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Thomas Ryan, CSP Answers:
Question: In a world of particularity, where people have so many choices that they don’t know what to choose sometimes, doesn’t interfaith and ecumenical dialogue just confuse us more? How can we retain our particularity while still staying open to dialogue with other faiths?
If you’re not well grounded in your own faith, then yes, ecumenical and interfaith dialogue could have the effect of confusing you. But, as the saying goes, if you know where home is, you can go anywhere with benefit. If, however, you don’t know where home is, you’ll probably get lost or confused.
What many fail to understand about the situation of dialogue is that it presumes the people engaging in it have a clear and strong faith identity. If they don’t, it’s going to be the blind leading the blind.
Dialogue is a coin with two sides. One side is learning something about another’s faith tradition, and the other side of the coin is informing the other about your faith tradition. It is presumed that each party in the dialogue will be giving positive witness to the other relative to his/her own faith and practice.
Dialogue is not therefore about diluting the richness and distinctiveness of your or the other’s faith tradition. It is not about seeking a lowest-common denominator understanding. It is about mutual enrichment.
Far from causing you to lose your particularity, what usually happens in dialogue is that you are challenged to go back to your own faith and learn it better so that you can represent it accurately and clearly to your partner(s) in dialogue.
Another thing that often happens is the recognition of complementarity and resonance in our beliefs and practices. That shouldn’t surprise us as Truth is one, and if we’re all genuinely seeking it, we will hopefully find some significant common ground.