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Cardinal Karl Lehmann

Criteria of Interreligious Dialogue


From: Stimmen der Zeit, 9/2009, P. 579-595
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


    Against the background of fundamentalism and violence the dialogue between religions is a central challenge of our time. Cardinal Karl Lehmann, bishop of Mainz, deals with the need and risks of the interreligious dialogue today and in the future and with the criteria by which it is to be judged.


For the completion of the endowed chair with the theme "World Religions - Understanding, Agreement, Responsibility" I have announced a lecture titled "Necessity and Risks of as well as Criteria for the Interreligious Dialogue Today and Tomorrow" {1}. In the first two introductory lectures the meaning and the problems of the "Return of Religion (?)" as a sign of our time together with a look at the modern secularization process have been considered, then seven short portraits gave a summary of the selected world religions: Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Religion in the old and new China, and finally, the Bahai religion. After all this, I have now a twofold intent, namely in a survey to consider "Religion, Politics and Violence in Today's World", and concluding to look at the interreligious dialogue.

I do not want and cannot meet thus the expectation that at the end of the lecture series, which also included the important colloquia, a textual synthesis is given that is summarizing everything. This is for many reasons not possible. In all the lectures I have learnt a lot from the discourses and colloquia. At the end this contributes to my explanations, since it has widened and deepened and definitely also changed my own searching and reflecting on interreligious dialogue. As a future task certainly remains to work out hermeneutics of interreligious dialogue, which has been represented in the texts of the lectures by repeated remarks about it, and has again to be taken from them.


I. For an Understanding of Religions and Religion

First, we are to attempt to clarify the essential basic terms used in the concept of interreligious dialogue. At that occasion it is easy to recognize that the problems begin with the understanding of these basic concepts {2}.

The concept of religion can confuse in many cases. It can easily cause the impression that one could, as it were, adequately summarize by one definition the often confusing and contradictory diversity of religions. We are to a certain extent immune to that, because the lectures showed not only the diversity of world religions but also the tension between unity and diversity in the various world religions. This was not least a basic yield of the lectures, which is often already reflected in the titles.



In the opening lecture I have also repeatedly emphasized that the singular "religion" is in some respects a modern coinage. Initially, the term religion was rather related to the performance of religious beliefs in concrete terms, to a certain practice, and to the concern to preserve the inherited faith. However, in the modern age the concept of religion has, by undergoing many transformations, been significantly expanded. It thus got admittedly a broader range but became also more and more abstract and universal. This had the consequence that the concept of religion could be filled with very different contents, and so also, for example, superstition and devil worship were included. But at the same time it became thus more and more incomprehensible and less useful for the description of religion as it is practised.

In certain ways this process is of course inevitable, if you attach importance at all to a minimal detection of the unity of religious beliefs in the midst of the diversity of religious performances. In the modern understanding of the concept of "monotheism" we can establish similar processes {3}. Other sciences, too, have to do with this transformation of a tangible diversity into unity, for example on the way of individually gained rights to freedom as a basic concept of the modern state, but also theologically with regard to the change of perspective [Wandlung]: many individual "revelation stories" become 'revelation in the singular'. In my opinion one methodological implication of it is that you in this process do not only more and more attend to the abstract basic concept but that you also, as it were, backward-looking confront it again with the actual diversity of world religions and religious beliefs. The inner connection of this progress in making generalizations and the appropriate reorientation to the specific phenomena is still too little reflected on.

If we nevertheless try to give a general definition of religion, we do not want to miss the experience gathered to date in the attempt to define it. Already in 1912 James Henry Leuba gathered more than 40 definitions {4}. Today there would be much more of them. The proposal entirely to dispense with the concept of religion was not accepted for this reason alone that it was needed for organizing science. One consequence of these insights was the attempt to formulate the content as comprehensively as possible and e.g. to see orientation as a fundamental element {5}. With some justification one opposed this view by stating that the voluntative and affective aspects in religions are missed out. When defining religion, the element of orientation is certainly to be taken into consideration, in the sense that it wants to contribute to coping with one's life especially in the contradictions and strokes of fate of human existence, and that in all dimensions of human beings (spirit, soul, body). Some religions are content with this orientation in the chaos of concrete life experiences, especially when it is only about reaching man's limits in coping with them.



But the challenge will grow, if you fail particularly in coping with precarious situations by means of everyday orientations. Just in such borderline situations man is in a quite different way looking for an answer that is helping him "from outside". Religion is to give a meaning to life where otherwise only misery, despair and chaos would reign. Coping with anxiety will always be important here. The authority that can and should be helpful here sometimes gets in the vicinity of a magic that wants to gain power over the adverse circumstances {6}. But in some religions it is also called the "Absolute", the "sacred", the "divine" or also, by the admittedly even more ambiguous word "God." The word transcendence, which potentially reaches in stages beyond the things that can empirically be experienced, describes this process {7}. A separate question is directed to the problem of God's "personality" and how far this term can be used in describing Far Eastern religions.

