The Wrong and Right Kinds of Interreligious Dialogue
By Tim Muldoon
The wrong kind of dialogue among people of different faiths is the kind that works from the polite assumption that everyone has a little truth, rather like the blind mice exploring the elephant. The parable goes like this: the first mouse feels the elephant's ear and proclaims, "It's like a giant leaf!" The second feels the leg, and says, "No, it's more like a tree!" The third feels the trunk and is certain that it's more like a huge snake. The analogy to this parable suggests that interreligious dialogue is similarly a dialogue between different good people who have partial truths.
What's wrong with this parable? It eviscerates religions themselves as being capable of real truth claims, positing that there is some vague transcendent truth "above" the religions themselves. Of course the only intellectually defensible posture in such a parable is to distance oneself from religions altogether and head straight for the putative transcendence itself. Why be a blind mouse when one can take out a digital camera and just take a snapshot of the elephant?
I will speak of the view from Catholic theology, though I suspect that my friends from other traditions might make arguments that accept the structural difficulties of the parable.
The right kind of dialogue among the religions is one in which participants in the dialogue operate from within a thick understanding and practice of their respective faith traditions. For Catholics, that means a radical conviction that all reality is circumscribed by the creative action of God, that all human language and creativity is rooted in God's gratuitous love made manifest in Jesus, that our discernment of reality is our desire for God made possible by God's desire for us.