DIALOGUE among cultures and traditions, while fraught with difficulties, is “the obligatory path” to achieving lasting world peace, Pope John Paul II said.
Dialogue means a conversation between two or more parties. It implies a certain openness on both sides and a desire to understand where both parties are coming from.
It does not imply that one party will finally come to accept the other when it really sees the truth, or succumbs to the other.
Dialogue is essential for the harmony of cultures; it is also obligatory in any ecumenical discussions.
Ecumenism and unity are frequently confused and as such are a great hindrance to any real dialogue between Churches.
The search for unity, which nearly always means uniformity has bedevilled Western thinking whether in philosophy, politics or religion for the past 2000 years.
It has divided the Christian community; theologically the Christian community is one; sociologically there is great diversity between East and West and within both there are different denominations.
All this is confusing.
Dialogue implies understanding, and since Christianity is an historical religion, and the first Christians were Jews, we need to understand its history, not only from a Christian point of view, but from a Jewish viewpoint.
Christianity did not enter an empty world. Its advent found human minds filled with conceptions of the universe, of religion, of sin, and of rewards and punishments with which it had to reckon, and to which it had to adjust itself.
It could not build on virgin soil but had to accommodate many of the ideas and customs that currently existed. There was great diversity within the Roman Empire and none more than in the realm of religious thought.
Whereas the Greco-Roman culture was elitist, Christianity professed to be egalitarian, though over time, it began to wear many of the emperor’s clothes.
Unfortunately, the Church did not take sufficient cognisance of different cultures over the centuries and is now trying to remedy it. It is well to remember that when we are allotting blame to the Church that we also need to include the whole society, for European society of that time was an undifferentiated society.
For example, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Reformation are just as much about politics as religion.
Our story of Christianity includes not only religious events but social, cultural, and political ones, and these have to be taken into account if there is to be any worthwhile dialogue between cultural and religious groups.
JOHN COUNIHAN Bethania, Qld