INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE FROM A SUBALTERN PERSPECTIVE

Greg Brett, CM[*]

Introduction

  • When you speak of interreligious dialogue in a western, theological context, the frame o f reference is nearly always the issue of “Christian uniqueness” and/or the uniqueness of Christ.”

Theological Response

  • Theologians of the West have responded to this question by developing three categories:
  • Exclusivism;
  • Inclusivism;
  • And pluralism.

 

Exclusivists

  • are those who perceive their own religion as exclusively salvific:
  • The Christian version of it is reflected in the adage extra ecclesia nulla salus.
  • Conversion of others to their own faith is a religious imperative that invokes love and compassion for the unredeemed as the driving motive for direct evangelization.

 

Inclusivists

  • Would situate the salvific Absolute (e.g. Christ) in their own religion, but hold it to be secretly operative in other religions, which thus become indirectly salvific.
  • People of other religions are saved insofar as they are potentially Christians (awaiting fulfillment in Christianity)
  • Or anonymous Christians (needing explication of their true identity in and through Christianity).
  • The goal of dialogue is to complete the incomplete, or name and recognize implicit discipleship.

 

Pluralism

  • Attributes to each religion its unique role in salvation.
  • It rejects as almost irreligious any attempt at co-opting the other’s religion to one’s own paradigm of salvation (soteriology).

 

A New Paradigm

  • Pieris proposes a paradigm that transcends the three categories outlined.
  • The starting point is not the uniqueness of Christ or Christianity, or any other religion.
  • Rather, we must recognize the primacy of a third magisterium: the poor, whose necessity to just exist crosses all boundaries.

 

The Poor

  • The poor are the destitute, the disposed, the displaced, and the discriminated who form the bulk of Asian people.
  • Here in India, the term dalit is employed to describe the poor

 

Dalit

  • The term Dalit is derived from the root dal which means to crack, open or split.
  • When used as a noun or adjective, it means burst, split, broken or torn asunder, scattered, crushed, destroyed

 

Outcaste

  • The term dalit today is specially used for those people who, on the basis of caste distinction, have been considered “outcaste”.
  • They were “outcaste”, because they were not according to the architects of the system fit to be included in the fourfold graded caste structure of Indian society

 

A Counter Theology

  • Attempts and initiatives began in the early eighties to systematically articulate the faith in the context of the newly merging and central understanding of the poor and their aspiration for liberation.
  • A.P. Nirmal, James Massey, M.E. Prabhakar, M. Azariah, K.Wilson are some of the prominent persons who figure in this theological movement.

 

The Purpose of this Approach

  • The ultimate purpose of this approach is two fold: to act in solidarity and to act for liberation. According to this school of thought, any theological dialogue that will not lead to action and the resultant liberation is futile.

 

Solidarity

  • Solidarity also permeates this theological approach. Christian values of sacrifice, charity and commitment to others are all intertwined in this profound understanding of solidarity. Transcending ones creed, ideology and religion a Dalit is invited “to lose oneself for the sake of the other.” Incarnational theology is the basis of such a two-sided solidarity with God and with fellow Dalits.
  • “The core act of the incarnation of God in Jesus was God’s “acting in solidarity with human beings, particularly the oppressed of the world.” (James Massey)
  • “Being in solidarity with our fellow Dalits of different faiths and ideologies is a demand which the God of the Bible, through his own act of incarnation, places on Dalit Christians. This is an important factor for the authenticity of Dalit theology, enabling it to become an instrument of destroying the social and religious structures responsible for the Dalits’ historical captivity” (Massey)

 

Aloysius Pieris

Aloysius Pieris challenges us to confront the two most urgent, complex, and therefore promising questions that face the Christian religion in Asia: The question of the many poor and the question of the many religions. “That Christians will not adequately address the problem of Asian poverty unless they do so within the context of dialogue with Asian religions, and that they will not carry on an authentic and successful interreligious encounter unless they base that dialogue on a concern for the poor.” (Pieris,  An Asian Theology of Liberation, xi.)

 

Presents a number of challenges:

 

1. Raises the question of “hermeneutical suspicion” that maybe all these conferences, our scholarly and mystic-ritual encounters, might be serving as a holy smoke screen behind which we are avoiding, unconsciously, the harsh realities of poverty, injustice and exploitation. If interreligious dialogue does not come out of an experience of human suffering, and does not explore the this-worldly liberative message of all religions, it is a violation of the very nature of religions and of interreligious dialogue.

