Monthly Archives: April 2008

Art imitates life? (Thanks, Rebecca!)


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"That Future is Now!" The New Thrust of Inter-religious Dialogue according to Cardinal Tauran

Worth reading is Cardinal Tauran’s description of the interfaith activity of the Catholic Church which he gave while in Kenya recently. Tauran is the current president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue at the Vatican, so he knows what he is talking about.

Here is the interesting bit:

4. The new thrust of inter-religious dialogue

My dear friends, as you may know, inter-religious dialogue takes different forms:… dialogue of life, dialogue of cooperation, dialogue of theological discourse and dialogues of spiritualities. The penultimate (dialogue of theological discourse) is often postponed to the future. In the Pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, that future is now.

Up till recently, discussions and praxis of inter-religious dialogue have focused on the common spiritual bonds which Christians share with other believers. By emphasising these bonds, Popes Paul VI and John Paul II, have constructed bridges of understanding between Christianity and other religions. The perceptible direction of Pope Benedict XVI is that, building on what his predecessors have put in place, he is now leading the Church to cross that bridge. Whereas other highlighted the common elements we share, he wants to emphasize, by use of reason, the distinctiveness of the Christian faith.

Together with other believers we walk in search of the truth. We should be prepared to ask difficult questions. Partners in dialogue must be open to talk about those issues not often put on the table: religious liberty, freedom of conscience, reciprocity, conversion, religious extremism, etc.

That kind of puts things (such as the Regensburg speech and the Good Friday prayer) in a certain perspective, doesn’t it?

It is also entirely of a piece with Papa Benny’s own words to the gathering of Interreligious leaders in the US, when he said:

There is a further point I wish to touch upon here. I have noticed a growing interest among governments to sponsor programs intended to promote interreligious and intercultural dialogue. These are praiseworthy initiatives. At the same time, religious freedom, interreligious dialogue and faith-based education aim at something more than a consensus regarding ways to implement practical strategies for advancing peace. The broader purpose of dialogue is to discover the truth. What is the origin and destiny of mankind? What are good and evil? What awaits us at the end of our earthly existence? Only by addressing these deeper questions can we build a solid basis for the peace and security of the human family, for “wherever and whenever men and women are enlightened by the splendor of truth, they naturally set out on the path of peace” (Message for the 2006 World Day of Peace, 3).

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Two Jews, Three Opinions: Different reactions from Jewish Communities to the Holy Father

The Tablet is carrying the news that the Austrian Grand Rabbi has announced suspension of dialogue with the Church because of the Good Friday prayer.

Which is just one more indication of the truth of the old joke that the Jews themselves tell of “Two Jews, Three Opinions”.

In the meantime, in New York, we get scenes like this:

Do they look unhappy? Do they look like they are about to “suspend dialogue”. I don’t think so. On the other hand, it might just be a case of the difference between Europe and the US on matters of faith.

When there is a disagreement, on any issue, the only way it will be solved is if both parties remain open to dialogue.


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A Lutheran Theologian suggests "Muslim Friendly" Christian worship?

I am very glad to be working as a Catholic in interfaith relations. We at least have a reasonably clear theology that guides us in these matters. Lutherans don’t, I guess in part because interfaith dialogue was light years away from the thoughts of the authors of the Book of Concord. So they end up borrowing either from evangelical theologies (you have to have Jesus as your personal saviour or you’re going to hell) or liberal protestant theologies (Christianity is just one road to up the mountain that has “God” at the top).

This is an example of the latter. Herb Hoefer holds the “Missions Chair” at Concordia University Portland, an LCMS institution. He caused a stir in Lutheran circles in the States by posting an essay called “Muslim-Friendly Christian Worship” in September last year. (The URL given on all the blogs is, but that doesn’t work any more. From what I can see, CU has pulled the item from their website. I am accessing the text here at Fr Hollywood’s page).

This is a really terribly misguided effort. It says volumes about the attitude one regularly encounters among LCMS types (not Pastor Weedon and his friends, I hasten to add) which has an utilitarian attitude toward the liturgy of the Church, regarding it simply as an instrument for evangelisation. Still, not even the worst of the Church Growthers went this far!