We have already seen that the general concept of "religion" is easily disconnected from the daily performance, especially in everyday life. You have therefore to include the rituals and myths in a sufficient concept of religion {8}. For just in them it becomes on the one hand evident that religion belongs to the primary world of man, especially through the symbols (sky, sun, moon, ancestors, etc.), but that on the other hand at the same time something appears in them that goes beyond those limited, transitory forms. Mircea Eliade has introduced for it the central term of hierophany: The Infinite, Eternal and Divine manifests itself and appears in the areas of nature, history and culture {9}. In the scientific elucidation of the phenomenon, too, there are the concepts of epiphany or enlightenment for it. Finally, the word field of revelation emerges. At the same time there is both a unity and a difference: In the One that meets us the Holy appears, where despite all the difference both is experienced. The same applies to the term symbol: "Coincidence in the One of experience or encouragement, in which the difference is nevertheless maintained between the sign and that which appears in it." {10}

In this context it becomes evident that, despite all variability, a constant exists in these phenomena, symbols, rituals and myths, and so we on the one hand can speak of a special dimension of the phenomenon religion and on the other hand of the history of religion.


II. Understanding in the Field of Religions

It is not easy to interpret or to appraise these findings. It is therefore not surprising that many answers to this phenomenon exist. This large variability can result in two behaviours: One completely secludes oneself into one's own identity and is very little interested in the relationship to other religions.



If there is a relation at all it is usually a strict demarcation in the sense of rejection or sheer indifference. This easily includes the hazard of a self-sufficient fundamentalism and possibly of fanaticism, too. The result is often a very militant relationship to other religions. On the other hand, it may also be that one interprets the diversity in such a way that the widely expanded plurality of religions appears as reflection of the different social, historical and cultural conditions of every religion. That's why the diversity often seems to be relatively indifferent, in the sense of an indifference that is no longer taken into closer consideration. Such a mentality can certainly produce many behaviour patterns, starting from a radical lack of interest in other religions up to a liberal tolerance for all forms of religious expression. The more differentiated the entire spectrum of religion and religiosity is taken in, the greater the danger of such fundamental attitudes.

Today it is increasingly difficult adequately to assess these circumstances [Verhältnisbestimmung]. This is on the one hand connected with a wide dissemination of knowledge about the different religions, even if these are highly fragmentarily selected and perceived in a vulgarized form. The mobility of our world has the result that we are involuntarily to notice the other and foreign reality, because it is fairly chivying us. This even escalates if one looks at the globalization. There are researchers, as e.g. Hans G. Kippenberg {11}, who are convinced that globalization opens a new, ultimately unpeaceful era of history of religion. Behind this view is the more or less reasonable opinion that religions are intolerant and produce conflicts. Anyway, for a long time one has been arguing that there is interdependency between monotheism and intolerance. Admittedly, there are also counter-arguments, because - we are told - none of the world religions could take the liberty basically to call for violence. Nonviolence was anyway a basic component of all religions {12}. In several publications Jan Assmann has attempted to show a specific connection between violence and the biblical, exclusive monotheism, which is challenging the existence of other gods {13}. This issue is now at the centre of the debate about religion {14}.

You should keep these possibilities of interpretation at the back of your mind, when you today deal with the "interreligious dialogue" or the dialogue of the religions. In fact, one must not underestimate the difficulties opposing the understanding of the foreign and different reality. They range from the inability to understand the other reality up to adopting it. It is feared here that understanding can take away the other's otherness, and therefore also means a kind of monopolizing. The question then arises whether the understanding includes and translates the strange reality so much into one's own horizon that its specific character and thus its challenge, too, is taken from it {15}.



In fact, as the debate about immigration, integration and the clash of cultures shows, every understanding requires a certain recognition of the foreign reality in its otherness. According to an old conviction there is no knowledge without the strength of empathic approach and the sensitive willingness to understand. Especially in the understanding of personal and religious phenomena a minimum of sympathy, even affection is required in order really to find out and to understand from the inside the truth belonging to the other person. This requires a real skill of understanding by insistently besieging and invading the alien reality and at the same time, as soon as it is understood, conceiving it as a gift. Only then an appropriate meeting, but also a differentiated controversy is possible {16}.

It is therefore - at least for an interreligious dialogue - essential that you want to understand in this way. This eliminates the refusal to get oneself into the different and foreign reality and self-sufficiently to cloister oneself away. It implies that you expose yourself to a venture in encountering an alien religion, namely either by failing to recognize the particularity [das Eigene] of the other person/reality [des Anderen], i.e. more or less to misinterpret it, or by assimilating the other reality to oneself and thus perhaps manipulating it. There may also be the danger that one is downright absorbed by the strange reality through a questionable enthusiasm, a drunken exaltation, or unsettled fascination. True understanding is therefore much more difficult.

For the reasons stated by us we can not at all do without understanding foreign religions today, which have approached us in many respects. Without understanding, not only lack of understanding but also intolerance is threatening. It is an important task and a great help when theology with its highly branched disciplines gives today support and assistance. They are of course not, as is often assumed, a priori immune because of their scientific character and their disregard for approval to religious contents: they are not less susceptible to ideology. For example, Carsten Colpe has pointed to the problems of comparing {17}. Due to the strangeness and the specific nature of religious phenomena, the demonstration of which must not be an immunizing protective measure, it is quite obvious that one e.g. thinks one could swiftly identify difficile performances as superstition, magic and the like. Today we are rather circumspectly approaching these phenomena in order to understand them. But despite all scientific rigour here and there a tendency to "reductionism" is still prevailing, when we read that this and that phenomenon was nothing else but ... Especially when it is about the origin and the "evolution" of religions, but also about sensitive phenomena as e.g. sacrificial rituals, such temptations are obvious {18}.



