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To be a Christian in the midst of World Religions

A biblical-Christian view on the religions of others

 

From: Stimmen der Zeit, 9/2008, P. 603-616
webmaster's own, not authorized translation

 

Like no generation before us we experience Christianity as one religion among many. Thanks to worldwide communication, mobility and above all migration the diversity of religions has got closer and closer to us. Other religions are admittedly still strange but increasingly present in the immediate neighbourhood. To be religious today inevitably means to be interreligious. This living together of people affiliated to different religions makes it absolutely necessary positively to determine one's relation to the faith of others. The development of religious studies by instructions on non-Christian religions , as important and vital as it is, does by no means meet that challenge. It is no longer enough to introduce children and young people just in one tradition. At the same time also the relationship of Christian faith convictions to the beliefs of other religions must be purposefully taken up. The fact that preference should be given to a particular religious belief makes a plausible justification all the more important. Interreligious learning must increasingly become part of educational work with adults.

What does the faith of others mean for me as Christian? What does the Jews', Muslims', Buddhists' and Hindus' faith testimony mean for me? The challenge to make out those of different faiths as people who believe differently and to take them seriously {1} means that being a Christian is only possible face to face with people of a different faith but no longer with one's back to the faith testimony of others. To be a Christian must be related to the major religious alternatives of humankind - at the same time the distinctive speciality of the Christian faith has to be made clear in the wider context [Verstehensrahmen] of the world religions {2}. Instead of separation and exclusion the non-Christian religions are to be included in one's own religious horizon of understanding, i.e. in the history of God with men and the man Jesus of Nazareth {3}.

 

Learning Aim: Ability to Plurality

More than until now religious identity is formed by dialogue and discussion with others. Only in the light of other viewpoints one's own point of view can be meaningfully made clear at all. "I am I because you're you, and you are you because I am I",

 


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the Bosnian writer Dževad Karahasan formulates, who grew up at the intersection of Jewish, Islamic, Christian Orthodox and Roman Catholic culture.

"I know very well that I am a Muslim; and in becoming aware of that belonging to the Islamic faith and in professing it my best friend, the Bosnian Franciscan Mile Babic helped me best ... Thanks to our friendship we realize our respective religious affiliation, we articulate and deepen it better. Among nothing but Muslims I would automate my belonging to Islam and stop to feel it as a relevant part of my own identity." {4}

His father was a communist, his mother a devout Muslim, his wife Dragana is a Serb - her mother was killed by Serbs, because she had hidden two Muslim families in her apartment; the recent Balkan war forced the two into the German and Austrian exile. Karahasan is therefore quite familiar with the ethnic-religious tensions on the border between Orient and Occident. He knows that the root of violence lies in the self-made superiority above others in the name of God, a religion or nation; it yields time and again devastating consequences - not only in Bosnia.

That's why he quotes Sarajevo's multicultural scenario lived for centuries as a model for the future Europe:

"In order to recognize, articulate and realize your own identity you have to recognize what you have in common with others and as a result of which you belong to them; then, what distinguishes you from all collectives and makes you unique. To be able to do that it is by no means enough to announce that your Ego rigorously differs from your non-Ego. If I isolate myself from the non-Ego instead of dealing with it, I will never get a reasonably reliable answer to the question of who or what I am. ... That is the incomparable value of a real dialogue - it alone enables you to recognize even those things in yourself you yourself do not know, so that you can realize and articulate what you have recognized." {5}

With it the novelist and dramatist [Theatermann] Karahasan pleads for a dialogical-polyphone instead of a monological-homogeneous culture, as he sees it pre-formed in Bosnia's "dramatic cultural system": Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Jews and Muslims "live together and one related to the other one; it is necessary for them to become acquainted with each other and to admit that the foreign identity is the pre-condition of clearly articulating and understanding one's own identity." On the wide scale of understanding, respect, love, marked suspicion, unconcealed hostility and deliberate misunderstanding everything was then possible, "only two things were absolutely excluded - mutual ignorance of the identities and a blurring of the differences between them" {6}. All four religious communities had to look for patterns of behaviour that made a common life in a relatively small area tolerable,

 


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by establishing relationships which, with a phrase of Goethe, could be described as "tolerance without indifference" {7}.