In order to make Christian worship more palatable to Muslims, Herb wonders if we should rethink the appropriateness of “worshipping Jesus”. He suggests revision of the creeds to make it clear (assuming they don’t) that we worship one God only, that the term “Church” should be removed from the creeds, that St Paul’s letters should not be read, that the term “Son of God” should be retired, that grape juice rather than alcohol should be used in the Lord’s Supper, and that images and music should be scaled down.

In short, he is suggesting that to witness to Muslims we should stop being Christians.

Don’t get me wrong. On absolutely every point, Herb has heard his Muslim friend’s objections loud and clear. It is true that they think that we are polytheists and that we worship a human being instead of God. It is true that they reject the title “Son of God” since “God neither begets nor is begotton” as one Muslim said to me recently. It is true that they have real problems with the way we worship (using images, music and alcohol).

But we don’t change our way of worship to suit someone else’s misunderstanding of or rejection of our beliefs (remember “lex orandi, lex credendi”). For instance, we Catholics are not about to through out the rosary, the Hail Mary, and the statues of Mary just because you protestants either fail to understand Mariology or reject it outright!

Dialogue is the place to talk these issues through. Frank dialogue is the arena in which misunderstandings (and I would suggest that much–but not all–of the Muslim rejection of our Trinitarian and Christological Theology is based on misunderstanding what we are saying) can be corrected, and objections can be clarified.

And in the dialogue of spiritual experience–where I encounter your way of worship and you encounter mine–the onus is on the visitor to try to understand what the host believes he is doing, not the the host to modify his way of worshipping to suit the visitor.


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Joseph and Chico

I have just finished reading to my children “Joseph and Chico”.

It is quite good–and certainly the children enjoyed the story. But, although I hate to be a spoil sport, my professional opinion as a librarian did kick in a little. I was disappointed that, although beautifully illustrated, the Holy Father himself is never depicted except as a child. That picture of the back of his head on the cover is as close as you get (shades of Ex 33:23!). The other thing is that the conceit of the cat telling the story is just a little stretched. After all, as the text makes clear, Chico has spent very little time with the Holy Father. And the fact of the matter is that Papa Benny’s life is really not that exciting for a child. Not, at least, compared to JPII’s. (My youngest daughter was enthralled by the Jon Voigt movie of the previous pontiff–“A man got SHOT, Mummy!”) It is hard to explain the 1968 student rebellions to a 7-year old! Or the joys of the study of theology and philosophy! Still, over all it was a good preparation for their encounter in Sydney in July.

By the way, if you want a quick video news roundup of the Pope’s tour to the US, have a look here at Rome Reports.

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To be or not to be a Religion? Scientology and the Moonies

Over the last few years, I have been visited a number of times by representatives from both the Scientologists and the Moonies (although the latter go under a whole range of names). They’re nice people, and earnestly desiring to be accepted as bona fide religions.

Well, I know that the Church doesn’t usually regard them as such. But who knows? The Mormons, after all, got included on the guest list for the Ecumenical (ie. Christian) meeting with the Pope in the US.

There have been two very interesting programs on ABC Radio National lately on the subject, one by Rachel Kohn on the Spirit of Things on the Moonies and one by Stephen Crittenden on the Religion Report on Scientology.

I would like the time to do some study into the theoretical difference between a “world religion” (ie. respectable and possible dialogue partner) and a “cult” (ie. not respectable and to be treated with disdain) in inter-religious dialoge.

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Pipe Smoking and Doc Martin

My wife is watching an old episode of Doc Martin.

I overheard this conversation:

Old lady: Is it bad?

Doc Martin: It could be lung cancer. Why do smokers always think that they will be one of the lucky ones, who can smoke and still live to be 70?

Old Lady: I’m 75.

Doc Martin: Well, eighty then.

Old Lady: My mother smoked a pipe till she was ninety three.

Doc Martin: And then she died.

Old Lady: No. She lost her pipe.

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