However, just in view of those hazards it is essential to use religious studies as an aid to understand alien religions and one's own beliefs, too.

Attention is already here to be drawn to the fact that understanding is not only feasible in a strictly scientific horizon but that e.g. an artistic communication, too, is able to give access to religious contents in words, sound, music, images and dance.


III. Requirements for Interreligious Dialogue

Against this background, it is necessary to dwell on the meaning, function and structure of a dialogue of religions. We usually regard a dialogue that deserves this name as an innocuous affair {19}.

But a dialogue is not simply a conversation and not just some talk. There are many forms differing from each other: A friendly conversation, a hard-headed conference, a scientific discussion, an examination or a social consensus-building process. You are not allowed in a monopolistic way to interpret conversation by using only one model. Nor should the word dialogue, which in recent decades has been used excessively, be defined by the inflationary abuse. Dialogue is never a harmless form of a general opening to world and society, or even a variety of spontaneous adaptation. Dialogue is not a gossip.

In contrast to "conversation" dialogue is oriented towards the common finding and recognizing of truth. Dialogue is purposeful and intends producing consensus. It is striving for an agreement that ends at least temporarily a previously existing misunderstanding or a dispute. It is looking for an agreement on a disputed matter; not least here the sound durability of the consensus obtained is at stake, so that the dispute does not erupt again at the earliest opportunity. There is no need then to achieve always a consensus in all dimensions and areas of a problem or a matter. There are also stages of consensus building, for example a partial consensus. Other forms of conversation have an unformal moderation and are directly related to the issue in question; the agreement aspired to then happens in many ways {20}. If a dialogue is considerably characterized by the argument as a form of communication, it is in today's thinking rather called 'discourse'. A discourse tries to bring about a decision on the qualification of a problematized validity claim. It assumes that a truth claim is called into question and that a common, truly cooperative search for truth in an informal and unrestricted communication promotes understanding. In such a joint dialogue each participant has to get equal opportunities.



It goes without saying that the dialogue is of course not only about assertions or statements, especially in theoretical form. There is also a "practical discourse", which is to show e.g. the accuracy of standards. In a perhaps less subtly but tangible meaning dialogue implies an open style of dealing with each other, which is without fear and gives all participants the opportunity as subjects to have their say in a community and to contribute to it. The participation of all members of a community does of course not rule out a special responsibility and executive power. Despite the equality of all partners different roles can certainly be played in the dialogue.

In contrast to the rather strict discourse the dialogue is characterized by openness and willingness to discuss (in) all expressions of life. In a society or a community, which today is usually characterized by a high degree of individualization and pluralization, the dialogue is an excellent and fruitful method showing the way in which we can honestly deal with a very specific diversity and the inevitable plurality. Dialogue has ultimately to be connected with the will to find truth. There is undoubtedly an "insubstantial" dialogue that ultimately refrains from obtaining truth. But since in recent decades this did often not attract enough attention, the concept of "dialogue", especially if it is used inflationarily, is often so degenerated that one has fundamentally to defend it as a way of finding truth. But here the old principle applies: "Abusus non tollit usum" (Abuse does not remove use).

Such a dialogue has many enemies. Their number is growing, when it is about opinions on values, i.e. especially such of ideological, philosophical, religious and theological nature. Here the danger is threatening that, in the name of tolerance, dialogue does a priory mean nothing else but an arbitrary freedom of expression. The impression is then given that such a dialogue was particularly tolerant if it on the part of partners expects as little as possible liability and simply everything is allowed. And so today already a partner's position that does not remain hidden but is brought up appears to be a violation of the readiness to engage in dialogue. There is certainly, due to the participants' loyalty to their position [Standortgebundenheit] the risk of intolerance, prejudice, or even of localism. But the existence and the explanation of preconditions of understanding is not simply "dogmatism" {21}. I have recently got the impression that today the freedom of religion, even in the constitutional sense, is often - and particularly in the field of interreligious dialogue and talk about it - understood as the negative freedom of religion. But this is only the half of the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion. The other is the positive freedom of religion that grants room to the existence and the working of religion without intervening in the inner area, requires the recognition of the respective religious beliefs and even respect {22}.



In many areas of public thought an understanding of tolerance has here crept in that is basically arbitrary and "insubstantial" with respect to binding contents. The dialogue must not be distorted by any kind of claims to power. There is also an intolerance that pretends to be liberal {23}.

It would also be a misunderstanding of dialogue to consider the dialogue only possible on condition of admitting only some common abstract religious elements. Everything particulate, concrete and specific will then be excluded or brushed aside in favour of those abstract common ideas. But as previously has been demonstrated, religion loses thus its outlines, fades and becomes ultimately non-committal. Here you will find a deep threat to the modern concept of religion. This is even exacerbated by the fact that a particular religion is reduced to the cognitive orientation system, theoretical statements and "doctrine" by underrating the affective elements, the aspects of ethics and free will, and the stimuli to action. Such a reducing of the phenomenon of religion gets, in my opinion, too little attention by those who are calling for an interreligious dialogue. But the non-binding character of an often colourless and abstract religion reduces the phenomenon.