In fact, a levelling of the distinctive characteristics of the respective belief has to be fought in exactly the same way as the indistinct equalizing [Vergleichgültigung] of different, even contradictory claims to truth. What the Tübingen ecumenicist Karl-Josef Kuschel recently set out for Jews, Christians and Muslims generally applies to interreligious understanding:

"Participation in the religious experiences of the other party does not happen by self-immunization against others and self-made supremacy over others but by listening to each other. Self-satisfaction and self-sufficiency are overcome by processes of mutual enrichment." {8}

Equality, mutual parity "at eye level" is an indispensable pre-condition of every religious dialogue. It does, however, not mean that different religious beliefs simply become interchangeable. Every fruitful dialogue lives from it that the participants assume they had from their own creed - in parts or on the whole - the "greater truth" about man, world and God resp. the Divine on their side {9}. The ability to dialogue and steadfastness, plurality and identity do not exclude each other; on the contrary they call for each other {10}. Only God himself is absolute (or whatever we name the Absolute): No human being, no religion can ever completely grasp the whole truth which God is. All wrong claims to absolute authority are rejected by the distinction between the last truth and the testimonies referring to it. Yes, faith so gets the strength to self-relativization, which does certainly not lead to relativism but rather makes it impossible - despite all one's resolution - to replace God by "firm" convictions.

So what does it mean to be a Christian in the midst of world religions? From God's unity and His universal work witnessed in the Bible believers are orientated towards a transcendent reality in which all people mutually recognize each other and can experience themselves as connected with each other and related to one another in solidarity: "God is not the tribal god of Jews and Christians but origin and aim of the whole creation" the position paper of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches "Christian Faith and the Religions" (2007) underlines. From it "the openness to the possibility results that God's creative work could have left its traces also in the sphere of other religions" {11}. God is either the God of all people or he is no God! Christians will in principle keep themselves open to the possibility that something of God's word and spirit can come to meet them in the testimony and in the encounters with people of other religions.

 


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Already the Bible displays a diversity of ways in which God has revealed himself to people. Apart form God's unique revelation in Jesus Christ the New Testament records: God left himself not without testimony; God has also spoken through others; yes, in the whole world he is present through his Spirit (Acts 14, 15ff.; Rom 1, 19ff.; Heb 1,1). And yet he has not revealed himself to all peoples in the same way. Certainly, God has included all humankind in differently extensive covenants: the creation covenant with Adam (Gen 1, 26ff cf. Jer 33, 20-26), the covenant with Noah (Gen 9, 1-17) and the covenant with Abraham (Gen 15, 1-16; 17, 1-14), the Sinai covenant with Moses (Ex 19-24) and the "new covenant" in Jesus Christ (1 Cor 11, 25 and elsewhere); the subsequent covenants do not abolish the previous ones. But already the Hebrew Bible knows with regard to the two sons of Abraham as well as in the relationship between Israel and the peoples no equality regarding God's revelation. In ultimate questions about the understanding of revelation and truth Jews, Christians and Muslims set, from their in each case different original documents [Ur-Kunde - original tidings] (Torah, Gospel and Koran), incompatible things against each other.

As much as one has to work on the task of making Christians, Jews and Muslims become aware of their connection in the history of the One God's blessing and covenant, an elimination of the unmistakable characteristics of each of those three religions is out of the question, all the more so with regard to the East Asian religions and their Scriptures, as the Upanishads, the Bhagavadgita or Buddha's speeches. Peace and understanding between religions are not achieved "by relativization but by stating more precisely the question about God and truth". "Not by refraining from truth tolerance is achieved" - which would be more than mere connivance, namely recognition of the other one just in his being different. "The spirit of peace is not the pernicious ideology of relativism in questions of truth but the Spirit of God itself which introduces us into every truth." {12}

That is why Christians hope that those of different faiths are, albeit under a different name, ultimately concerned with the same divine reality which they themselves profess as Creator God, as God of Abraham, Sara and Hagar: the "One God, the Father from whom everything comes and to whom we go, and the One Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom everything exists and we through him" (1 Cor 8, 6). But why this multiplicity of contradictory religious ways exists, to that question only God himself can give an answer. That means: The position of non-Christian religions in God's plan with humankind remains a mystery that will at best be revealed at the end of days when God will be "all in all" (1 Cor 15.28).

