs could be placed in some sort of comprehensive context which recognizes the differences, but integrates their best attitudes in one inclusive framework. Diversity can be healthy and something to be celebrated. Pluralism also has the virtue of being a universal moral worldview.

    Mere toleration is too fragile a foundation for a world of religious differences in close proximity. It does nothing to unite people, and leaves in place the stereotypes and fears that underlie old patterns of division and violence. In the world in which we live today, our elitism and ignorance of one another will be increasingly costly. If the interactions of society are to be at all a rational process, some set of principles must motivate the general participation of religious groups in the oneness of the community, without hindering the maintenance by each group of its own identity.

    Recently, a number of theologians have suggested that the Trinity may provide the key to an inclusive theology of religions, and a new understanding of religious diversity. An expanded abstract version of the Trinity can function as a metaphysical "architectonic principle" to unlock the providential purpose and meaning of religious variety, in the portrayal of the multi-dimensional nature of God.

    In the past, religious misunderstandings have caused immense grief, but civilization is rapidly approaching the point where the very survival of the world depends on overcoming anti-social religious conflicts, and the negative impacts of increasing population on the planet. The human race can no longer afford religious strife that divides people and disturbs urgent cooperation on mutual issues such as conservation and sharing of resources, combating climate change, stimulating healthy economic growth, etc.

    Peace in the world requires peace among religions. Religious pluralism is a necessary paradigm shift whose time has come. Absent any better idea, the Trinity Absolute concept of One God in three phases or personae is the only adequate metaphysical vehicle necessary and sufficient for a real form of religious pluralism that is more than just lukewarm toleration and talking past one another.”

    Samuel Stuart Maynes


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