This has still to be considered for some other reason. The phenomenon of religion has been understood by some religious scholars in such a way that it was reduced to a "subjective existential decision to affirm and grasp a transcendent, supra-rational paradox breaking up all previous associations of ideas ... An exemplary insight into the concept and essence of religion can only be an existential one, i.e. a passionate, subjective commitment to transcendence." {24} Such a holistic, but above all also personal, existential and volitional dimension belongs to the understanding of religion. It certainly makes every concept of a dialogue of religions more complex and the attempt to understand and to communicate more difficult. This probably distinguishes this dialogue from the "normal" view on dialogue in the sciences. And for that reason - seen from a predominantly theoretical conception - the concrete religion is tainted with the aspect of irrationality, especially when in describing religion the word "feeling" and its scope of meaning is used, as it has been practised especially since Friedrich Schleiermacher, Rudolf Otto and others. For as a rule, participants and followers of specific religions take part in the true interreligious dialogue. It is not simply organized by "outsiders", whether by the State, cultural workers or the media or the sciences. Despite all helpful attendance by others, in the interreligious dialogue the religions themselves are to find to each other. At that occasion it can be about a bilateral or a multilateral dialogue.



IV. A New Category in the Process of Understanding

What has been said is to be clarified with the help of the root words understanding, communication, and responsibility. According to its original meaning our word 'understanding' comes probably from the experience that we "face" something and better perceive it, and finally also better understand it, if we e.g. stand up for it in court. Understanding does therefore always need some pause and reflection. We do this for the very reason that we are human beings. But it is particularly our task when we face strange and different things / people. We have also seen how necessary it is in the era of globalization to become better acquainted with other cultures and religions. It is already a bit of peaceableness, if we obtain knowledge of what is little or not at all familiar to us. What's more, by understanding the strange and different reality we realize that we, as if looking in a mirror, also better understand us. That's why just an understanding of other religions requires an improved ability to inform about one's own religious beliefs, without any thought that the interreligious dialogue should directly be used to missionize.

We have also seen that this understanding entails a range of risks. On the one hand, differences can be estimated lower or even be overlooked. The result is the pretence of a unity that - if it is unmasked - leads to great disappointments. Sometimes, however, a common feature or a radical difference is highlighted, because one wants for ideological reasons to achieve certain objectives. True understanding is to keep these ventures in perspective, accept them, and nevertheless secure itself against them. In this respect there is a "praise of difference", if one really puts up with the differences in opinion without at once giving a negative appraisal.

At this point we are to deal with the relationship between understanding and agreement. There is a twofold meaning of understanding. In a broader sense understanding means as much as the different processes of communication, notification and exchange of information. Language is all-important for it. In contrast to this broader sense of understanding, which is similar to our word communication, we use the term agreement for procedures aiming at consent, consensus and agreement. Failed or malfunctioning consent is to be overcome, agreement to be established. Hans-Georg Gadamer has described this central position in this way:

"The basic model of reaching an understanding together is dialogue or conversation ... Reaching an understanding dialogically is impossible if in principle one of the partners in the dialogue does not allow himself or herself to enter in a real conversation." {25}

We do now not want to deal with the dispute about interpretation in the hermeneutic debate, as it took place, for example between Karl-Otto Apel, Jürgen Habermas and Albrecht Wellmer.



Anyhow, the goal of understanding has a highly empathetic, emotional and to some extent ethical complexion, because if mutual agreement about something is the objective of all understanding, then all understanding is pressing for a consensus. But we have learnt, especially in the ecumenical dialogue between the Christian churches, that such an understanding still permits many steps. We can learn from it for the interreligious dialogue. For example, there is a minimum level of agreement; there is partial consensus or even as maximum a total consensus. But perhaps it is not yet possible to reach a successful agreement. Then there are in different ways convergences or divergences that approach a consensus or lead away from it. Of this has of course to be taken account in the interreligious dialogue, too. The status achieved has to be recorded reliably for further attempts of understanding. If you do not carefully reflect on the operational steps and their attainability, you will easily be tempted to cherish too high expectations, especially in the interreligious dialogue. One is heading for an expected broader consensus, even if it has not yet reached. But illusions about it are dangerous.

This gives rise to further reflection. It would be a mistake if one would confine the dialogue of religions to questions of theoretical-theological nature. Religious beliefs are, as far as people are concerned, holistic and also include personal, ethical, emotional and volitional elements. If one does not sufficiently pay attention to this in the dialogue, then one will easily reach an abstract consensus ore one on paper.

The question therefore arises whether one is often asking or expecting too much from an interreligious dialogue. Anyway, the model of a theoretical consensus alone is not appropriate, as much as the intellectual element is also further important. With regard to religion the dialogue also make sense if you first 'only' uncover the differences between religions. The dialogue will often fail, if it is targeted on the argumentative refutation of the interlocutor or on achieving a common basis for argumentation. The interreligious dialogue has here a structure of its own. The knock-down argument has its limits and can be destructive. What we further need is a different apprehension of the "object" of the encounter in the interreligious dialogue. It is here not just about an abstract comparison of positions. For interreligious dialogue even the failure in striving for consensus can become productive and fruitful.

I want to propose for it the concept of religious testimony and take up and emphasize a suggestion of Felix Körner SJ {26}. This is not just a "figure of speech" but it brings also the broader understanding of religion into play: it is at the same time the authentic representation of a confession, as it belongs to religion. The radical alterity of the interlocutor does not need to be fundamentally surprising. The conversation resulting from it is often already different.