 


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Room for Diversity

God does not only want the things in common of the one mankind but also the differences. Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the Commonwealth sees in it a test question for faith: "I personally believe that we are called by God to recognize in the different human reality a trace of the different divine reality." {13} God ordered us to honour his Creation by respecting the diversity created by him; only so we take diversity seriously. Sacks has made that fundamental intuition of biblical theology profitable for the understanding of religions:

"Am I able to give room to diversity? Am I able to recognize the likeness to God in somebody who is not to my likeness and whose language, religion, ideals differ from mine? Are Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Confucianists, Orthodox Christians, Catholics and Protestants able to let room to each other - in the Middle East, India, Sri Lanka, Chechnya, Kosovo and the dozen other areas where different ethnic and religious groups live closely together?" {14}

As an Orthodox Jew, but - this is the best Jewish tradition - in a universal perspective Sacks reminds of God's "double covenant": his covenant with Noah and all humankind and the Moses-covenant with the people of Israel:

"We Jews believe God had made a covenant with a particular people, but that does not rule out that other peoples, cultures and religions within the common framework of the laws of the Noah covenant can find their own relationship with God. Those laws are, as it were, the basic grammar for the way in which man can experience God, for the possibility to see the world as God's work and mankind as God's image. God is the God of all humankind, but between Babel and the end of days no faith is the faith of all humankind. ... We are particular and universal, equal and different, people in their own right but also members of a particular family, community, history, hereditary line. Our particularity is our window into the universal reality, just as our language is the only way for us to understand the world which we share with those who speak other languages ... God, the Creator of diversity is the unifying presence in diversity." {15}

Beyond those who believe in God and belong to the Abrahamitic religions the Noah Covenant applies to all humankind. The rainbow, made up of many different colours - one beside the other one, is an apt symbol. The spiritual closeness of all to all needs mutual respect for the diversity of each individual! All the peoples of the earth are descended from Noah's three sons. Noah is thus (like Adam) the representative of all humankind - before every differentiation in peoples and religions. Through the various covenants relationships are created which do not exclude each other. Already in the Hebrew Bible they are distinguished from each other but also connected with each other

 


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So the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches underlines, "The covenants with the peoples are not less valid than the covenant with Israel and the new covenant 'in Christ." {16} For Christians God's will to universal salvation is decisive, which finds expression in the creation covenant with Noah (1 Tim 2.4): It connects all creatures, despite all the differences. Yes, in view of that blessing covenant with all humankind, there is no diversity which was not embraced by a greater common ground.

From the biblical covenant theology Jonathan Sacks is able to set every individual religion not only in a relation of its own to God but also in a global relationship with other religions:

"Diversity does not reduce the scope of human possibilities but extends it. Ultimately, we find our greatest hope in the fact that we remember the earlier story of Noah after the flood, that is, we hear in the middle of our hypermodern environment the old-new call for a global covenant of human responsibility and hope. ... Only then we will avoid the clash of cultures caused by the feeling of threat and fear when we recognize how dangerous the wish is that all people should be equal - on the one hand have the same faith, on the other hand in a McWorld cultivate the same way of life. When we understand the dignity of difference which was given to us by God and which enriches the world, we also learn to live gratefully with it." {17}

Sacks expressly calls upon the religions to give mutually more room to those of different faiths:

"How would faith then look like? It would be as if you felt safe and secure in your own house but were touched by the beauty of foreign places from which you knew that they are the house of others, not your own one, and yet part of the glory of a world shared by us all. ... It would be as if I was a sentence in the story of my people and its faith; but there were also other stories, and each of them was written with the letters of life which were connected in communities, and each was part of the great story consisting in nothing but stories telling how man is looking for God and God is summoning man. Those who are convinced of their beliefs do not feel threatened with a different faith but enriched."

