One of the gifts of interfaith dialogue is perspective. Through another’s eyes we may deepen our understanding of ourselves and our faith. We may decide that the perspective of the other is flawed or incomplete, but we may also gain great wisdom.
One of the gifts of interfaith dialogue is perspective. Through another’s eyes we may deepen our understanding of ourselves and our faith. We may decide that the perspective of the other is flawed or incomplete, but we may also gain great wisdom.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
In his book Christianity through Non-Christian Eyes, Paul J. Griffiths collects essays by Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist and Hindu writers on their perspectives of Christianity. It is impossible to summarize the varied perceptions of Christianity within each of these multi-faceted traditions, but some major themes emerge in this book.
Jews are vitally concerned about the anti-Semitism imbedded in Christian history. They are disturbed by more than direct acts and teachings of anti-Semitism, which most Christians today would reject in the wake of the Holocaust. They are also troubled by such Christian teachings as supercessionism (the Jewish covenant with God has been replaced by the Christian covenant), exclusivism (salvation is only in Christ), mission efforts that specifically “target” Jews, and some premillennial eschatologies that include the Jews in end-time scenarios.
All of these teachings seem to negate Judaism as a living religion. Abraham Joshua Heschel writes: “A Christian ought to ponder seriously the tremendous implications of a process begun in early Christian history. I mean the conscious or unconscious de-judaization of Christianity, affecting the Church’s way of thinking, its inner life as well as its relationship to the past and present reality of Israel—the father and mother of the very being of Christianity. The children did not arise to call the mother blessed; instead, they called the mother blind.”
Muslims consider Christians to be “people of the book” and Jesus to be a prophet of God. Because of Muslims’ belief in the oneness of God, they question Christian affirmations of the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus Christ. Griffiths observes that Muslims—because of their belief that all of life should be united under God—see Christianity as dualistic, splitting flesh and spirit, state and church, human society and the natural order.
According to Muslims, life cannot be compartmentalized, or religion will cease to be what God intends. Sayyid Qutb refers to this tendency toward dualism as “that hideous schizophrenia.” He writes: “It is not natural for religion to be segregated from life in this world. … Nor is it its nature to be immured in a restricted corner of human life and labeled a ‘personal affair.'”
Buddhist evaluations of Christianity are often associated with Western colonialism in Asia. For example, Buddhist reformer Anagarika Dharmapala writes: “Christianity is a political camouflage. Its three aspects are politics, trade, and imperial expansion.” In addition, there is a sustained critique of the Christian “attachment” to notions of a personal God and an individual soul.
While these Christian beliefs can enhance moral character, Buddhists also regard them as blockages to Enlightenment. Masao Abe writes: “Zen must raise the question: what is the ground of the one God; what is the ground of faith in God? This Zen question will not destroy but rather deepen the Christian faith in God.”
Hindus believe in many paths to God and are puzzled by the Christian insistence upon Jesus Christ as the only Savior. Hindus regard Jesus as one of many manifestations of the Ultimate. Swami Vivekananda notes: “When the world goes down, the Lord comes to help it forward … Let us, therefore, find God not only in Jesus of Nazareth, but in all the Great Ones.”
Even more inclusive Christian theologians are criticized for not going far enough in appreciating other faiths. Bibhuti S. Yadav, a Hindu theist, says of Hans Kung’s theology: “Hans Kung does love God, the almighty Father. In so doing, he would not let God, the Father, pay equal attention to his other children. … His commitment to uniqueness results in the phrase ‘non-Christian,’ implying that all those who are not Christians think alike, talk alike, go to the circus alike, make love alike, live and die alike, and then go to hell alike.”
Of course, people of other faiths have much positive to say about Christianity. Other faiths admire the ethical character of Jesus, appreciate the profundity of Christian theological reflection, and respect the contributions of Christians to world culture.
For example, Heschel writes: “It was the Church that made Hebrew Scripture available to mankind. This we Jews must acknowledge with a grateful heart.”
Muslim Fazlur Rahman writes: “Jesus and his followers are regarded [in the Quran] as exceptionally charitable and self-sacrificing.”
The Dalai Lama says: “The variety of the different world religious philosophies is a very useful and beautiful thing. For certain people, the idea of God as creator and of everything depending upon his will is beneficial and soothing, and so for that person such a doctrine is worthwhile.”
Mohandas K. Gandhi says: “The Sermon on the Mount … went straight to my heart.”
As Christians, we are gifted by these challenges and affirmations.
James Browning is senior pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo.
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