Religious dialogue need of the hour

The terrible events going on in our country these days have shown how religion can be used to fuel mindless violence and aggression.

In the wake of growing use of religion to exacerbate violence, can faith traditions offer resources for peace? How do religious identities impact conflict resolution processes?

How might various actors – conflict transformation practitioners, political elite, trauma counsellors etc – act in unison with religious leaders and prevent ethno-religious violence? Can we put an end to negative perceptions, images and stereotypes of Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and other religions?

The point has certainly been reached when the religious ‘crusaders’ should be told ‘enough is enough.’ It is time to celebrate the variety in religious expressions in India.

The situation in the country today calls for the urgent need for revitalising dialogue between religions in India. Historically, there has been no lack of interest in dialogue between adherents of different faiths in our country.

The Indian civilisation has been in continuous relationship with other religions, cultures and civilisations. They underlined the high degree of spiritual affinity with other religions and, in the course of their encounters, they discovered the congruence of the basic tenets of all religions.

Multi-religious society
We live in a multicultural and multi-religious society and it is important to reiterate our faith in shared values and the commonality of our religious traditions. We also need to cultivate a deep sense of inter-faith trust.

Doubtless, we belong to different faiths, follow different religious traditions and worship according to different rites. Still, we can and should develop a civilised framework for disagreement. The disagreement can be overcome easily if we follow Gadhiji’s dictum: “Show a little humility and a little diffidence about the correctness of one’s conduct and a little receptiveness.”

According to Dr Stanley Samartha, known as the ‘Christian prophet of religious pluralism’, “genuine dialogue demands humility and love, “dialogue is both an expression of faith and a sign of hope…”

The only alternative to dialogue is more dialogue. What we need is an expanded tolerance in our approach to different religions and our understanding of their ways.

“No statement about a religion is valid unless it can be acknowledged by that religion’s believers,” stated W C Smith, a powerful proponent of dialogue among religions. In these radically changed circumstances, old rivalries cannot be renewed and the past battles cannot be fought on a modern turf.

Exchange of experiences
Amidst the conflicting claims made on behalf of different religions, there is an urgent need among followers of different religions for a full and free exchange of their differing religious experiences, in a spirit of mutual respect, appreciation and sympathy. And, such an exchange of experiences will lead to an enrichment of one another’s religious life; mutual respect, understanding and tolerance.

There is also the urgent need for sharing our deepest convictions with one another: Sharing them on a basis of equality, of genuine respect for and acceptance of the validity of each other’s faith. Such a sharing demands earnestness, both in holding one’s own faith and in seeking to understand another’s. For we get nowhere if we meet on a basis of indifference to all faiths.

There will be an element of newness in the relationship between religions when we unreservedly assert that there is no monopoly in religious truth, that the followers of the different religions can help each other best by each being true to his/her understanding of the Truth. We all can, thus, grow together into an ever deepening and widening understanding of, and approximation to, Truth.

We must realise that any attempt to weaken the hold of the truth of any religion upon mankind is to weaken religion itself. Therefore we must strive not to weaken but to strengthen each other by mutual respect, trust and co-operation. We must also seek to help one another more fully to understand and live up to the best in all religions.

People of all faiths must learn to share through the richness of their various religious traditions and experiences in this adventure of spirit and support of one another in the struggle for social justice, identifying themselves as closely as they are able with the oppressed and the disinherited, and treating all human beings as brothers and sisters.

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