 

The Spirit of God and the Religions

According to the Christian view the openness to those of different faiths is based on the faith in God's Spirit: For Christians it decisively condenses in Jesus Christ but embraces with the entire creation also the non-Christian religions. Nothing exists absolutely without God and without His Spirit! Today agreement begins to emerge on that among Christians: Even those of different faiths and unbelievers are "enclosed in God's will to salvation, as it was expressed in Jesus Christ and is realized in the power of the Holy Spirit",

 


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the Protestant theologian Hans-Martin Barth formulates, "Even areligious people and followers of non-Christian religions are not outside the sphere of influence of the Holy Spirit." {18} Reformatory, Orthodox and Catholic theology of religion takes therefore as its starting-point the all-pervasive power of God's Spirit, its effective radiation into the whole world. As it influences all the people, so it does also with the various religious ways of mankind: "We believe that this comprehensive work of the Holy Spirit is also present in the life and in the traditions of the peoples of other religions." {19}

That means that God's Spirit, who is uniquely at work in Jesus Christ, is at the same time universally present. To the Christian experience of the Spirit belongs just this tension between uniqueness and universality, the experience of His "being here" and the always new discovery of His "being elsewhere", His "being everywhere", of His inseparableness [Nicht-Abgrenzbarkeit] going across frontiers. And yet, for Christians God's universal Spirit cannot be removed from Jesus Christ's Spirit. So the World Council of Churches demands, "to recognize the presence of the Spirit where love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, chastity exist (Gal 5, 22 f.)" {20}. God's truth can therefore show itself also in different ways differing from the experience of the Christian truth but do not contradicting it in decisive issues.

Inspired by the Second Vatican Council that said yes to the work of the Holy Spirit also outside the world of Christianity {21} Pope John Paul II emphasized "the presence of the Holy Spirit not only in the individual men and women of good will but also in society and history, peoples, cultures and religions" {22}. Not least the world prayer meetings in Assisi are an expression of the - so significant for him - presence of God's Spirit in the religious life and in the religious traditions of non-Christians. For the pope took the initiative for it because he was deeply convinced: Every genuine prayer (like every authentic religious faith) is "caused by the Holy Spirit who is mysteriously present in the heart of every human being, whether he was Christian now or not" {23}.

Religions are just in their diversity to be understood as a response to the work of God's Spirit: As God's Spirit is already in the Old Testament imagined as God's inspiring breath, It is without exception directed to all people, whatever their culture or religion. To give room to those of different faiths before God therefore means to give room to the Holy Spirit Himself. For He wants to spread among the faithful, around them and from them in the whole world {24}. As the One Who unifies [Einsmacher] the understanding and the hearts, not as the colourless One Who equalizes or levels down living diversity, God's Spirit Who brings about coexistence unifies the multiplicity of languages and traditions. Pentecost (Acts 2) is therefore the counter-example to Babel's language chaos (Gen 11).

 


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Yes, as always new impulse of God to break also and especially religious self-isolation, the work of Spirit does not even end "where the common ground of faith traditions has its end" emphasizes the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches: "On the contrary, it is the mission of the Holy Spirit to open people for God's will of a salvation that embraces the whole creation." {25}

To become aware of the many and diverse work of God's Spirit in the religions can deepen our perception of God's true universality and increasingly open our Christian faith for the facets of the divine mystery, which we ourselves have not yet discovered or perceived. Also Christians can discover new things when they approach the testimonies of faith and the authoritative figures of other religions. Maybe we at first get to know something with others what we then also perceive again or for the first time in the biblical-Christian tradition [Erfahrungsstrom - handed down experiences].

So for Christians contents of their own tradition which became less important or were forgotten can become anew important, as e.g. mysticism, contemplation and concentration on God's Spirit by forms of attentiveness and meditation in East-Asian religions. They impressively shed light on the God-given connectedness of all with all, from which the cosmic solidarity and respect towards all living beings results. Do we Christians not achieve a fuller understanding of truth, when we let ourselves to be reminded by Jews and Muslims of God's transcendence and unity [Eins-Sein - being One], of His holy grandeur, His unimaginable otherness, and by Hindus and Buddhists of the all-pervasive power of divine love and mercy, of the unlimited openness to the super-personal, trans-personal last reality?

