Theology Without Borders – Religious Pluralism and the Wider Ecumenism

, , Leave a comment


– We owe our many friends in Germany for inventing this sort of occasion. When a distinguished scholar would reach an age of esteem. Not necessarily of getting too old, their colleagues and former students and people who had been very blessed by their contributions to the academy would write a collection
of papers for them that they would gather together. Normally on the occasion
of a special birthday and put them together in a special book called a aufschreiben. Literally a birthday writing, and normally that age would be north of 65, in Europe, and I’m not going to give away honored guests age this evening, but I think Leo may give
away that tomorrow afternoon, and then they present a
book afterwards to them, but it’s a celebration in honor of a special moment in
their life and career. Now Peter Pham is going to be one of the distinguished people who will have two aufschreiben, because two of his former students who are here with us today. We’re delighted to have them. Jonathon Town and Arn Chan, produced a wonderful collection of writings for him last year and it was presented to
him in a special session at the Catholic Theological
Society of America, but we could not let it
be said that a prophet is only without honor in his own country, so we had to also mark
Peter’s achievements here at Georgetown and we have
some wonderful people gathered over the next two days. This evening we are going to begin by looking at one of the many areas of Peter’s achievements, and areas of focus and contribution. Being Religious Interreligiously. The wider ecuminism and
interreligious dialogue, and I’m honored that this evening we have to introduce our evening and to welcome you all on
behalf of the University Vice President Thomas Banchall, who is the vice president
for global engagement and also the founding director of Berkley Center for Religion,
Peace, and World Affairs who have helped make
this possible tonight. So please join me in welcoming our vice president Tom Banchoff. (audience applause) – Well this is, as Gerard
said, a wonderful occasion. Peter, colleagues, friends, I do bring greetings on behalf of the University president DeGioia, our entire community. I’m delighted to welcome you officially to this two day conference, which as you know carries the title, Theology without Borders. Now usually what comes after the colon is not that important. Can sometimes leave it off completely, but not in this case. This is our opportunity as Gerard said to celebrate the legacy, the friendship, the collegiality, of Peter C. Phan. It’s a wonderful occasion on many levels. I think you’ll agree. First, it’s a great gift to be able to celebrate someone’s legacy with them, in conversation. It doesn’t always happen, but in the case of Peter, there’s such a body of work, such a range of contributions to the field of theology, that we already have a legacy. A living legacy, to
celebrate and build on. The organizers first and foremost Gerard, Peter’s friend and colleague, have put together, as you can see, an excellent program. I want to thank all of you who will be participating,
formally, informally. Many of you have come
from quite a distance. We have a range of fascinating topics, to delve into, ecumenism
and religious pluralism. Issues of social justice and eschatology, World Christianity and beyond. These topics and others like them, really embody Peter’s
contributions to theology. His theology is, I think you’ll agree, truly without borders. In his long and distinguished career, he’s grappled with big questions. He’s helped us to invent and
think anew big questions. Questions that open Catholicism, as a living tradition
to the world around it, to the world around us. To the reality of religious pluralism, of social injustice on a global scale, of the mysteries of suffering, death, and redemption, in the
lived religions of Asia, United States, and all of global humanity. Peter’s long and
distinguished academic career began in Vietnam where
he graduated from college and I don’t want to
give away your age here, but he did graduate in 1968
at a young age I might add majoring in French, Latin,
and the History of Philosophy. From there, he entered the religious life and continued his studies in Rome earning a doctorate of sacred theology, and then a doctorate in philosophy from the University of London. Peter came to the United States as a refugee in 1975. His first academic station, here in the U.S., was the University of Dallas, and he moved from there
to I’m simplifying a bit, but he moved from there
to Catholic University here across town, where he served as chair of
the Department of Theology and here at Georgetown
his current academic home is our department of theology where he holds the Ignacio Chair of Catholic social thought. Now in this academic odyssey which has brought us
together this afternoon, Peter has already written and edited more than 30 books, published more than 100 journal articles, as well as enumerable book chapters and encyclopedia entries. His work has been
translated to 10 languages, from Italian to Chinese and Indonesian, and this prodigious output has contributed to an enriched well
established literatures, in ecclesiology, Cristology,
mythology, patristics, and other fields, but it is Peter’s creativity, his remarkable creativity, his pioneering work on