Already by presenting one's own conviction one enters into an exchange with the partners that have been introduced for the given situation. What's more, only in the dialogue one discovers completely one's own view. One's own features [das Eigene] often appear only in the face of the other person. To be called into question can also cause that you catch sight of new things. In this case the testimony is a mixture of reasoning and self-evidence of some different entity, who or that appears in it. It is debatable whether you're already at this point to use the word revelation. Anyway, you can meaningfully talk with each other, even though (still) no common conceptual framework comes along. Testimonies, even if they do not yet lead to a consensus, have therefore a high hermeneutic and heuristic potential. Face to face testimonies are always also a risky encounter, require a dynamic dialogic procedure, and make you better understand differences. In the encounter the prior assumptions [Vorverständnis] are possibly exposed to great change. In this context, I will refrain from dealing with yet another dimension of the religious conversation, which is important for the understanding: Not everything that takes place in our thoughts can be expressed in words, in the way as it occurs. There are many conscious or unconscious backgrounds remaining unspoken. This has especially to be reflected on when it is about the "objectification" of religious experience, but in the case of interreligious dialogue it comes up for discussion here through the topic 'communication in the form of testimony'.

I am firmly convinced that one thus meets the requirements of interreligious dialogue better, does not excessively overtax it, and that it can thus also become more fruitful. In addition, an understanding can occur that does not in the first place imply the victory of one's own cognitive patterns [Erkenntnismuster]. Validity claims are taken note of but at the same time restricted, because first you just want to learn more about each other.

This transforms probably the nature of the "dialogue", too. The simple getting to know each other, contacts, visits and simple conversations get more weight. There are e.g. visits of Christians - in this specific case they were theology students - in mosques, and at the same time a counter-invitation of Muslims in a Christian church. Perhaps we struggle with the interreligious conversation inter alia for the simple reason that we underestimate and therefore take too little care of those simple ways of encounter - especially in the neighborhood. Behind simple ways of meeting an important field of religious encounter can open up here. One is interested in each other and does not carelessly or shrugging walk past each other. A taxi driver stops on the road I want to cross and asks kindly, "Do you feel better now?" To my affirmative answer follows, "I am pleased." I want to know where he does come from. "I am an Iranian. I'm 26 years in exile. I'm grateful that I can be here." My answer, "I wish you God's blessings and, Good-bye." He drove on. We must not despise these elements of the religious dialogue, especially in the interpersonal sphere.



That's why the specific category of the testimony has much more to be unfolded philosophically and hermeneutically, spiritually and theologically. We have some tools for it (for example, Max Scheler, Gabriel Marcel, Emmanuel Levinas, Jacques Maritain, Ludwig Wittgenstein and others).


V. Criteria for Interreligious Dialogue

Against this background the question of the criteria of interreligious dialogue is different. Not only intellectual standards of assessment are important. I should like briefly to mention some, as I now seems to me, reoriented criteria, without unfolding them in detail.

1. With regard to the character of religious beliefs the dialogue has to be authentic: Refraining from one-sidedness and positions of power, true equality of the partners, refraining from simple refutation, readiness for risky encounters and for "weakness", too.

2. In every looking for a better understanding of the nature of religion you are not allowed to identify only the dreadful state of affairs in your interlocutor's religion, but at the same time you are to be ready to find it in yourself and your own area.

3. What matters then is that contentual consideration is given to a few basic demands on religion today. A dialogue is not in vain, if it fails at the first attempt or even longer. Without claiming that the list is complete, I would like to bring up the following more practical criteria.

1. A religion endangers itself and is destructive when it insults the dignity common to all human beings by assessing and making absolute the rank and value of man in terms of race and class, origin and status, education and wealth / possession, even of belonging to a certain religion.

2. Every religion has to promote the rightly understood freedom of people. Of course, every religion knows order and commitment to ethical standards and religious instructions. Obedience and commitment to one's community, too, belong to every religion. But overcoming infantile patronizing and promoting true freedom for a good life have to be key reasons for every religion. One's own critical faculty and capacity for thought has to be encouraged and deepened. An enthusiasm that would extinguish this and blind fanaticism can therefore also become very questionable phenomena within a religion, which is fundamentally discredited by them {27}.

3. Every religion wants to help individuals and religious communities to find an undetachable meaning of life and also an ultimate security. It does not cause people's withdrawal from the world but helps them to cope with the dangers of this life and not to be broken by them.



4. Missionary work belongs to a religion, if and as long as it is convinced that it wants and has to pass on to others and their benefit its orientation, which is precious and valuable to its members and supporters. But at the moment in which this missionary work is in some way or other associated with violence, not only the dignity and freedom of human beings but also that of the religion is destroyed. This can possibly be very subtle.

5. There is of course in the dialogue a crucial element that perhaps even belongs rather to the conditions of dialogue. This is the theoretical and practical question of religious freedom, in the sense of negative and positive freedom of religion. In my opinion the advocacy of a universal religious freedom and of its practical realization is a central and essential criterion for every interreligious dialogue. The moral duty of individuals to seek and adopt the true faith, is by no means abrogated or relativized by granting freedom of religion but only categorically separated and secured from the possibility of intervention by state authority or other authorities. In this sense, the religious freedom plays also a central and critical role for the other human rights.


