The beauty of interfaith dialogue is the opportunity presented to highlight the unifying factors between religions. It is accepted that there are differences in beliefs, practices and philosophy of the various religions of the world, but if the basic tenets and interpretations of these faiths are presented in an honest and open way, an understanding of the reasons for any misunderstandings can be looked at, opened to dialogue and, hopefully, removed.
It is therefore important that the beliefs and practices of each religion are presented without any hint that the presenters are trying to convert the listeners to their way of thinking. Rather that these beliefs are presented with a true respect and honouring of all beliefs and teachings.The goal is to promote an understanding of one’s own faith and encourage the desire for further dialogue between participants and their audience.
If it is thought that interfaith dialogue doesn’t really accomplish anything, then what would be the point of discussion in relation to any field of study? It is generally accepted that discussion is a very useful tool in every discipline. There are very few individuals who have the ability to take every aspect of a particular topic into account and give a well-balanced and broad viewpoint. Therefore in all disciplines it is generally accepted that many heads are better than one if a subject is to be approached with a breadth of vision and interpretation, eg the brainstorming technique that is so popular in the commercial world.
Why then would it be any different when it comes to dialogue between faiths?
When we open faiths to discussion it promotes thought amongst all those involved in the presentations. Critical evaluation of current thinking and presentation is stimulated amongst those who are honestly seeking change. This is healthy and can lead to a much greater level of honesty and acceptance not only amongst the heads of religions, but also to the followers of that religion.
If one of the goals is to remove dissention and disconnection between the faiths where better to start than with the heads of religions, or those representing these faiths? If the barriers and disagreements that have developed over the centuries between religions can be lowered, or even better, removed, there is a hope of peace and love growing between all peoples. Throughout history religion has very often been a divisive factor on our planet and in today’s world the tensions amongst faiths have grown even more intense and divisive.
Wouldn’t it be lovely it the divisions that have been created could be removed and true understanding and acceptance of all faiths be established?
Dialogue between the world leaders of religion can support and promote the removal of these barriers, so therefore isn’t dialogue a valid way of doing this? And wouldn’t interfaith dialogue be one of the most constructive and valid ways of making this a reality?
Isn’t the ultimate goal for people to look beyond the surface differences and to discover the humanity that forms the basis of these various religions; it is the ordinary human being who is affected by differences and misunderstandings, not an unnamed demographic.
Author: Swami Meera, Yoga in Daily Life Sydney, Australia