In the dialogue of religions it is therefore about the common conversion of all to the always greater God, as Jürgen Werbick emphasizes:

"Our own faculty of perception will never be able to estimate the richness in relations in which God will show Himself as the Lord of all people; it will never be able to comprehend to the full extent the richness in tensions in which God knows to appreciate the diversity of ways and the internal contradiction of historical experiences and to include them in His life. He is greater than our heart; His possibilities to let participate in His life and to choose people transcend our ability to recognize the work of His Spirit with others. ... Not we have to decide in the last instance on the question whether the opposition of others is symphonically preserved in the wealth of God's life or is silenced as dissonance of untruth." {26}

The common, never-ending search for the ever greater truth, for a mutual change worked by the Spirit does not destroy the own belief but enriches and deepens it. When in the attentive listening to the testimony of others God's multifaceted work is revealed, for Christians the obligation arises exactly to pay attention to the challenge of God's Spirit in other religious traditions.

 


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They can become "signs of God's presence or intention" {27} - an aspiration, a breath to improve our own religious inspiration, as Raimon Panikkar aptly formulated {28}. When God's Spirit is at work in all religions and cultures, Christians recognize this Spirit by the fact that He coincides with the Spirit of Jesus Christ. For that man was in a unique way filled with God's Spirit Who also today brings Him within our experience. What there is of truth and holiness in other religions {29} is - from a Christian perspective - the effect of the Spirit of God whom Christians find in unparalleled way embodied in Jesus Christ.

 

Distinction of Spirits

The assumption that the multifaceted work of God is admittedly not simply everywhere but everywhere possible does not mean a general preliminary decision of the question of truth. The assumption that in all religions breakthroughs of God's Spirit could occur (just as their darkening and distortion) does not mean a sweeping recognition of all religious paths and leading figures, which had to be regarded as equal to God's presence in Jesus of Nazareth. Since the final answer to the question of truth in the religions is outstanding, the distinction of the spirits (1 Thess 5, 20f.; 1 Jn 4, 1) is indispensable. All kinds of things are romping about in the garment of religion - including the Christian - which run counter to the Spirit of God, dominated by the miserable attitude [Ungeist] of selfishness and craving for power, self-isolation and self-made supremacy over others. Whether God's Spirit of unconditional kindness, as Jesus brings it within our experience, is admitted depends on the concrete human beings and religious systems. They can hinder or promote the work of God's Spirit:

"People's 'glasses' and 'lenses' through which the Divine is perceived are certainly differently 'shaped and coloured' (John Hick), but they are also differently smeared, scratched, clean or unclean, hence also differently permeable ... God's Spirit may yearn as much as He likes to be poured into every heart (Rom 5, 5) and to find room in the heart of every human being - he does nevertheless not succeed in it or only in a broken and distorted way. ... In other religions the same logos can be at work which is incarnated and embodied in Jesus, the same spirit of unconditional kindness and love can be at work that completely filled Jesus and going out from him infects others who are orientated towards him." {30}

In distinguishing the spirits Christians are orientated towards conformity with Jesus' Spirit, by whom Jesus was filled in his life and action directed towards salvation and healing and by whom he shows his power beyond his death; they have no other standard. The Spirit of Christ, who has been crucified and raised to life, is for Christians "the compass and standard for recognizing God's work - in Christianity and other religions:

 


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If something contradicts the core of Jesus' message (that is God's love for everybody), then it cannot come from God. Conversely, 'Where kindness and love live, there is God'" - where we by overcoming selfishness, egoistic greed and blindness "no longer live ourselves" - "there God's Spirit works" {31}.

Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles speaks of the new existence in the Spirit. For in it is reflected the beginning of the eschatological New Creation in, yes, by Christ (1 Cor 8, 6). Just as God the Father is past and future, beginning and end, origin and aim, Creator and Completor of man and world, so Jesus Christ is the present liberating ruler of the earth, mediator of a "New Creation" (2 Cor 5, 17) and a New Covenant (2 Cor 3.6) in the power of God's Spirit. From there Karl-Josef Kuschel defines as a criterion for the distinction of the spirits the "New Man" made possible by God in Jesus Christ (Col 3, 10). He is determined by the unconditional trust in God and the basic attitude of peace, love and reconciliation (Col 3, 12-15):

"All religious alternatives, also the major world religions (first of course the real Christianity) are to be subsumed under that criterion: Do they promote the "New Man" or do they hinder his development? Wherever the promotion of that "New Man" happens there Christ's Spirit rules. Wherever kindness, humility, leniency and patience are lived, wherever forgiveness, love and peace rule the Christ Pneumatos becomes real. It can here not empirically be denied that also a Jew from Jewish tradition, a Muslim from Islam, a Hindu from Hinduist thought and a Buddhist from Buddhist belief can make something visible and audible of that "New Man"." {32}

This religious truth, which takes Jesus Christ as standard, cannot be testified by showing one's superiority. Every reduction in status and the wish to displace others contradict it.