VI. The responsibility of the Religions for a Humane World

What remains is to deal with the keyword responsibility. With Hans Jonas {28} I'd like not to restrict responsibility to the ethical responsibility of the individual with regard to a committed deed, but also include the responsibility of the people living today for the preservation of the future living conditions. Of course the religions are particularly concerned about the preservation of creation, peace among peoples, justice and the rule of law throughout the world, and the readiness for reconciliation in cases of conflict. But it would certainly be a reduction, which admittedly is not so rare, if one conceives the dialogue between religions in such a way that it ignores religious question and tackles only politically and socially relevant, only ethically-oriented topics. It would be positively paradoxical if the interreligious dialogue would take care of everything, but not of the search for truth and the fulfillment of that search in a specific religion.

Under this condition, it should be acknowledged that religions have to take pains over promoting a unifying ethos, which avoids the difficult conflicts, at least reduces them or even assists in resolving them and creates solidarity among people. In this context, it is quite indisputable that all issues of violence prevention, cessation of warlike conditions, peacekeeping, respect for human rights, reconciliation between opponents and enemies, etc. must belong to the priority themes of interreligious dialogue.



Unfortunately, I have to pass over the neighbourly relations with the cultural sciences, but would like at least to indicate the common tasks. The understanding of foreign and different matters / people beyond the different cultures and religions is what joins people.

Supported by a foundation Hans Küng has been trying for many years to reduce such "Global Ethic" to a common denominator. It is not possible here to report about it in detail. A contribution of its own would be necessary for it {29}. Küng's five key imperatives are well known. They are briefly called to mind: 1. No living together on our globe without a global ethic! 2. No peace among nations without peace among religions! 3. No peace among religions without dialogue between religions! 4. No dialogue between religions and cultures without basic research! 5. No global ethos without change in attitudes of religious and non-religious people! Reference is made to the Declaration of the Parliament of World Religions of 4 September 1993, where many short formulas can be found for what is meant by Küng.

One can certainly take this "Global Ethic", which Hans Küng has unfolded in many publications, as a starting point - and this in the midst of all cultural differences. Maybe one has - especially at the beginning of a dialogue - rather to start with a bilateral dialogue before one tries it multilaterally. The two ways do not exclude each other. But you can learn first and better in the encounter of two partners with their respective profile. Polyphony rather needs the expert. Ecumenical experiences suggest such an approach. Incidentally, it is necessary to point to the intensive discussion on the idea of "global ethic" that, despite all the theological and ecclesiopolitical controversy over Küng, has more and more attracted attention and cannot be ignored in the interreligious dialogue.

In reflecting on the future of religions in recent years many experts wonder whether the coping with the social and societal problems, especially in the light of globalization, needs motives that go beyond the horizon of the current individual and collective interests. This question has often been dealt with in the contributions to the topic of the endowed chair "world religions", for example, by Hans Joas {30}, and especially in view of the new China by Helwig Schmidt-Glintzer {31}. It is and will remain an important topic of the current and future dialogue between religions, and that in individual countries {32}, but also globally. Many experts are of the opinion that the certainly ambivalent influence of religions on the development, particularly in economically poor countries and in regions of low stability, i.e. in developing and threshold countries was of decisive importance.



That's why one has to pay more attention to the relationship between religion and development. This is the more important in the era of globalization. This question can only be thoroughly considered if the dimension of religious beliefs is dealt with as objectively as possible. A thorough historical and sociological reflection must not be ignored.


VII. The Dialogue has to be Continued

At this point I must stop. I have so far largely addressed the fundamental questions of hermeneutics of interreligious dialogue. This was primarily intended. So I have restrained myself from giving statements on this matter from a Christian and Catholic perspective. And it was not my intention to make detailed statements within this series. However, in recent years I have repeatedly made such attempts, and must content myself with drawing your attention to them {33}. But in the context of this lecture series it is quite impossible to summarize these findings in a few words. I refer particularly to the extensive treatise "Christianity - a Religion Among Others?" I would like to refer especially to the now accessible collections of official ecclesiastical documents available in German {34}. The theses of the pluralistic theology of religion are an important field of confrontation. The interreligious dialogue is for Christianity as a whole, but especially for the worldwide Catholic Church a central task {35}. Even abusive exaggerations or fundamental refusals must and can not deter us from continuing it. Pope John Paul II said deliberately at the turn of the millennium, "The dialogue must go on." {36}



{1} Abridged and edited version of the final lecture that is published unabridged on 16th September 2009 by the Verlag der Weltreligionen in the documentation volume "Weltreligionen. Verstehen - Verständigung - Verantwortung", edited by K. Kardinal Lehmann (Frankfurt 2009).

{2} I refer to the inaugural lecture "Rückkehr der Religion? Von der Ambivalenz eines zeitdiagnostischen Schlagwortes" and the numerous references, most of which are not repeated here:

{3} See W. Huber's lecture, Religion, Politik u. Gewalt in der heutigen Welt im Dokumentationsband (note 1).

{4} J. H. Leuba, A Psychological Study of Religion (London 1912). Appendix.

{5} See e.g. J. Waardenburg, Religionen u Religion (Berlin 1986) 34.

