Novak (novak) wrote,

Theological Notebook: NYT Article on Benedict Clarifying the Intent of Inter-Religious Dialogue

Was this the most alarmist headline that the Times could come up with this morning? No noting that the other major world religions have demonstrated no intrinsic initiative on their own to participate in hip and cool dialogue? No mentioning that Pela, while "center-right" and therefore suspect, is an atheist philosopher who has seen the intellectual dependence of European freedoms – even the secular ones – upon Christian presuppositions, and that undermining the latter threatens the former, as has another of the Pope's conversation partners, atheist philosopher Jürgen Habermas?

The article text, mercifully, isn't that bad, but I gotta wonder if Donadio's article got slapped with this headline by some editor who wanted to make sure that we all understood, whatever the article said, that Benedict was a reactionary nitwit.

Pope Questions Interfaith Dialogue
Published: November 23, 2008

ROME — In comments on Sunday that could have broad implications in a period of intense religious conflict, Pope Benedict XVI cast doubt on the possibility of interfaith dialogue but called for more discussion of the practical consequences of religious differences.

The pope’s comments came in a letter he wrote to Marcello Pera, an Italian center-right politician and scholar whose forthcoming book, “Why We Must Call Ourselves Christian,” argues that Europe should stay true to its Christian roots. A central theme of Benedict’s papacy has been to focus attention on the Christian roots of an increasingly secular Europe.

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.”

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the pope’s comments seemed intended to draw interest to Mr. Pera’s book, not to cast doubt on the Vatican’s many continuing interreligious dialogues.

“He has a papacy known for religious dialogue; he went to a mosque, he’s been to synagogues,” Father Lombardi said. “This means that he thinks we can meet and talk to the others and have a positive relationship.”

To some scholars, the pope’s remarks seemed aimed at pushing more theoretical interreligious conversations into the practical realm.

“He’s trying to get the Catholic-Islamic dialogue out of the clouds of theory and down to brass tacks: how can we know the truth about how we ought to live together justly, despite basic creedal differences?” said George Weigel, a Catholic scholar and biographer of Pope John Paul II.

This month, the Vatican held a conference with Muslim religious leaders and scholars aimed at improving ties. The conference participants agreed to condemn terrorism and protect religious freedom, but they did not address issues of conversion and of the rights of Christians in majority Muslim countries to worship.

The church is also engaged in dialogue with Muslims organized by the king of Saudi Arabia, a country where non-Muslims are forbidden from worshiping in public.

Pope: Dialogue among religions should be pursued
Nov 24, 10:05 AM (ET)

VATICAN CITY (AP) - Jewish and Muslim leaders on Monday cautiously praised recent remarks by Pope Benedict XVI, who said that dialogue among faiths should be pursued even though it is impossible on strictly religious issues.

The comments in an open letter published Sunday in Italy's leading daily, Corriere della Sera, marked the latest statement by Benedict on the subject.

The pontiff has often discussed the theme of dialogue among religions and has worked for the improvement of interfaith relations.

But he also angered many Muslims in a 2006 speech about Islam and violence, although relations have improved since then.

In his letter, the pope was commenting on an upcoming book by a conservative politician and scholar, Marcello Pera, who has long spoken in defense of Europe's Christian roots.

The pope said the book "explains clearly that an interreligious dialogue in the strict sense of the word is not possible." The pope elaborated that "real dialogue" on religious choices is not possible "without putting one's faith in parentheses."

But he said that "it's necessary to face, in a public dialogue, the cultural consequences of fundamental religious choices."

"Here, dialogue, as well as mutual correction and enrichment, are both possible and necessary," Benedict wrote.

Since becoming pope in 2005, Benedict has made improving interfaith relations a theme of his pontificate. He has visited synagogues during trips to Germany and the United States, and a mosque during a visit to Turkey.

Earlier this month, the Vatican hosted a Catholic-Muslim conference intended to help the two faiths find common ground.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Benedict's words do "not put in doubt the pope's interreligious commitment."

"(Interreligious) dialogue does not mean questioning one's own faith," Lombardi said. "It deals with the many other aspects that come from one's personal belief, cultural, historical ... as well as their consequences."