the borders of theology, or on the boundaries of theology, that is, I think at least, as one of the consumers
of his scholarship, his greatest living legacy. Some of his most important book titles, again in my reading, illustrate this striking originality. Christianity with an Asian face. Being Religious Interreligiously. My spellchecker still
doesn’t like that word, but when it makes it in, it will be because of your hard work. Most recently, The Joy
of Religious Pluralism and I think that title
captures quite a bit of what it is we’re here to
celebrate today and tomorrow. These and Peter’s other
works are penetrating, thought provoking efforts to live out the theological promise of Vatican II, with its opening to other
religious traditions, to issues of global social justice, to the wider secular culture, and to a truly global
horizon for the church. Along the way, as you
know Peter has accumulated quite a few honors in
the service of the wider theological profession. He served on multiple editorial boards, accumulated book, article awards, and has three, is that right? Honorary doctorates, thus far. In 2010, he was awarded the
John Courtney Murray award for distinguished achievement in theology from the Catholic Theological
Society of America, an organization which he has
previously served as president and more recently in 2015,
he was elected president of the American Theological Society. Now rather than continue
with this impressive record, with these accolades,
and there are many more, just want to say a few
words that really emphasize the personal, interpersonal vibrancy of Peter’s life and work. Peter you’ve been a generous
mentor to so many scholars, so many theologians. I was going to say young theologians, but some of them are
also getting on in years. Here at Georgetown, you were the founding
director of our PhD program which is a pioneering
effort to grapple with issues of religious pluralism at the graduate, at the doctoral level, and I just want to add a personal word from the point of view of my current role. We work together in the
context of the Berkeley Center. We worked together with
Dean Chester Gillis whose on the first panel
on different projects, but in my current role as vice president for global engagement,
you’ve been a great ally. You’re a great ambassador for
Georgetown around the world as a Catholic and Jesuit University trying to make sense of this world that you spent so many years, decades now, helping us to better understand. So Peter, you’re valued by all of us here at Georgetown, not
just for your remarkable scholarship and your contributions to our academic community, but also for your wisdom, your wit, your warmth, and your friendship. We look forward to this opportunity to explore your ideas
together, today and tomorrow. Ideas that continue to
engage, even excite us, as we seek to think theology
creatively in your spirit without borders of discipline, culture, tradition, or geography. Thank you all for being here. We have our panelists here and Gerard will introduce the panel but I thought it might be fitting in the spirit of this occasion to offer up a first round of applause in recognition of our
colleague Peter Phan. (audience applause) – Thank you very much Tom, for that warm welcome to everybody. I should have clarified at the beginning just for those of you
who might be wondering, the term legacy has
different subtle meanings across different sides of the Atlantic. For anyone wondering,
Peter Phan is not dead. (audience laughing) He’s alive and in rude hell sitting here in the front row, and nor for those of
you looking for a job, sent an email to Peter recently and said, he’s not retiring either. (audience laughing) Legacy in terms of ongoing contribution. Our first speaker this evening, I’m delighted to introduce, is another good friend, and another Georgetown
colleague John Borelli who is special assistant in
Catholic identity and dialogue to President Jack DeGioia
here at Georgetown. Returning from a tour in Vietnam, so he has a lot in common with Peter, Borelli finished his doctorate in the history of religions
and theology in 1976, while also teaching full time. After 11 years teaching in New York, he accepted a position with the National Conference
of Catholic Bishops promoting ecumenical and
interreligious relations. Since 2003, John has
been here at Georgetown where he teaches, manages conferences, coordinates dialogue and missions
for the Jesuit conference, facilitates workshops, and promotes University relations with offices and institutes of the Holy City, the Vatican. He has edited or coauthored five books, and published over 200 article, including The Quest for Unity, Orthodox and Catholics in Dialogue. The New Catholic Encyclopedia, and Handbook for Intereligious Dialogue. John has a BA from St. Louis University and a PhD from Fordham University. Two other great Jesuit schools. Please join me in welcoming John Borelli. (audience applause) – Thank you. Thank you very much. Scholars have made a great deal of Vatican II as an event. A noteworthy occurrence
with major consequences and questions of continuity
and discontinuity. Joseph Comanchek and John
O’Malley who is here, and many others have written about this. The Council was not only a series of discrete historical
events, but can be studied, that can be studied in various
