Editor's note: This article was featured in the inter faith magazine 'Faith Initiative: Embracing Diversity' issue 27. For further information on the magazine, or contact the editor, Heather Wells. It is republished here with kind permission from the author.
I met up with a Muslim friend recently and he asked me a few interesting questions about inter faith: - Is it working? What is the purpose of the Christian Muslim Forum? Is dialogue enough when if we want to share the truth we ought to be debating?
I described to him some of our ‘Near Neighbours’ initiative: our work with Christian and Muslim leaders seeks to root the dialogue and engagement process in the training, development and ministry of religious leaders from both faiths. We model this through pairs of speakers, and workshop facilitators, who are able to bring qualities of both practical and theological experience and expertise.
|Standing up for belief in the afterlife and final judgment has great value in this debate, as those of us who believe can assure the suffering, ourselves or our debating opponents that a system is in place, there is an answer, one which atheists cannot call upon.|
This modeling and sharing of practical experience enables leaders to encourage and support one another in creating community cohesion, particularly in urban areas. Our events focus on the experiences and needs of both young and experienced Muslim and Christian leaders to develop ideas that draw on the resources of both faiths to encourage a confident faith identity which can engage in inter faith dialogue to address local community concerns.
My friend has a particular interest in debate, especially in ‘champions slugging it out in a battle for truth, with an eye on the atheist vs. religious debate. I shared with him my main concern about debate – that of point-scoring, where the most persuasive rather than the most true can ‘win’ – and offered the model of dialogue and conversation instead, referring to a Christian-Muslim- Humanist trialogue that I took part in last year :
How can we work through a conversation where our outlooks are very different? The example of Christian-Muslim dialogue is of people who are divided confessionally and credally but manage to talk to one another. How should religious and humanist people create a conversation and do dialogue with each other? My suggestion at the time was that this can only come about if we allow each other to be what we are, without saying we all must be the same as me. In other words, winning doesn’t come into it.
|Our work with Christian and Muslim leaders seeks to root the dialogue and engagement process in the training, development and ministry of religious leaders from both faiths.|
When the Dialogue Should Go
However, countered my friend, isn’t that exactly what we should be doing in our bid to share truth and for ‘truth to stand clear from falsehood’ (Qur’an 2.256)? We need our champions to get in there with the killer-blow so that the opponent crumbles and everyone can see that our position, our religion is true. This is where dialogue, or inter faith debate, must go.
We must challenge unbelief, or each other, with our strongest and highest-profile debaters because it will draw the crowds and interest many more people than those events where people speak nicely about each other’s faiths over tea and samosas, and only 20 people turn up.
He asked me if I thought that my religion (Christianity) was true and didn’t that mean that it must triumph in argument, because truth will always trump any other position? I said No, I didn’t see it in that way at all and didn’t see how I could, even if I did believe that it was unarguably true and that therefore no valid argument could be made against it.
People believing otherwise would still not accept it because no matter how true I believe my own faith to be I know others will not, our claims are competing but truth is disputed and not yet resolved.
I wasn’t prepared for what came next, I was a little shocked. As religious people we do have the killer argument he said. The weakness of the atheist position is that all it has is this life and if things are unfair during this life there is no ultimate restitution. So where is the justice, what can be offered to those who are massacred or die in situations of extreme suffering?
Standing up for belief in the afterlife and final judgment has great value in this debate, as those of us who believe can assure the suffering, ourselves or our debating opponents that a system is in place, there is an answer, one which atheists cannot call upon.
Of course this kind of outlook is exactly where the belief in afterlife and judgment came from. It wasn’t at all where my thinking was, and I offered the view that if humanism lived up to its name it would work for justice and make humanitarian interventions where people were suffering.
We should be focused on action not debate, and that the limitations of physical life should be a powerful argument for showing care for others.
To be continued.
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