Rome's chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni, welcomed the pope's remarks "for their clarity." He said the comments were "opportune and interesting" in that they set the limits of religious dialogue.

"Faiths cannot hold dialogue beyond a certain point because there are insurmountable limits," Di Segni told The Associated Press on Monday. "This is a limit to all religious dialogue: It's not like a political negotiation where I give you this and that and we make peace. It's not like we give up dogmas."

Di Segni, however, urged clarification on certain elements in the pope's remarks, such as where to draw the line between religious dialogue as opposed to cultural dialogue.

"He has set the limits, which were necessary. We must then see where it goes from there," the Jewish leader said.

A spokesman for an Italian Muslim Group, UCOII, also called for further clarification. He told Corriere della Sera that "dialogue among believers exists: We don't hold a dialogue on our faiths ... but we do on how we can coexist, each in our diversity."


Associated Press Writer Daniela Petroff contributed to this report.

Interreligious dialogue impossible, pope says, but intercultural dialogue good
By John L Allen Jr Daily
Created Nov 24 2008 - 17:18

Marcello Pera is the former president of the Italian Senate and also a professor of philosophy at the University of Pisa. Intellectually, Pera is a disciple of Karl Popper. He’s perhaps the leading example of a peculiar phenomenon on the cultural right in today’s Europe – self-professed atheists and secularists who nevertheless support a revival of the Christian roots of the Old Continent. In 2004, he co-authored a book on Europe with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger called Without Roots. Pera’s new book, which comes out tomorrow and is called Why We Must Call Ourselves Christians, travels much the same ground.

What makes the book remarkable is that, apparently for the first time, it carries a brief introduction written by a sitting pope. Benedict’s letter to Pera has made a stir in the global media, in part because the pope repeats his well-known conviction that dialogue among religions in the strict sense is logically impossible, because it implies a suspension of one’s own faith commitments, but that dialogue among cultures shaped by those religions is not only possible but urgently necessary.

The following is the full text of Pope Benedict XVI’s letter about Pera’s book, in an NCR translation from the Italian original.

Letter of Pope Benedict XVI to Senator Marcello Pera

Dear Senator Pera:

Recently I was able to read your new book Why We Must Call Ourselves Christians. It was for me a fascinating experience. With a stupendous knowledge of the sources and a cogent logic, you analyze the essence of liberalism beginning with its foundations, demonstrating its roots in the Christian image of God that belongs to the essence of liberalism: the relationship with God of which man is the image, and from which we have received the gift of liberty. With incontestable logic, you show that liberalism loses its basis and destroys itself if it abandons this foundation.

No less impressive are your analyses of liberty and of ‘multi-culturalism,’ in which you illustrate the self-contradictory nature of this concept and hence its political and cultural impossibility. Of fundamental importance is your analysis of what Europe can be, and of a European constitution in which Europe does not transform itself into a cosmopolitan reality, but rather finds its identity in its Christian-liberal foundation.

Particularly meaningful for me too is your analysis of interreligious and intercultural dialogue. You explain with great clarity that an interreligious dialogue in the strict sense of the term is not possible, while you urge intercultural dialogue that develops the cultural consequences of the religious option which lies beneath. While a true dialogue is not possible about this basic option without putting one’s own faith into parentheses, it’s important in public exchange to explore the cultural consequences of these religious options. Here, dialogue and mutual correction and enrichment are both possible and necessary.

With regard to the importance of all this for the contemporary crisis in ethics, I find what you say about the trajectory of liberal ethics important. You demonstrate that liberalism – without ceasing to be liberalism, but, on the contrary, in order to be faithful to itself – can link itself to a doctrine of the good, in particular that of Christianity, which is in fact genetically linked to liberalism. You thereby offer a true contribution to overcoming the crisis.

With its sober rationality, its ample philosophical information and the force of its argument, the present book, in my opinion, is of fundamental importance in this hour for Europe and for the world. I hope that it finds a large audience, and that it can give to political debate, beyond the most urgent problems, that depth without which we cannot overcome the challenge of our historical moment.

With gratitude for your work, I heartily offer God’s blessings.

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Tags: benedict xvi, books, cultural, ecumenical, interreligious, islam, judaism, new york times, theological methodology, theological notebook

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