{6} See K. Lehmann, Gott u. Macht. Ein religionsphilosophischer Versuch, in: Vorsehung, Schicksal u. göttliche Macht, edited by R. G. Kratz u. H. Spieckermann (Tübingen 2008) 264-290.



{7} See about it K. Lehmann, Transzendenz, in: SM, volume 4, 992-1005. More in detail the same, Vom Ursprung u. Sinn der Seinsfrage im Denken Martin Heideggers. Versuch einer Ortsbestimmung, volume 1/2 (Mainz ²2006) 468-640 (Geschichte des Transzendenzverständnisses).

{8} See about it B. Weite, Kleinere Schriften zur Philosophie der Religion, in: the same, Gesammelte Schriften, volume III/2 (Freiburg 2008) 180 et sequ.

{9} About the concept of hierophany and the connection of religious expressions with the world see in the same place 110 et sequ.; M. Eliade, Die Religionen u. das Heilige (Salzburg 1954) 61 et sequ., 147 et sequ.; the same, Geschichte der religiösen Ideen, volume 1 (Freiburg 1978) 179 (Beispiel des Himmels).

{10} Welte (note 8) 184.

{11} H. G. Kippenberg, Gewalt als Gottesdienst. Religionskriege im Zeitalter der Globalisierung (München 2008); See also U. Beck, Der eigene Gott. Von der Friedensfähigkeit u. dem Gewaltpotential der Religionen (Frankfurt 2008); P. Sloterdijk, Gottes Eifer. Vom Kampf der drei Monotheismen (Frankfurt 2007); St. Weidner, Manual für den Kampf der Kulturen. Warum der Islam eine Herausforderung ist. Ein Versuch (Frankfurt 2008); Religion - Segen oder Fluch der Menschheit?, edited by M. v. Brück (Frankfurt 2008).

{12} See about the debate W. Huber's contribution in the documentation volume (note 1).

{13} J. Assmann, Moses der Ägypter. Entzifferung einer Gedächtnisspur (München 1998); the same, Die Mosaische Unterscheidung oder der Preis des Monotheismus (München 2003); the same, Monotheismus u. die Sprache der Gewalt (Wien 2006). See about it the criticism of G. Kaiser, War der Exodus der Sündenfall? Fragen an Jan Assmann, in: Spätlese. Beiträge zur Theologie, Literaturwissenschaft u. Geistesgeschichte (Tübingen 2008) 66-89; K. Koch, Monotheismus als Sündenbock?, in: ThLz 124 (1999) 873-884; E. Zenger, Der Mosaische Monotheismus im Spannungsfeld von Gewalttätigkeit u. Gewaltverzicht. Eine Replik auf Jan Assmann, in: Das Gewaltpotential des Monotheismus u. der dreieine Gott, edited by P. Walter (Freiburg 2005) 39-73; Kippenberg (note 11) 17-22.

{14} See R. Schieder, Sind Religionen gefährlich? (Berlin 2008).

{15} See E. Kapsch, Verstehen des Anderen. Fremdverstehen im Anschluß an Husserl, Gadamer u. Derrida (Berlin 2007) 157-165.

{16} See C. P. Sajak, Das Fremde als Gabe begreifen. Auf dem Weg zu einer Didaktik der Religionen aus katholischer Perspektive (Münster 2005).

{17} C. Colpe, Theologie, Ideologie, Religionswissenschaft (München 1980) 84 et sequ. and oftener

{18} See e.g. J. Casanova, Europas Angst vor der Religion (Berlin 2009).

{19} See K. Lehmann, Vom Dialog als Form der Kommunikation u. Wahrheitsfindung in der Kirche heute (Der Vorsitzende der Dt. Bischofskonferenz 17, Bonn 1994) and in: the same, Zuversicht aus dem Glauben. Die Grundsatzreferate des Vorsitzenden der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz mit den Predigten der Eröffnungsgottesdienste (Freiburg 2006) 205-219; M. Kinnen, Dialog als Schlüsselbegriff im Leben u. theologischen Werk von Karl Lehmann (Mainz 2008) 120-133.

{20} See about it Lehmann, Vom Dialog (note 19) 13 et sequ.; H. Scheit, Wahrheit, Diskurs, Demokratie (Freiburg 1987); J. Habermas, Wahrheitstheorien, in: Wirklichkeit u. Reflexion, edited by H. Fahrenbach (Pfullingen 1973); 0. F. Bollnow, Das Doppelgesicht der Wahrheit (Stuttgart 1975); B. Waldenfels, Das Zwischenreich des Dialogs (Den Haag 1971); J. Ratzinger, Glaube - Wahrheit - Toleranz (Freiburg 2003); B. Casper, Das dialogische Denken. Eine Untersuchung der religiös-philosophischen Bedeutung Franz Rosenzweigs, Ferdinand Ebners u. Martin Bubers (Freiburg 2002).

{21} See my Mainz inaugural lecture (12.6.1969): Die dogmatische Denkform als hermeneutisches Problem. Prolegomena zu einer Kritik der dogmatischen Vernunft, in: EvTh 30 (1970) 469-487; K. Lehmann, Gegenwart des Glaubens (Mainz 1974) 35-53.