groupings and relationships, but the Council functioned as a whole. Almost an independent reality, interacting with the human actors, who attempted to manage outcomes with varying degrees of success, and mostly lack of success. We are still living that event in the sense of its intended, and unintended consequences. An Israeli official, Maurice Fisher, someone Pope John XXIII had known during his time as Papal Nuncio in Paris, visited him in February 1959, within the first month after this Pope surprise announcement of the Council to gain some idea of
what the Pope had in mind for his Council, especially regarding the tiny 11 year old Jewish state of Israel. The transition team for Pope John must have been asleep at the wheel to allow someone, an Israeli official, no diplomatic relations and a Jew to have an audience with the Pope, but the record in the archives of the Israeli government indicate so. Fisher came away frustrated that the Pope had little idea of what
his council would do, or at least couldn’t understand what the Pope was talking about. Neither of them had any
idea in the first month that this council would come out with an extraordinary declaration with major consequences, not only on Catholic Jewish relations, but on interreligious relations. Now numerous pioneers in Catholic theology were also boldly asking questions in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, and were being punished for
even asking prophetic questions. Rambert Bodwin, John Courtney Murray, Yves Congar, Louis
Massignon, to name four. Their questions would
become food for the event of Vatican II and find
a way on to its agenda. Bodwin had speculated with
Father Angelo Wincalif about the need for an
organized liturgical movement as well as an organized
ecumenical movement for Catholics. Both were exiled for
suspicion of modernism. They met up in exile in
early 1945, in Paris. In post liberation paris, and continued asking
their dangerous questions about the church development, change, and the need for a council. During the war, John Courtney Murray dared to ask about intercredal cooperation with Protestants and Jews. Yves Congar asked whether elements of grace and truth might be found in other Christian communities, and Louis Massignon was asking whether those who follow the faith linked through sacred
narrative to Abraham, the father of faith, through Ishmael, might deserve more attention and respect than traditionally given
to them as Saricens. Now as Vatican II was
unfolding from 1962 to ’65, I was in a diocesan seminary in Oklahoma, in high school and college, and I believe Peter was about doing the same thing in Vietnam. We eventually heard the names of some of these pioneers and others. Peter and I are the same age. At least according to his
legitimate birth certificate. (audience laughing) Because there are two. There’s the one altered by his father so he could get a two for one discount, if Peter went to school
with his older brother. Is that right? – [Peter] Taking the exam. I would only have to take exam. – There’s a birther controversy here. (audience laughing) Anyway, Nostra aetate, was the document of Vatican II, that ended up having much to do with both of our careers
these past 40 plus years. That document alone proves
how much of an event, in a larger sense of the
term that Vatican II was. When Pope John received his friend and trusted associate Cardinal Agustin Bea for the first time with Bea as president of the Pope’s newly established secretary for promoting Christian unity, all they could agree
upon in September 1960, was that the secretary
would facilitate relations with Jews and the
preparations for the council. Just as no one really
controlled Vatican II, not Paul the 6th, who succeeded Pope John, and intervened using John’s words, all over the place, in the council, no one could quite control its outcomes. Nor could anyone, or any other group, so called majority control it, but once the idea of a
draft on the Jews emerged, it took on a life of its own too. Actually it had at least five lives, because it survived four
near death experiences. Bea had the most control over the shortest of the documents but even he
could not predict the outcome, and had the commission on mission, not been a battleground, between curial leadership, and the missionary bishops, spurred on by Jesuit Salesian
missionaries of Africa and other missionaries, the questions they were asking, about being religious in
an interreligious context, we might have seen the
questions Peter raised within the context of a
different document on missions. Much of what Peter asked in his book, Being Religious Interreligiously, might be different questions. Had that happened, but it didn’t happen. We got the 1,141 Latin
words of Nostra aetate. Each one measured and playing a particularly important role. If Catholics were encouraged to recognize, preserve and foster the good things, spiritual and moral as well as the sociocultural values, found among the followers
of other religions through conversations and
collaboration with them carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the
Christian faith and life then Catholics would also
want to ask questions about their own faith in practice and how it can be enhanced. Learning from their
experiences and collaborations with these friends. It was only logical that Catholic scholars encouraged to discern
what is true and holy in these religions, and what these raise of that
