Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Doing Theology in an Interfaith Context

Pretty much all theology arises from an Interfaith context these days. In a multicultural city like Melbourne, it's pretty hard to ignore but even in countries where one faith system dominates it is necessary to take a global perspective and recognise that our own particular religious views are not the only ones.

Some immediately take an oppositional view of this situation and declare that their religion is the only true religion - and therefore that all others are misguided. Some people choose to ignore the situation because it's too difficult and they haven't been given any kind of framework with which to begin to sort through the inherent problems. A more recent movement recognises all faiths as valid and tries to blend them together in ways that don't offend anyone. Personally, I find this tends to result in a rather insipid blend that is kind of brown and tasteless.

I think it is necessary to begin by recognising that all attempts to define the divine are inherently flawed. The full reality of God is ultimately beyond what any human words can capture - regardless of language, culture or religion. However, I would also affirm that this is still an important task and can bear positive results, even if they are fragmentary and imperfect.

We cannot help but perceive God through culturally conditioned lenses. Even our native languages confine the ways in which we are able to understand and articulate the divine. Interfaith dialogue can enrich our understandings of where commonalities exist between the multitude of world religions without having to ignore or erase the distinctives that each bears. It may be that we are able to receive new truths about God from other faith traditions - perhaps even ones that open up new understandings of our own tradition.


Anonymous said...

What happens when it is time to pray at these interfaith meetings? Does everyone go off separately and pray to their own God/gods or does the group take turns to pray to one of the God/gods available, or maybe the prayer offered is so general as to be acceptable to any God/gods and any prayer participant? Just trying to get my head around this and wondering how God feels about this, you know, being a jealous God, telling us not to have other gods apart from Him. Warning us all the time to keep away from false gods (but still treating their followers kindly).

I am sure God wants us to be kind, enter into dialogue, evangelise, love people of other faiths, but to enter into interfaith meetings, worship and prayer - do you ever wonder if this offends God?

JDK said...

I doubt that God is offended by our genuine attempts to discover more about God. However, interfaith worship is a tricky thing. I visited a Unitarian Universalist congregation in LA last year that had a very open liturgy that was generally pretty inoffensive to people of any faith. Whilst there were a few things that I admired about it, in the end it was lacking Jesus - an important component of gathered worship from my own perspective!

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how you "doubt that God is offended by our genuine attempts to discover more about God", when these attempts are made in part, by taking part in worship of the gods of other faiths.

The interfaith congregation you visited that was "pretty inoffensive to people of any faith" lacked Jesus. How could this be a worship service for anybody of any faith? If Jesus was not present you could not really worship. If the other gods were left out, the others could not worship. Inoffensive but ineffective also, pointless in fact. Does God condone this waste of time? Does God condone us entering into high places of other faiths, and allowing false gods to be worshipped in His temple?

Please understand, I am not disputing the learning about other faiths, for study purposes. My questions relate to the combined worship of a multitude of gods and including our God in this.

I am still curious to know what happens regarding prayer at these multifaith events. Does everyone pray together to all the God/gods, does everyone go off separately to pray on their own to their God/gods, or do they pick a different God/god each time? I am genuinely interested to know the answer, as I have never been to an interfaith meeting.

JDK said...

Let me reiterate that I'm not particularly interested in multifaith worship - it really doesn't do much for me. I am interested in interfaith dialogue and the local interfaith gathering that I am a part of is primarily based around common agendas relating to social justice and living harmoniously together.

I believe that people from other faith perspectives who are seeking God from within their own traditions are not looking for a different God than the one that we worship - they are simply trying to conceive of that God through a different cultural lens. Interfaith worship isn't about worshipping a bunch of different gods, it's about worshipping the one God that we all perceive a bit differently because of our backgrounds and cultures. If you disagree with that viewpoint (which you very well may) then Interfaith worship probably isn't something you'll want to follow up further. If, on the other hand, you are interested then check out the Common Dreams link on the right hand side of my blog or have a look at the website of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney which has regular Interfaith worship.

Anonymous said...

So when the interfaith gathering you belong to meets to dialogue, is there ever any prayer? I am thinking that with all these people of faith surely somebody opens or closes in prayer, are there any devotions? And if so, back to my question on how this happens and which God/god is glorified?

As I said, I have never been to anything like this, and would be interested in knowing the answer to these questions.

JDK said...

No, our local interfaith gathering doesn't feature prayer. It is co-ordinated by the local council as the unbiased intermediary which I believe is common to most that I know of. There are gatherings in quite a few municipalities around Melbourne now. Dandenong were one of the first, I think one has just begun in Darebin. They are usually keen for broad participation so you might like to contact your local council and see if you can participate?