From the Reformatory emphasis on justification "by grace alone", "only by faith" the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches emphasizes, "that with it it is not said that God's grace is only granted in the vessel of a conscious, express faith in Christ", for

"Then it would be closed to all people who because of the random place or time of their birth did not come into contact with the message of Christ - all the generations which with regard to time lived before Jesus Christ or live in the sphere of influence of other religions and cultures ... But that would contradict God's unconditional grace lived and taught by Jesus Christ. 'Faith' is therefore to be grasped in a wider sense: it is not only a conscious, articulated profession, although it ... also tends towards it. But there is also a Being-In-Christ without an explicit profession of Christ. And it can therefore not be excluded that God's grace is given also in the patterns of consciousness and life of non-Christian religions. How else should God's will for general salvation be realized there?" {33}

 


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Here too the Spirit of God, as It is expressed in Jesus Christ's proclamation, is decisive:

"If the power of God's Spirit is omnipresent, then religions as realities in history cannot be excluded from it. Even though it is impossible exactly to identify how that presence of the Spirit in the religions manifests itself, it is reasonable to assume that it is at work where love (i.e. overcoming of self-centring) appears, where sense drafts are communicated which support life [existenztragende Sinnentwürfe] by orientating it towards its origin and aim, where inhuman conventions and structures are broken down, where new life opportunities open, etc." {34}

God's spirit can therefore also speak through springs and streams of non-Christian religions, can inspire their leading figures and Holy Scriptures without thus placing them as evenly matched beside Jesus Christ.

 

On the Way to the Universality of the Kingdom of God

Jesus has not proclaimed himself but the Kingdom of God. Today that horizon of God's reign which still undivided spans Jews and Christians is extended to the Abrahamitic religions and in addition to other experiences of the Divine. Not he who says, "Lord, Lord" - i.e. focuses on the profession of His person - enters the Kingdom of God but he who does the will of God (Mt 7, 21). Only that does justice to his person {35}. Accordingly in the Last Judgment the Son of Man does not judge "all nations" according to the criterion whether they belonged to the right religion or denomination, served the right temple or synagogue but according to the practical doings wanted by God: active solidarity towards needy, humiliated, marginalised people and those deprived of their rights (Mt 25, 31 ff.).

Christian faith sees in such a compassion which is sensitive to the sufferings of others and sympathetic the indissoluble unity of love of God and love of one's neighbour. For the God with the human face of Jesus of Nazareth is reflected in the face of every suffering human being. For the early Christians' power of faith as well as already Jesus' faith come from their seeing the already present Kingdom of God: God's kindness, mercy and love unconditionally given to everybody, which wants to liberate people from the paralysing-alienating spell of demonic powers and idols and to induce them to brotherly/sisterly solidarity with their fellow-creatures.

Compared with the exclusive view only on Christianity it is important to see: As John Paul II points out, you can find the reality of the Kingdom of God which includes everybody "in beginnings also beyond the boundaries of the church in the whole mankind insofar as it realizes the "Values of the Gospel"

 


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and opens to the Spirit's activity, who blows where and how he wants (cf. Jn 3, 9)" {36}. The aim of an understanding between the religions is then to get closer to the Kingdom of God by striving in a spirit of partnership for (more) convincing forms of real humanity and justice. By their participation and cooperation in the Kingdom of God all people are deeply connected with each other. By letting themselves be drawn into the alternative 'force field' of God's Spirit, He can in and through them bring about the completion of the Kingdom of God {37}. God's universal work of salvation shared with other religions as well as the in various cultures newly meditated role of (God's) Spirit encompassing world and history are therefore important starting-points in the discussion of the religions {38}.

