Dinner tonight with Tony over at Kari-Shane's: another wonderful wizardry of stuffed pork chops and broccoli, with cookie dough ice cream for dessert. The real joy, of course, was the conversation: theology, life, love, educational administration and the trials of starting a grad program, and to top it off a random phone call marriage proposal for Kari-Shane from a skateboarder that left her giggly. Good stuff.
The lecture on Friday was hard, although I don't think it was supposed to be. It was the first of a series called "The Collaboration of Civilizations: The Future of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian Relations" and this one was called "Relations Among the Abrahamic Religions: A Catholic Point of View" and was given by Archbishop Michael L Fitzgerald, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The Archbishop took a generally optimistic view toward the future of such relations. First he dealt with relations with the Jews, and given the progress made since the Second Vatican Council, it was not surprising that he should expect continued possibilities there. He did make the good point, however, that dialogue tended to be social/political in nature and not theological. The Jewish community has had (understandably) very specific concerns regarding political and social realities and has been eager in pursuing their interests in that arena. In the theological realm, interest in conversing with the Church has been markedly less intense.
That part of the talk I thought was straightforward and didn't surprise me too much. It was when he turned to relations with Islam that I found myself thinking a little more critically. What it seemed to come down to was that the only thing that Christianity had in common with Islam was being an "Abrahamic faith," that is, one that looks to Abraham as a foundational figure in some way. Christians do this by accepting Jewish scriptures as their own. This is in fact that basis and motive of Christian regard for Judaism. In contrast, Islam does not use Jewish or Christian scriptures and neither do Christians and Jews regard the Quran as scripture. Christianity clearly cannot, as the Quran teaches things about Christian belief that are just flat-out incorrect, and Christianity could hardly agree that they believed something that they never had.
Here's where I began to find the lecture hard or grim.
It seemed to me--and this wasn't anything that the Archbishop went into--that any authentic dialogue between Christians and Muslims on a theological level would necessitate Christians clarifying what it was that they actually believed. Unfortunately, this would effectually be a statement that the Quran was incorrect in its descriptions of Christianity, which would be thoroughly unacceptable to a Muslim, as I understand it. It seems, from what I understand, that Islam has never developed anything like an internally-critical attitude or examination of their own scriptures in the way that Christianity has. While I'll be the first to admit that there are wild differences in the quality of biblical criticisms, the overall effect of Christian willingness to critically examine their scriptures has been to give Christian belief a very specific historical grounding and context. There is no similar willingness or habit of examining Muhammad's writings, to ask whether something might be spoken from a cultural or historical context as opposed to being the pure word of God. So Islam is in the same trap as the American Protestant Christian fundamentalists who focus so much on the most literal reading of the Genesis account of Creation as opposed to evolutionary descriptions of cosmology and biology: if one word of scripture can be said to be "wrong," the whole edifice of their faith and worldview comes crashing down. Until you have an openness to the breadth of truth--and the willingness to hold even one's own faith to the light--I can't see much hope for a substantial dialogue with Islam. I would, however, be happy to just promote a political dialogue of peace with Islam, but it's possible that even that might not be possible on their conceptual map, particularly in the defensive Islam that we've seen in the last 25 years.