 

2. Challenges contemporary theologians who might be too uncritical of the mighty “Karl” of the recent century. Rahner clearly moved Christian theology of religions from the exclusivist position of “Christ-against-the –religions” toward the inclusivist attitude of “Christ-of-the-religions”. Pieris poses the question of whether this position is really a “crypto-colonial theology of religions”. That is, Rahner’s anonymous Christianity can be challenged by a counter claim of anonymous Hinduism etc.

 

3. The Christian Churches in Asia have not yet really become churches of Asia: An authentic, deep reaching process of inculturation by which Western Christianity becomes Asian Christianity has not taken place – and the reason, paradoxically has been because of the excessive mis-directed stress that the churches have placed on inculturation, i.e. the efforts and concerns to take on the culture of Asia have been a blinder to or an escape from the need to confront the poverty of Asia. By identifying with Asian peoples in their struggle for justice – as that struggle is nourished by their traditional religions – that authentic inculturation will take place and the church in Asia will become the Church of Asia. In fact, the inculturation debate is rooted in the erroneous presupposition that churches in Asia are not inculturated. Rather, every local church, being itself a people, is essentially an inculturated church. The relevant question to ask, therefore, is: Whose culture does the official church reflect? Or, what social class is the church predominantly associated with? Do the poor—the principal addresses of the good news and the special invitees to Christian discipleship—constitute a culturally decisive factor in the local church? When we raise the question of the many religions and the many poor, the central piece of the whole picture is the human person. Even the Asian Bishops, meeting in Madras, India recognized this dimension to dialogue: …interreligious dialogue cannot be confined to the religious sphere but must embrace all dimensions of life: economic, sociopolitical, cultural and religious. It is in their common commitment to the fuller life of the human community that they discover their complementarity and the urgency and relevance of dialogue at all levels, socio-economic and intellectual as well as spiritual, among the common people … Interreligious dialogue must not remain an activity of the experts centred on right teaching “dogma” (orthodoxy). It must become the activity of the poor arising out of interreligious praxis for liberation and fulfillment. Thus interreligious collaboration is not between religions, but between believers.

 

A Concrete Example

 

In the early 90’s there was a meeting of a Basic Human community of Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Marxist members. A lively exchange between a number of members and  a Buddhist-Marxist, named Sarath Mallika. As a young man he regarded the Bible as a fairy tale. However, he observed that, in their common struggle and common reflections which each had on the other’s religious literature, he had discovered that the concept of “God” which motivates Christians to liberational activity is radically different from the concept of God which the Buddha is  reported in the Pali scriptures to have rejected as absurd. As a Marxist coming from a Buddhist background, he could not accept the idea of God, but “if I ever had to believe in a God, this is the only one worth believing in,” …..  “This is the first time I have heard of a God who has made a defense pact with the oppressed.” The Christian participants came to realize that what was unique about their religion is that Jesus whom they follow is this pact! It became clearer to the Christian members that if they do not confess that Jesus is God’s defense pact with the nonpersons of the earth, “there will be no eternal life in them.”

 

 

Dynamic in this Interreligious Dialogue

 

The Christian participants are given their identity and are made to discover what is unique about Jesus by the non-Christians and this, within the context of a liberational concern

  • Interreligious dialogue from the subaltern perspective is not the search for the lowest common denominator on which we can easily agree, but the common search for the Truth, to which we bring all our riches and enrich each other.
  • It is in this way that we realize our own limitations and respond to the prophetic challenge of the other.
  • We find ourselves, our faith and the other in the presence of our liberating and covenant God

 


[*] Gregory Brett CM is a doctor in theology from Australian Province of the CM. He teaches systematic theology at Melbourne College of Divinity and member of the Commission of the Vincentian Charism and Culture. He is a member of the National Catholic-Lutheran Dialogue and continues to support ecumenical endeavours in Australia. His particular interest is the conversation between the work of the German theologian Karl Rahner and the Scottish philosopher John Macmurray. A recent publication is “A Timely Reminder: Humanity and Ecology in the Light of Christian Hope.” A chapter in Earth Revealing, Earth Healing: Ecology and Christian Theology, Denis Edwards (ed). Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2001.

 

 

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