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“Cowardice that dares not face the new truth,
Of laziness which is satisfied with a half-truth,
Of the arrogance that thinks he knows the whole truth,
Good God, save me.
—A Kenyan prayer from “The Catholic Prayer Book”
Last weekend, I spoke via Zoom to a group in Lexington called the Christian-Muslim Dialogue, which, as the name suggests, is made up of Christians and Muslims who meet regularly to discuss religion and religion. related issues.
I made a presentation to the group, followed by a discussion between the members and me.
I found the experience inspiring and it reminded me why it is important for people on different paths to stay in touch with each other. Living in a fairly homogeneous corner of Kentucky, I don’t often have the opportunity to have interfaith conversations.
In my presentation, I offered four observations on interfaith (and also interfaith) dialogues that I believe make them important.
First, if we hope to grow spiritually, it helps to be able to keep more than one thought in our head at the same time. Knowing people from other belief systems – whether we are Muslims meeting Christians, or Evangelical Protestants meeting Roman Catholics, or Mormons meeting Buddhists – introduces us to ideas, personal stories, and theological traditions that we don’t. might not have encountered before.
We are fortunate to see the universe through the eyes of others. It doesn’t require us to sacrifice our own beliefs or even decide that another way of worshiping is as good for us as ours is. If we think our path is the best, we are free to stick to it.
But interfaith dialogue inevitably makes us think. It reminds us that no matter how fervently we believe what we believe, other people of good will may see things differently. And they could be right. This insight alone can awaken a deep sense of humility, and humility is a necessary virtue for our growth.
Second, as we meet and listen to people of other faiths, our view of God expands. We find that no one believes anything in a vacuum. Muslims are Muslims and Methodists are Methodists and Mormons are Mormons for reasons that seem as valid to them as our faith appears to us.
By listening to people of other traditions, slowly becoming friends, we also see the image of God in them. We see how great, magnanimous and impenetrable the Almighty must be. We find that we don’t have God all to ourselves. We did not fully understand it. It is not confined to our theological box.
As Saint Augustine would have said: “If you understood him, it would not be God.”
Third, in faith and in all of life, our goal should be to find and embrace the truth wherever it takes us. We shouldn’t just sink in on our heels and stand up for principles that we have always stood by just because they are our own. At best, religion is a way of seeking transcendence, even though as weak humans we weakly pursue that transcendence. That we are imperfect does not mean that we should not learn and grow to the extent that we are able.
When we talk to people from other traditions, we can see the mistakes in our own ways and learn from them in ways that are better. Hallelujah for that. I just want the truth. If your route is better than mine, count on me.
Fourth, as cliché as it may be, when we speak and listen we find that we have more in common than we are apart. We all want to experience peace with God. We want to live in peace with our neighbors. We want peace in our souls. We want the best for our children.
By meeting and honestly discussing our hopes and fears, we recognize that we truly are brothers and sisters.
If there is any hope for our troubled faith communities, our troubled country, or this troubled world, it is that we could stop yelling at each other and demonizing ourselves, that we could start listening. So that we can at least give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. We have to show ourselves a little grace, a hint of confidence, an iota of goodwill.
Interfaith dialogue is a step in this direction.
Paul Prather is the pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.