Last year I attended a women’s bible study for a short period of time. We met on Monday evenings for a couple of hours. We prayed together, studied scripture together and socialized. We are new in the community and I was hoping to make some new friends. It didn’t turn out that way.
One evening, a few weeks into the study, I shared with a few of the women that I had been participating in an interfaith dialogue and that I was really enjoying it. They had never heard of such a thing and wanted to know more. They were uncomfortable with the idea that an interfaith dialogue is not focused on trying to convert others to Christianity. They could not grasp that we, as Christians, could learn anything of value from someone outside of our faith. They thought it was probably a sin to be willing to take the position that we might discover that we are wrong about something we believe. In the end they believed that there was some sort of evil involved in the idea of interfaith dialogues and that there was probably a hidden agenda of syncretism. The result for me was that I became someone they, at least, were worried about or, at worst, suspicious about. Needless to say, I didn’t keep attending the Bible study for long after that.
My understanding and experience has been that interfaith dialogue does not require one to give up or hide one’s own beliefs. It is true that it is not a dialogue that is focused on validating one’s own religious conviction but at the same time there is a need for one to be rooted in their own tradition in order to have a meaningful dialogue. I believe that the dialogue not only offers us the opportunity to learn about the faith of others but to also discover dimensions of our own faith that may have been unknown or forgotten by us. In addition, I believe that interfaith dialogue opens up the possibility of people of different faiths working together for the common good.
Still, there are many who believe that it is not worth the risk of our faith becoming polluted with what they would consider false ideas and beliefs and that the most probable outcome is a blended belief system.
What do you think? Is interfaith dialogue a slippery slope that leads to syncretism that will just end up dilluting and harming Christianity? Or is interfaith dialogue a worthy endeavor that will heal divides, make the world a better place and lead to Christians becoming better followers of Christ because of our encounter with others?
This month a group of us have decided to synchroblog on syncretism. The synchrobloggers so far:
How To Cook Up A Personal Jesus by Matt Stone
How to be a Syncretist by Ellen Haroutunian
Our Uncomfortable God by Susan Barnes
Synching on Syncing by Phil Wyman
The Man In The Moss by Steve Hayes