Monday, March 21, 2011

The Possibility of Being a Christian Pluralist (PART 6)

The third condition of interconnection prompts religious persons to discern some level of relevance in another religion for their own tradition. What is needed for dialogue to be truly transformative is a common meeting point, be it externally (social justice issues, responses to secularism), internally (mystical experiences), or a uniting vision of ultimate reality between the religions. Cornille finds the latter approach more realistic and helpful for the task at hand. After surveying John Hick’s attempt to develop a “Neutral Ultimate Reality”, she argues against his position: “believers are not on the whole inclined to subordinate their own criteria to a common religious denominator. Not only would this contradict religious self-understanding, but it would almost certainly impoverish dialogue, which ideally includes the creative and constructive engagement of one’s own highest criteria of truth with those of the other.” Cornille thus affirms, with Heim, the need for a confessional approach to ultimate reality and an affirmation that all theologies of religion are at best inclusivist. Although she critiques some of Heim’s approach, she sees it as one of the better models for the condition of religious interconnection since it preserves the particularities of the tradition while simultaneously opening up a lot of space for other religious truth claims.

The fourth condition of empathy refers to the need for religious persons to go beyond the collection of data about other religions and to really open themselves up to understand from within the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another religion. These are at the root of religious practices and beliefs, so to really know the religious other and facilitate the necessary growth and change, one must make every effort to resonate with the spiritual meaning of other traditions. This requires an intentional immersion into the religious life of the other, a “passing over” and subsequent return to one’s own religious community. Importantly, Cornille argues that perfect empathy is impossible. There will certainly be experiences, practices, and beliefs of other traditions that find no resonance in a religious outsider. Even so, an experience of strong contrast may still somehow lead to interreligious enrichment.

The fifth condition of hospitality is perhaps the most important, because without it there is almost no reason to dialogue at all. If religions are to experience change and growth for the good of the world, they must be at least open to the possibility of discovering authentic truth in the religious other. Hospitality thus requires the first condition of doctrinal humility. To discover truth in the religious other is to be transformed in the deepest way, but this requires openness to new truth. Many are comfortable with discovering truth in another religion that mirrors their own, but very little change results from this recognition. Fortunately, the Christian tradition has resources for affirming truth in other religions: the activity of the Spirit, as well as the early church father Eusebius of Caesarea’s concept of the logos spermatikos (“seed of the word”) that other religions have access to. These inclusivist efforts are criticized as being both unable to avoid the domestication of the religious other and to provide space for discovering genuinely new truth. A more “open” inclusivism that remains connected to these trinitarian traditions is possible, however, as the work of Gavin D’Costa, Jacques Dupuis, and S. Mark Heim illustrates. They clearly do not affirm total equality between the religions, with phrases like “asymmetrical complimentarity” and “penultimate ends”, because they recognize the need to remain recognizably Christian and the impossibility of a neutral pluralism. As Cornille writes, “While the Christian concept of God may be purified and chastened by encounter with a notion as profound as the Buddhist notion of emptiness, one can scarcely expect Christian theology to go all the way to abandoning its belief in a personal Creator God.”

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