What is the point of interfaith dialogue?

Pope Benedict XVI gave an insight into his thinking on this topic in a letter to a friend and co-author, Marcello Pera, philosopher and former president of the Italian senate and an agnostic (perhaps even an atheist) who has nonetheless been a great champion of Benedict’s project to protect Europe’s Christian cultural heritage. Pera is one who has responded positively to the pope’s call for unbelievers to “act as if God exists.”
Benedict’s letter to Pera was written up in the Italian papers, and now on the English-language wires and in The New York Times.

In quotations from the letter that appeared on Sunday in Corriere della Sera, Italy’s leading daily newspaper, the pope said the book “explained with great clarity” that “an interreligious dialogue in the strict sense of the word is not possible.” In theological terms, added the pope, “a true dialogue is not possible without putting one’s faith in parentheses.”
But Benedict added that “intercultural dialogue which deepens the cultural consequences of basic religious ideas” was important. He called for confronting “in a public forum the cultural consequences of basic religious decisions.”


In effect, Benedict is saying the point of interreligious dialogue is to promote peace and other pragmatic steps, rather than engaging in theological give-and-take that would go beyond presenting and arguing and defending the truths of Catholicism. This position is nothing new for Benedict; he has never been a fan of interreligious dialogue as it has been construed since Vatican II, and especially under John Paul II. (Hence Ratzinger’s longstanding suspicions and crackdowns on theologians engaged in this field.)
Ratzinger/Benedict’s view of interfaith dialogue has always seemed to me rather constricted, an “either/or” proposition that leaves little room for learning from others or truly engaging the “other,” in ways that expand one’s own faith without diluting it, and also expand one’s appreciation of God’s creation and its desire for Him. And it can, I think, lead to a kind of parochialism that sees Jesus as a “Catholic.” (Italian, of course.) John Allen calls this “dialogue with teeth.” Interlocutors on the other side of the dialogue can see it as a bared smile, not quite inviting, yet not altogether irrelevant, given the state of the world.
Thoughts from the gallery? What is, or should be, the point of interfaith dialogue?

Comments read comments(1)
post a comment
Meredith Gould

posted November 25, 2008 at 12:02 am

Between Christians and Jews? I think the point is for Christians to learn more about their/our heritage and to better understand why Jews are offended by supersessionist theologies.
I would’ve hoped Nostra aetate and acts of teshuva by JPII would’ve been a bit more durable. I’m very concerned about what seems to be retro slippage during B16’s papacy.

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

More blogs to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Pontifications. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Faith, Media and Culture Prayer, Plain and Simple Happy Blogging!!!   ...

posted 2:38:01pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

Moving on, and many, many thanks... recent vacation and related absences also coincided with an offer from to cover religion for them, as editor Melinda Henneberger announces here in her roundup on the site's very successful first 100 days. That ...

posted 8:29:24pm Aug. 02, 2009 | read full post »

Calvin at 500, Calvinism 2.0
If you thought you knew John Calvin--who turned 500 last week--you probably don't know enough. For example, that he was French, born Jean Cauvin. And if he was in fact scandalized by dancing, he was also a lot more complex than that. I explored ...

posted 11:53:35am Jul. 16, 2009 | read full post »

Apologia pro vita sua...Kinda
 In my defense, I've had computer outages and family reunions and a few days of single-parenthood, which is always a bracing reminder of what many parents go through all the time. And this weekend it's off for a week's vacation. Anyway, ...

posted 10:51:36am Jul. 16, 2009 | read full post »

When Benny met Barry: "I'll pray for you!"
The first word via Vatican Radio and first image (that I saw) via Rocco: Speaking to Vatican Radio, Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi said "moral values in international politics, immigration and the Catholic Church's ...

posted 12:54:28pm Jul. 10, 2009 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.