Godtalk: Interfaith Relationships


An interfaith banner from the Nichols College Chaplaincy from Sean on Flickr

All world religions are prone to disrespect and violence. Invariably, those acting in this way see their actions as justified by sacred cause.   It would seem that it’s always been so. No religion, has been innocent.

Every one of the great religions of the world, including Christianity, has been, at various times, both persecuted and persecutor. 
So what are the fundamental principles we should try to live out in our relationship with other faiths?

What’s best in each of our traditions would suggest the following:
All that is good, true, and beautiful comes from one and the same God. Nothing that is true, irrespective of its particular religious or secular covering, may be seen as opposed to true faith and religion.
God wills the salvation of all people.   God has no favourites. All people have access to God and to God’s Spirit, and the whole of humankind has never lacked for divine providence. Moreover no religion may reject anything that is true and holy in other religions.

No one religion has the full and whole truth. God is both infinite and ineffable. God cannot be captured adequately in human concepts and human language. While our knowledge of God may be true, it is only partial. God can be truly known, but God cannot be adequately thought.

All faiths and all religions are journeying towards the fullness of truth. No one religion or denomination may consider its truth complete, something to rest permanently within; rather it must see it as a starting point from which to journey. Moreover, as various religions we need to feel secure enough within our own ‘home’ so as to acknowledge the truth and beauty that is expressed in other ‘homes’. We should be pleased that there are other lives within which the faith is written in a different language.

Diversity within religions is a richness, willed by God. God does not just wish our unity; God also blesses our diversity which helps reveal the over-abundance within God.  Although religious diversity is the cause of much tension, that diversity and the struggle to overcome it will contribute greatly to the richness of the unity we are called to strive for.

Vatican II acknowledged that truth and holiness cam be found outside the structure of the Church.   God is ‘scattered’ in world religions. Anything that is positive within a religion expresses something of God and contributes to divine revelation.  Seen from this aspect, the various religions of the world all help to make God known.

Each person must account for his or her faith on the basis of their own conscience. Each of us must take responsibility for our own faith and salvation.

All the great world religions inter-penetrate each other (and, for a Christian, that means that they interpenetrate the mystery of Christ). A genuine faith knows that God is solicitous for everyone, that God’s spirit blows freely, and therefore it strives to relate itself to other religions and to other sects within its own religion.

A connection to any religion is less important than achieving a personal relationship with God. What God wants most deeply from us, irrespective of our religion, is not a religious practice but a personal relationship that transforms our lives so as to radiate God’s goodness, truth, and beauty more clearly.

Within our lives and within our relationship to other religions, respect, graciousness, and charity must trump all other considerations. This does not mean that all faiths are equal, or that faith can be reduced to its lowest common denominator;  but it does mean that what lies deepest inside of every faith are the fundamentals of respect, graciousness, and charity.

Our struggle with the relationship between unity and diversity is not so much a problem as it is a richness that reflects the over-abundance of God and our struggle to grasp that over-abundance.

Peter Knott SJ