{22} See K. Lehmann, Religionsfreiheit u. staatliche Neutralität (lecture at the Wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft in Freiburg on 10.12.1999), in: Freiburger Universitätsblätter 40 (2001) issue 154, 5-13; the same, Säkularer Staat: Woher kommen das Ethos u. die Grundwerte? Zur Interpretation einer These von



Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde, in: "Um der Freiheit willen ...". Kirche u. Staat im 21. Jahrhundert (FS Burkhard Reichert, Freiburg 2002) 24-30; the same, Zum schiedlich-friedlichen Verhältnis von Staat u. Kirche heute, in: "Das Werk der Gerechtigkeit wird der Friede sein", edited by R. Zollitsch (Freiburg 2008) 13-33; U. di Fabio, Gewissen, Glaube, Religion (Berlin 2008).

{23} Because of the current events see K. Lehmann, Liberal wollte ich immer sein, in: FAZ, 20.5.2009, 10.

{24} Quotations in E. Feil and others, article Religion, in: RGG4, volume 7, 263-304, 265 with recourse to G. Mensching and L. Richter, article Religion in RGG 3, volume 5, 961-995, especially 961, 969 et sequ.

{25} H. G. Gadamer, Wahrheit u. Methode, volume 2 (Tübingen 1986) 116.

{26} F. Körner, Kirche im Angesicht des Islam. Theologie des interreligiösen Zeugnisses (Stuttgart 2008); the same, Alter Text - neuer Kontext. Koranhermeneutik in der Türkei von heute (Freiburg 2006); K. Lehmann, Glauben bezeugen, Gesellschaft gestalten (Freiburg 1993) 531-546 (literature).

{27} See K. Lehmann, Der christliche Glaube vor der neuen Religiosität, in: the same, Signale der Zeit - Spuren des Heils (Freiburg 1983) 58-82, 183-185.

{28} See H. Jonas, Das Prinzip Verantwortung (Frankfurt 1979, reprint 2009); about it K. Lehmann, "Also ist die Zukunft noch nicht entschieden". Das vielfältige Erbe des Philosophen Hans Jonas als Auftrag, in: Orientierung u. Verantwortung. Begegnungen u. Auseinandersetzungen mit Hans Jonas, edited by D. Böhler and J. P. Brune (Würzburg 2004) 161-184.

{29} See H. Küng, Projekt Weltethos (München 1990); Weltfrieden durch Religionsfrieden, edited by the same and K.-J. Kuschel (München 1993); the same, Ja zum Weltethos (München 1995); the same, Weltethos für Weltpolitik u. Weltwirtschaft (München 1997); Wissenschaft u. Weltethos, edited by the same and K.-J. Kuschel (München 1998); the same, Spurensuche. Die Weltreligionen auf dem Weg (München 1999); Ein Ethos für eine Welt? Globalisierung als ethische Herausforderung, edited by K.-J. Kuschel and others (Frankfurt 1999); Die Stiftung Weltethos, edited by the Stiftung (Stuttgart without year); H. Küng, Wozu Weltethos? Im Gespräch mit Jürgen Hoeren (Freiburg 2002); Dokumentation zum Weltethos, edited by the same (München 2002); the same and A. Rinn-Maurer, Weltethos christlich verstanden (Freiburg 2005); the same and W. Homolka, Weltethos aus den Quellen des Judentums (Freiburg 2008).

{30} H. Joas, Braucht der Mensch Religion? (Freiburg 2004) 12 et sequ. and oftener

{31} H. Schmidt-Glintzer, Wohlstand, Glück u. langes Leben. Chinas Götter u. die Ordnung im Reich der Mitte (Frankfurt 2009).

{32} See for instance R. Schieder, Wie viel Religion verträgt Deutschland? (Frankfurt 2001); Glaube, Vernunft, Politik. Eine Verhältnisbestimmung, edited by H. Zehetmair (Freiburg 2009); W. Schäuble, Braucht unsere Gesellschaft Religion? Vom Wert des Glaubens (Berlin 2009).

{33} See Das Christentum - eine Religion unter anderen? Zum interreligiösen Dialog aus katholischer Perspektive (Der Vorsitzende der Dt. Bischofskonferenz 23, Bonn 2002), also in: the same, Zuversicht (note 19) 401-435 (literature); the same, Chancen u. Grenzen des Dialogs zwischen den "abrahamitischen Religionen" in: Benedikt XVI., Glaube u. Vernunft. Die Regensburger Vorlesung (Freiburg 2006) 97-133 (lit.); the same, Die Notwendigkeit des interreligiösen Gesprächs u. das Verhältnis von Kirche u. Islam, in: CIBEDO - Beiträge zum Gespräch zwischen Christen u. Muslimen (Frankfurt 2007) 4-11, also in: Christliche u. muslimische Kinder sehen sich an (Düsseldorf 2007) 12-31.

{34} Der Dialog muß weitergehen. Ausgewählte vatikanische Dokumente zum interreligiösen Gespräch, edited by E. Fürlinger (Freiburg 2009); Die offiziellen Dokumente der katholischen Kirche zum Dialog mit dem Islam, compiled by T. Güzelmansur, edited by CIBEDO e.V. (Regensburg 2009).

{35} Zur evangelischen Sicht see W. Huber, Der christliche Glaube. Eine evangelische Orientierung (Gütersloh 52009) 128 et sequ.

{36} John Paul II, Apostolisches Schreiben "Novo millennio ineunte" of 6.1.2001 (VApSt 150, Bonn 2001) 51 (article 55).


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