The necessary interreligious dialogue

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By LEONARDO BOFF*

Dialogue between religions means peaceful coexistence between the most diverse spiritual paths; your contribution is fundamental to peace between the different peoples living in the same Common Home

Interreligious dialogue is one of the most urgent demands in this planetary phase of humanity. Today's fundamentalism and terrorism are deeply rooted in religious convictions rather than ideologies. Only motivations that are based on a radical meaning that transcends immediate historical meanings sustain the courage of people, willing to sacrifice themselves and become suicide bombers to destroy others, seen as enemies. This meaning is normally produced by religions.

Religious background to current conflicts

Behind the main conflicts of the end of the 7th century and the beginning of the 2024st century there is a religious background, like in the past in Ireland, in Kosovo, in Kachemira; and currently in Syria, Afghanistan, Congo and today in a violent manner between Ukraine and Russia, the terrorist act by Hamas in Gaza on October XNUMX, XNUMX and the disproportionate retaliation by the State of Israel, headed by a first far-right minister, attacked the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip.

Not without reason wrote Samuel P. Huntington, one of the most attentive observers of the globalization process in his discussed book The Clash of Civilizations (Objective): “In the modern world, religion is a central force, perhaps the central force that motivates and mobilizes people….What ultimately counts for people is not political ideology nor economic interest; but what people identify with are religious convictions, family and creeds. It is for these things that they fight and are even willing to give their lives” (p. 79).

In fact, despite the process of secularization and the eclipse of the sacred with the introduction of critical reason from the Enlightenment of the 18th century, religion survived all attacks. On the contrary, the last few decades have seen a powerful return of the religious and mystical factor in all world societies, a return brought about mainly by the sons and daughters of the masters of suspicion and devastating criticism of religion such as Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, Popper and others.

Religion is the common worldview of the majority of humanity. There he finds guidance for life and ethical attitudes are derived from it. Ernst Bloch, the Marxist philosopher who rescued the deep meaning of the religious factor, said it well: “where there is religion, there is hope”. And where there is hope, countless reasons arise to fight, to dream, to project salvationist utopias and give meaning to life and history.

Religious pluralism in fact and in law

So, we must start from the incisive fact of religion, better yet, religious pluralism. There are as many religions as there are cultures. When a culture produces its religion, it is a sign that it has reached maturity. It helps to confer identity and cultural cohesion.

All religions work with an ultimate meaning and values ​​that guide life. Therefore, they have a high humanizing and civilizing value. But it is important not to ignore that they run the permanent risk of fundamentalism, of imagining themselves absolute and the best. This attitude is one step away from religious war, something that occurs frequently in history. Religions then need to recognize each other, enter into dialogue and seek minimum convergences that allow them to coexist peacefully. This is the importance of dialogue between everyone.

First of all, it is important to recognize religious pluralism as “in fact” and as “by law”. The fact is undeniable, just state it. The issue is its legal legitimacy. On this point there are profound divergences, especially in the hierarchical Catholic Church, in other Christian churches, in certain tendencies of Islam and other religions. Here some Christian churches show their explicit fundamentalism, as they consider themselves the exclusive bearers of divine revelation and the only heirs of God's saving deed in history through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

But plurality cannot be denied. Therefore, it is important to defend the right to this plurality in fact. Firstly for a reason internal to the religion itself. No religion can claim to fit God, the mystery, the original source of all being or any name one wants to give to the supreme reality, within the fabric of its discourse and rites. If that were the case, God would be a piece of the world, in reality, an idol. He would completely lose his transcendence to any human objectification.

He is always beyond what we can represent. So, there is room for other expressions and other ways of celebrating it that are not exclusively through this church or this concrete religion. As a 13th century Franciscan thinker Duns Scotu said: “If God exists as things exist, then God does not exist”. He is not in the order of things, but in the foundation of his existence and the permanence in that existence.

Thus, for example, the African-based religions present in Brazil are not Cartesian and Western. They have another way of feeling, interpreting and experiencing the sacred. They are deeply ecological religions, linked to the energies of nature and the cosmos. “Axé” itself is a cosmic energy, present in all beings and more strongly in charismatic people such as saints’ fathers and mothers. His way of cultivating the sacred must be welcomed as one of the legitimate ways of walking towards God (Olorum) and being visited by the deities.

The mistake of claiming exclusivity

In fact, it is not religious pluralism that should be questioned but the claim of one of the religions to consider itself the only true one. There is no point in sophistry: if there is only one God, there must be only one religion. Now, the nature of God and the nature of religion are profoundly different. The nature of God is the mystery, the ineffable, the infinite. The nature of religion is the limited, the historical, the finite, that which was created by human culture. Therefore, God can never be identified with any doctrine. He is within and also without and beyond, for this is his nature. Furthermore, if we accept that God is a diversity of divine persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a permanent relationship of love and dialogue, this provides a greater foundation to justify religious diversity.

Hence it is important that we recognize the fact that there are many religions and churches, so that each of them can say something of the ineffable and reveal dimensions that the other cannot express. All together symphonically wave to the sacred reality and all remain silent, reverent, before it because it overflows them from all forms and sides.

This last reflection forces us to introduce a distinction of fundamental importance for inter-religious dialogue to be possible and gain some effectiveness: the distinction between spirituality and religion.

Distinction between religion and spirituality

By spirituality we understand the encounter with the mystery of the world, with the ineffable, with the Tao, with Olorum, with the Numinous with what is conventionally called God (although there are traditions that do not feel good, such as Buddhism, which is rather a wisdom than a religion). This encounter is neither invented nor imposed. It simply occurs, as an original experience. The human being is open to others, to the world and to infinity. It is simply an open and dialogic system.

