Inter belief dialogue
The Pope has announced that there will be a Catholic/Muslim summit between 24 scholars and religious leaders of each side. This will happen just over a year from when the Pope made his speech in Regensburg, Germany where he mentioned that Islam spread across the Arab world not so much by winning hearts and minds but through the sword.
This brings me to the question of whether it is worth having such inter faith dialogues, and in particular when humanists become involved. I have attended Christian atheist ones – I have to say that for some of the Christians that attended it was the first time not only that they had really examined what they personally believed, but had their faith scrutinized.
The issue for me is what the purpose of the meeting is meant to be. If it is just a public relations exercise then it seems pointless. If on the other hand real concerns are being debated, for example where religious hatred is manifesting itself in society and people are stirring up violence, such dialogue may help people to appreciate what is happening in their community.
The thing is in a pluralistic democracy, such meetings of civic groups can be a good thing. Citizens talking about differences, common accord and areas where they can work together for the benefit of society is one that can be endorsed.
However in a truly pluralistic society this is not about a cartel of groups making decisions – all interested citizens and groups have a level playing field inputting into the decision making process. That is where of course you get the issue of the political process acting as gate keepers to the policy making process. But the idea is a bedrock of democracy that you can make representations and the policy process is accountable.
Because the concept of what actually entails the public good does differ.
The joint statement promised that the Pope would be talking about critical issues facing humankind:
It said the Pope would address the meeting on the themes of “Love of God, Love of Neighbour”, “Theological and Spiritual Foundation” and “Human Dignity and Mutual Respect”.
Public relations and theological fencing exercises seem to be the order of the day. Will they talk about such issues as:
human rights for women
freedom of expression
freedom of choice
the right to disagree
stewardship of the planet (physical rather than spiritual)
Perhaps they could proclaim that those who use violence and intimidation, rather than try to win hearts and minds by rational argument, are the enemies of reason. Perhaps they could even condemn those that use faith as a means to condone such activity that brings rent-a-mob to the streets. Instead of indulgences for fragile sensibilities to excuse such behaviour.
I am sure they could find time for that. When we see the worst humanitarian crisis in Gaza since 1967, the need to understand that we need peace rather than division in the world, dialogue rather than discord is one that all those leaders – self proclaimed or otherwise – need to embrace if we are to wake up to the fact that it is not the planet that needs rescuing.
We need to save humanity from itself. Reason and science are there waiting to be heard and acted on. Are we going to heed the call or believe only what we want to believe?
Quote taken from BBC News report here.