Many paths, one vacation spot?

Many paths, one destination?

THERE is little doubt that one of many nice non secular successes in Britain in current many years has been the expansion of interfaith dialogue. Pews at weekly companies is probably not as full because the parish monks and rabbis would really like, however interfaith organisations have exploded in quantity, and conferences abound.

Faiths that have been beforehand both at loggerheads, or had no contact with one another, now co-exist harmoniously. Interfaith relations have grow to be a lot a part of the brand new norm that many Jewish and Christian clergy take it without any consideration that it’s a part of their “job spec”.

Even optimistic advances can have unfavorable penalties, nonetheless, and this non secular love-in has introduced critical challenges. It is probably not trendy to confess them, however they have to be confronted.

On the optimistic aspect, the three essential benefits are nicely documented. First, when an individual’s religion defines who they’re and the way they behave, the extra we learn about that religion the higher we perceive its adherents, and are enabled to create a society the place individuals of various backgrounds really feel comfortable with one another.

If these people additionally occur to be non secular leaders, that mutual respect could be preached about and shared, and thus can percolate to others of their communities. We’ve got seen too many examples of societies divided by religion to not regard this as an opportunity to make the wolf lie down with the lamb. It’s holy work.

Second, the examine of one other religion can result in insights into one’s personal traditions. This is applicable particularly to Jews and Christians. Christians, as an illustration, can discover a lot that means within the symbolism of the Passover meal that in all probability shaped the premise of the Final Supper. Conversely, Matthew’s Gospel is a must-read textual content for Jews to know Jewish life within the first century. The truth that adherents of each faiths who attend the opposite’s companies usually exclaim “These prayers are so like those we are saying!” emphasises how the liturgies of each faiths are primarily based on shared biblical passages.


OF COURSE, there was an preliminary nervousness to be overcome earlier than these advantages might evolve. If dialogue means accepting others as they’re, and with their very own non secular integrity, it meant that Christians needed to surrender makes an attempt to transform Jews. For some, this was a major sacrifice.

For his or her half, Jews needed to overcome an antipathy conditioned by nearly 2000 years of persecution precipitated, straight or not directly, by the Church. It was not theology that was the issue, however historical past, of which the Holocaust is seen as essentially the most dreadful end result potential.

Not solely did Jewish-Christian perseverance reap rewards. It has additionally supplied a 3rd profit: a gateway to dialogue with different faiths, regardless of the absence of biblical connections, and, in some situations, the presence of beliefs and rituals which are much more alien, such because the absence of God in Buddhism, or the multiplicity of gods in Hinduism.

Amid this glow of non secular rapprochement, Jewish and Christian clergy have additionally grow to be conscious of potential hiccups. One is theological certainty. If all faiths declare to be primarily based on unique revelation by God, communicated by means of holy texts, then it have to be apparent that they can not all be proper, and it’s doubtless that almost all are incorrect.

The one strategy to keep each confidence in a single’s personal religion and equal respect for others’ is to say that there are numerous paths to God, and it doesn’t matter which one we take. That calls for a stage of non secular humility which we’ve got not preached previously, and which takes some time to get used to.

As with Isaiah’s imaginative and prescient of many individuals climbing the mountain of the Lord (2.3), we’re fellow travellers, however none of us has a greater route than the others, or a first-class ticket. For some, this makes excellent sense, however for others it’s one more sacrifice.


A SECOND subject is that dialogue forces us to see ourselves as others see us, and that may be disconcerting. To present a private instance, of which I’m not proud however which highlights the purpose: after I first got here throughout the Yazidis, and discovered that they’re forbidden to eat lettuce, banned from carrying blue, and revere peacocks, I laughed out loud on the strangeness of it. Then it occurred to me that precisely the identical astonishment would possibly greet these encountering Judaism and the rituals that we regard as sacrosanct. Extra humility.

A 3rd facet is that those that interact in interfaith dialogue can grow to be barely divorced from members of their very own group. A unique mind-set develops, which those that usually are not a part of that dialog don’t share. There is usually a division between those that are likely to look outwards and those that are likely to look inwards; and one’s non secular residence can really feel much less snug than earlier than. It’s the clergy who are typically most concerned in dialogue; to allow them to even be those to really feel that rigidity most keenly.

A last concern is whether or not interfaith relations can result in interfaith relationships, with individuals falling in love throughout the non secular divide. If the parish priest has tea with the rabbi, is {that a} sign that it’s OK for a Christian and a Jew to share a drink, too — and maybe far more, now that the social borders have been torn down?

Most religion teams favor adherents to marry inside their very own group, each to bolster the couple’s personal non secular id and to make sure that it’s handed on to the following technology. Right here is one other rigidity: on the one hand, we clergy need everybody to combine freely; alternatively, mixed-faith households can threaten non secular continuity.

None of those “issues” is a purpose to withdraw from dialogue; for there is no such thing as a doubt that the advantages are price pursuing. It was by no means going to be simple for the wolf to not really feel hungry, or the lamb to not really feel nervous. Like them, we inch our means in the direction of one another.


Dr Jonathan Romain is rabbi of Maidenhead Synagogue and writer of The Bare Rabbi, printed by John Hunt at £10.99 (Church Instances Bookshop £9.89); 978-1-78904-729-5.