Interfaith Dialogue Sucks

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Rabbi Eric Yoffie (Reform Judaism) has a great piece in the HuffingtonPost about the failures of interfaith dialogue and more importantly when it's actually of value. 

Money quote:

First, meaningful dialogue happens when the conversation turns to our religious differences. Platitudes are set aside when, as representatives of our faith traditions, we cease to be embarrassed by the particular; when we put aside the search for the lowest common denominator that most often characterizes -- and trivializes -- our discussions; and when we recognize that absent a clear affirmation of who we are, how we are different and what we truly believe, all our conversations are likely to come to nothing.

Second, interreligious exchanges become compelling when my colleagues and partners give expression to their religious passions. I am drawn in when they share with me their deepest beliefs and strangest customs, no matter how radically other they are from my own. And the sharing of religious passions should lead to passionate debate, in which we struggle with the really hard questions: What happens when conflicting beliefs lead to conflicting interests? What do we do about those areas where differences cannot be bridged and must be dealt with?

Third, interreligious dialogue truly touches us when we can discuss what we all know to be true but what we rarely say: that, in some ways at least, we all believe in the exceptionalism of our own traditions. We all tend toward the conviction that there are some elements of our religious beliefs and practice that stand above and apart from what other religions offer, and it is liberating when we are able to acknowledge this and then explain why we think that way, without apology but open to the honest reactions of those around us.

What I find so interesting is that the real juice is found in the 'creative friction'.  In discussing the undiscussables, in being open to being criticized by another religion, in standing one's own ground and speaking the well known (but rarely mentioned) truth that different groups do think they are better (in certain regards) than others.  And you know what?  They can still work together.  The 'we all believe the same stuff, everyone is compassionate' is, as the Rabbi says, too safe and therefore boring.  If that's true, why talk about it and get together in the first place?  

Here's hoping some others get this message.  

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  • Comment Link bruce Wednesday, 15 June 2011 22:40 posted by bruce

    Thanks Chris,

    You nailed it. I've been a part of too many "interfaith dialogues" when what was really going on is that the panel of religious leaders all represented the same worldview (Green/Postmodern), and one after the other took a turn saying exactly the same thing, only using their own tradition's language. It was seriously boring. Thus highlighting the centrality of worldviews (which are active and determinative of how religions interpret their scriptures and traditions)

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Wednesday, 15 June 2011 23:22 posted by Chris Dierkes


    Good point. If you are in one of those again, maybe you could forward Rabbi Yoffe's article to the others and see what they think--invite them into that kind of dialog?

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