This weekend I will be co-leading a workshop at “From Pieces to Peace: More Than Just Neighbours in a Multi-Faith World“, a conference being run in Sydney by the Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand.
I am basing the workshop around the seven dimensions of religion as a way of opening up conversations about different religions, how they differ, and how this necessitates different ways of dialoging. In particular I want to move beyond the stereotype of interfaith dialogue as doctrinal discussion (given doctrine / theology / philosophy is just one of the seven dimensions of religion, and not even a particularly important one for some religions).
I viewed with interest therefore, John Morehead’s musings on whether Jews, Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God? In particular his critique of writers claiming that “Interfaith dialogue is made possible by monotheism … Polytheism defines dialogue out of existence”. Like John, I strongly disagree, especially from my own experience. Indeed, I have heard polytheists argue the opposite, that polytheism is more suited than monotheism to dialogue. I strongly disagree with that as well of course, but I think it illustrates my point well, the we need to be able to approach interfaith dialogue from a multiplicity of angles.
In particular, I think we need a broad enough definition of religion (and religious experience, religious community, religious teaching, etc) to ensure we don’t exclude different religions from interfaith discussions (unintentionally or otherwise) before we even get started. If the definition is too narrow to encompass eastern traditions (like Buddhism, Hinduism and Daoism) and esoteric traditions (like Wicca, Astrology and Alchemy) then we’ve proscribed the answer before we’ve even asked the question.
Personally I consider the question, “Do Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God?” to be a bit of a furphy. It presumes a binary answer, a simple yes or no, when I think an … err, yes and no … answer would be far more authentic. After all, while you may get a rousing agreement by asking them, “Is God one?” I doubt you’d get so unified a response by asking, “Is the Father and the Son then one?” What then can we say together about prayer to that one God? It’s complicated. Even more so if you welcome polytheists to the conversation. So lets not superimpose simplicity so prematurely or artificially. Let’s ask “open” rather than “closed” questions of one another.