When the whole creation is extended between pain and longing, it is God's Spirit who in the birth pangs of the cosmos calls for liberation and completion (Rom 8, 18-27). Salutary relationships, growing community, sharing with each other, peace and justice are effects of the Spirit and serve the coming of the Kingdom of God. The church has got the order to announce its values, the "values of the Gospel" to the world, to awaken that Spirit of God and to strengthen It against resistances, to inspire by following Jesus' footsteps to a life that lets something feel of that Kingdom of God. In it the absolute necessity of the Christians' missionary testimony consists: in living together with those of different faiths according to Charles de Foucauld's concept of mission: to be at the spot, to be a character, to be a companion, to be a helper [Da-Sein, So-Sein, Mit-Sein, Für-Sein]. Understood in this way the Christian mission does in the first place not aim at a formal conversion of others but is working on one's own turning back to the Christian centre. It takes those of different faiths seriously and promotes processes of dialogue which allow also others to deepen their own religiousness in the direction towards more humanity, kindness and solidarity {39}.

Particularly from Jesus such compassion can be learned: it is sensitive to the suffering and vulnerability of others, looks actively after them and works by reconciliation [Entfeindung] on a culture of recognition of others - what includes resistance to those who hinder it or make it impossible. In such compassion Jesus Christ's Spirit, the Spirit of God is at work, and the Kingdom of God takes shape. In this horizon the common prayer of Christians and those of different faiths can eventually become the inspiring expression of a shared community in God's Spirit. It is a consequence of the God-given community [Geistgemeinschaft] between the religions. This prayer helps to represent and to promote it without blurring or doing away with the existing differences. The question whether Christians can pray with those of different faiths is therefore decided by the spirit in which the prayer is formulated and which speaks out of it {40}. So Jacques Dupuis SJ underlines, "Through the joint prayer Christians and 'others' join up in the Spirit." Provided that a careful preparation took place and a minimum of community and familiarity has grown,

 


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it can indeed become "the soul of the interreligious dialogue", yes, "its deepest expression and at the same time the guarantee of a common deeper conversion to God and one's neighbour" {41}.

 

NOTES

{1} St. Leimgruber, Interreligiöses Lernen (München 1995) 134.

{2} detailed Ch. Gellner, Der Glaube der Anderen. Christsein inmitten der Weltreligionen (Düsseldorf 2008).

{3} E. Arens, Gottesverständigung. Eine kommunikative Religionstheologie (Freiburg 2007).

{4} D. Karahasan, Die Fragen an den Kalender. Texte, Essays, Reden (Wien 1999) 45f.; see Ch. Gellner, Die Fangeisen des Hasses durchbrechen. Dževad Karahasans Roman "Der nächtliche Rat", in: Herzstücke. Texte, die das Leben ändern, edited by the same and G. Langenhorst (Düsseldorf 2008) 307–317.

{5} Karahasan (note 4) 41 and 44.

{6} In the same place 79.

{7} In the same place 77.

{8} K.-J. Kuschel, Juden – Christen – Muslime. Herkunft u. Zukunft (Düsseldorf 2007) 110.

{9} O. Fuchs, Wahrheitsanspruch in ebenbürtiger Begegnung, in: Identität u. Toleranz. Christliche Spiritualität im interreligiösen Kontext, edited by H. Schmidinger (Innsbruck 2003) 85–114.

{10} H. Küng, Dialogfähigkeit u. Standfestigkeit. Über zwei komplementäre Tugenden, in: EvTh 49 (1989) 492–504.

{11} Wahrheit in Offenheit. Der christliche Glaube u. die Religionen, edited by Schweizerischen Evangelischen Kirchenbund (Bern 2007) 45. Author is the Basle systematic theologian Reinhold Bernhardt.

{12} K.-J. Kuschel, Abrahamische Ökumene. Zum Problem einer Theologie des Anderen bei Juden, Christen u. Muslimen, in: ZMR 85 (2001) 258–278,276.

{13} J. Sacks, Wie wir den Krieg der Kulturen noch vermeiden können (Gütersloh 2007) 275.

{14} In the same place 267; see E. Arens, Die Würde u. Bürde der Differenz, in: Orien 67 (2003) 257–261.

{15} Sacks (note 13) 84ff.

{16} Wahrheit in Offenheit (note 11) 23.