He asks radical questions about his origin and destiny, about the meaning of the universe, about the meaning of his life, his suffering and his death. It is a scream launched into infinity. Experiencing this reality makes up what we call spirit. It is a way of being, of relating, of feeling part of a greater Whole. Contemporary scientists call it “natural spirituality” because it belongs to human nature (Cf. Steven Rockefeller, Spiritual democracy and our schools).

This natural spirituality is not the monopoly of religions or any spiritual path. He is before everything. It has the same right to anthropological citizenship as libido, will, intelligence and sensitivity. Just as there is intellectual intelligence and emotional intelligence, there is also spiritual intelligence through which we capture, in addition to facts and emotions, the global contexts of our lives, significant totalities, values ​​and our insertion in a greater Whole.

It is characteristic of spirituality to capture global visions and be guided by a transcendental sense. Neurologists and neurolinguists have detected an empirical basis for this intelligence in the biology of neurons. Some neuroscientists and the psychiatrist I. Marshall and his quantum physicist wife, Danah Zohar among others (Cf. D. Zohar, QS, spiritual intelligence, Record) even talk about the “God point” in the brain. From an evolutionary perspective, that is to say, the universe has evolved to the point of producing a being of intelligence that has the ability to perceive, through a certain acceleration of neurons, the mystery of this universe, a Mystery that penetrates and shines in everything.

This “God point” represents an evolutionary advantage of the species homo, present in all representatives. Logically, God is not just present in one point of the brain, but in the entire human being and each of its dimensions. But it is from a point of neurons that it allows itself to be perceived phenomenologically.

This spiritual experience is the basis of all religions and spiritual paths. The way in which this experience was expressed historically varies depending on the cultures, whether in India, China, Tibet, Japan, among the Mayans, Aztecs, Tupi-Guarani, Yanomani among others. Religions are cultural constructs, the most diverse, attempts to express this original spirituality in a doctrine, in a celebration, in a sacred text, an ethical code.

Religions are different and many, but the original spirituality is the same. It is what allows understanding and dialogue between religions, because they all drink from the same source of crystal clear waters: natural spirituality. Religions are channels of this original source.

Importance of religions for world peace

If such is the importance of religions in the configuration of concrete humanity, then they are decisive for coexistence and world peace. That is why we understand the importance that Pope Francis gives to them in his two ecological encyclicals Laudato Sì: about caring for the Common Home (2015) and in Fratelli tutti (2020) in order to safeguard the life and future of Mother Earth. Very well known and always cited is the fundamental thesis of the German theologian Hans Küng, recently deceased, the best scholar of religions in the planetary phase with which we agree: “There will be no peace between nations, if there is no peace between religions. There will be no peace between religions if there is no dialogue between religions” (World religions).

Dialogue between religions follows a unique path. It cannot begin with the discussion of doctrines that soon generate endless discussions and divisions, but with the awareness of spirituality that unites everyone. And this is done through prayer or meditation. Dialogue begins when everyone begins to pray together or meditate. Praying, meditating is immersing yourself in spirituality. Then people begin to get to know each other, to discover the goodness of one another, piety, reverence and the sincere search for the mystery of all things, of “God”.

Doctrines are relativized in the name of concrete life, inspired by the respective religion. Logically, everything that is healthy can become sick. All religions can incorporate deviations, hardenings, fundamentalist group attitudes. Here there is a vast field of reciprocal criticism and purification processes. Just as illness leads to health, in a similar way spiritual experience will restore health to religions. This prayerful dialogue gives rise to points of convergence that establish possible peace between religions, one of the factors of world peace.

But there are churches, especially among us, the neo-Pentecostals that follow the logic of the market and make religion a big business, often exploiting the poor with the theology of prosperity and lately with the theology of domination. Because they seek economic advantages, they easily ally themselves with more conservative political parties. In this way, they denature religion and the church, as they were not created for the market, but to meet people's spiritual demands.

Points of convergence in interreligious dialogue

Continued dialogue made it possible to establish common points between religions, as listed in 1970 at the World Conference of Religions in favor of Peace in Kyoto. These converging points were thus formulated and reinforced years later at the great meeting in Chicago.

(i) There is a fundamental unity of the human family in equality and dignity of all its members. (ii) Every human being is sacred and untouchable, especially in his consciousness. (iii) Every human community represents a value. (iv) Power cannot be equated with right. Power is never sufficient in itself, is never absolute and must be limited by the rights and control of the community. (v) Faith, love, compassion, altruism, strength of spirit and inner truthfulness are ultimately far superior to hatred, enmity and selfishness. (vi) One must, by obligation, be on the side of the poor and oppressed and against their oppressors. (vii) We have deep hope that in the end goodwill will triumph.

As can be seen, this dialogue is not exhausted in itself. It is ordered towards something greater: peace between peoples, peace with the Earth, peace with ecosystems, peace between human beings and themselves and peace with the original source from which it came and where it is going. This peace is, as the Earth Charter, “the fullness created by right relationships with oneself, with other people, with other cultures, with other lives, with the Earth and with the greater Whole of which we are part.”

Open dialogue between religions means, therefore, peaceful and joyful coexistence between the most diverse spiritual paths that see, in their diversity, a richness of the one and same frontal mystery from which we came and towards which we are heading. Your contribution is fundamental to peace between the different peoples living in the same Common Home.

*Leonardo Boff He is a theologian, philosopher and writer. Author, among other books, of Inhabiting the Earth: what is the path to universal fraternity (Vozes). [https://amzn.to/3RNzNpQ]


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