{17} Sacks (note 13) 277, the following quotation 97f.

{18} H.-M. Barth, Evangelischer Glaube im Kontext der Weltreligionen (Gütersloh 2002) 818.

{19} ÖRK, Religiöse Pluralität u. christliches Selbstverständnis (2004) Nr. 33, see www.oikumene.org/fileadmin/files/wcc-main/documents/p2/fo_religiouspluralityandchristianself-understanding.pdf; see E. Wohlleben, Die Kirchen u. die Religionen: Perspektiven einer ökumenischen Religionstheologie (Göttingen 2004).

{20} Ökumenische Erwägungen zum Dialog u. zu den Beziehungen mit Menschen anderer Religionen. 30 Jahre Dialog u. überarbeitete Leitlinien (Genf 2003) article 14.

{21} DV 53; see H. Waldenfels, Christus u. die Religionen (Regensburg 2002).

{22} Internationale Theologenkommission, Das Christentum u. die Religionen, edited by the Sekretariat der DBK (Arbeitshilfen 136, Bonn 1996) no. 82.

{23} Dialog u. Verkündigung. Überlegungen u. Orientierungen um Interreligiösen Dialog u. zur Verkündigung des Evangeliums Jesu Christi, edited by the Päpstl. Rat für den Interreligiösen Dialog u. der Kongregation für die Evangelisierung der Völker (1991) Nr. 27 (quotes the important Christmas address of John Paul II to the Curia of 22.12.1986).

{24} B. J. Hilberath, Vom Heiligen Geist des Dialogs. Das Dialogische Prinzip in Gotteslehre u. Heilsgeschehen, in: Dialog als Selbstvollzug der Kirche?, edited by G. Fürst (Freiburg 1997) 93–116, here 115.

 


616

{25} Wahrheit in Offenheit (note 11) 56.

{26} J. Werbick, Was das Christsein ausmacht, in: Identität u. Toleranz (note 9) 20–51, 48f.

{27} GS 11, see also 92.

{28} R. Panikkar, Das Göttliche in allem. Gott erfahren u. denken im Dialog zwischen Buddhismus, Hinduismus u. Christentum, in: Gottesdenken in interreligiöser Perspektive, edited by B. Nitsche (Frankfurt 2005) 48–64, quotation 63.

{29} NA 2..

{30} H. Kessler, Den verborgenen Gott suchen. Gottesglaube in einer von Naturwissenschaften u. Religionskonflikten geprägten Welt (Paderborn 2006) 262–284, 270. About it and the following: R. Bernhardt, Ende des Dialogs? Die Begegnung der Religionen u. ihre theologische Reflexion (Zürich 2005) 246,259–265.

{31} In the same place 271.

{32} Kuschel (note 12) 276.

{33} Wahrheit in Offenheit (note 11) 37f.

{34} In the same place 47.

{35} E. Klinger, Jesus u. das Gespräch der Religionen. Das Projekt des Pluralismus (Würzburg 2006) 51f.

{36} Redemptoris missio. Enzyklika Johannes Pauls II. über die fortdauernde Gültigkeit des missionarischen Auftrags (1990) no. 20.

{37} J. Dupuis, Der interreligiöse Dialog als Herausforderung für die christliche Identität, in: ZMR 88 (2004) 3–19, 11f.

{38} So H. Waldenfels, Religion. B. theologische Perspektiven, in: NHThG, edited by P. Eicher (München 2005) volume 4,34–39, 38.

{39} H. Kessler, Den verborgenen Gott suchen (note 30) 259 u. 272.

{40} Wahrheit in Offenheit (note 11) 48–51.

{41} J. Dupuis, Das interreligiöse Gebet, in: SaThZ 10 (2006) 101–119, 119. Last Ch. W. Troll, Gemeinsames Beten von Christen u. Muslimen? In this journal 226 (2008) 363–376.

 

    {*} To be religious today inevitably means to be interreligious. Taking as starting-point the educational aim 'ability to plurality' CHRISTOPH GELLNER, lecturer for theology and literature as well as Christianity and world religions at the University Luzern, asks what it means to be a Christian in the midst of world religions when a dialogue of the religions is to happen at the same eye level.
Link to 'Public Con-Spiration for-with-of the Poor'