truth which enlightens all are to be found among religions, would begin asking questions on the relationship and relevance of these various religions
with one another, and if Catholic scholars are encouraged to make sincere efforts
for neutral understanding so as to work together
for the preservation and fostering of social justice, moral welfare, peace, and freedom for all human kind, and to foster and commend
neutral understanding and esteem the fruit above all of biblical
and theological studies and of friendly conversations, they must be free to ask consequential questions across borders. Nostra aetate was promulgated during a period of great change. Of further consequence would be a new generation of prophetic questioners. Some already barely present at the council by a few years noting how the times they are a changing. If the trends in the 1960s
in communications travel, decolonization, globalization, economic interdependence,
cultural revolution, renewed emphasis on local talent, and embodied church life were to continue, prophets would emerge and point out that many new ways to be religious would mean being religious
interreligiously. New terms came into
theological reflection. Evangelization with an expanded meaning in spite of the fact that the followers of other religions remain
suspicious of our intentions. Enculturation, dialogue
of religious experience. Religious pluralism,
liberation theology and so on. By 1996, Joseph Ratzinger, a young priest and professor in Bonn at
the time of the council and personal theologian of
Cardinal Frings of Cologne had become a cardinal and
prefect of congregation for doctrine of the faith, to a group of missionary bishops from Asia in September of that year. He shared his worries about another term applied theologically, relativism. He told them that relativism had succeeded the more radical form
of liberation theology as quote, “the central
problem for the faith at this present time.” I hope our Vietnamese
theologian was paying attention. By now at the Catholic
University of America, especially this quotation from that talk that origins conveniently
published for him. “in the relativist meaning, to dialogue means to
put one’s own position, that is one faith on the same level as the convictions of others, without recognizing in
principle more truth in it than that which is attributed to the opinions of others. Only if I suppose in principle, that the other can be as right, or more right than I, can an authentic dialogue take place.” To remedy this situation,
four years later, Cardinal Ratzinger launched another unintended
consequence of Vatican II. Mainly the Declaration Dominus Iesus. On the unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ in the church. So important were the
concerns of the congregation, the former holy office, that they produced a new theological term. For added emphasis, unicity. Most of us in this room experience the event of Dominus Iesus, that took on a life of its own, and managed to interfere with the work flowing out of the
initiatives of Vatican II. In addition to its harsh tone, which ecumenical interreligious partners in dialogue found offensive, the declaration was greatly flawed on doctrinal grounds, and I point out seven of those, but I’ll just mention the seventh. Assuming that the Jews, who by this time had developed a deep affection of Pope John Paul II, would not be offended by the relative obscure reference to them. The passage is so obscure
that it is meaningless. Mainly aware of the
universal gift of salvation offered by the father through Jesus Christ and the spirit that the quote, “first Christians
encountered Jewish people as though in contradiction to one of the major points
of Nostra aetate four, that the apostles, the
church’s foundation, stones and pillars, as well as most of the early disciples who proclaim the gospel of Christ to the world sprang from the Jewish people, and they were not really Jews. We entered into a new era, when Dominus Iesus, with Dominus Iesus, and the conciliar text, and not the conciliar
text became a litmus test. When asked about it, I said the text was sloppy in its theological presentation of conciliar and post conciliar teaching. I was not fired from the U.S. conference of Catholic bishops, but I was not promoted either. Those of us who work for the church whether in Rome or in other places, would experience consequences, for the words that we chose, despite the fact that church officials, several bishops in the United States, and chief among these officials, Cardinal Cassidy and Bishop Kasper, of the secretary for
promoting Christian unity were critical of the text. I’ve always wondered
why they would not admit that they produced a flawed text, because they spent two hours
presenting it to the press and AP put a headline on the
story that reporter worked attended and wrote out, only Catholics can be saved. True to his Asian heritage, and life as a decolonized scholar, who knew how to inhabit the worlds of oppressor and oppressed, our Vietnamese theologian began a three part series for Orbis press, as his way of dealing with the questions that Dominus Iesus was concerned about and the whole of Asia too. He took his cue from the federation of Asian Bishops conferences whose documents and workshops
were leading the way into an interreligious
future for the church, knowing that the world had changed even significantly from
the time of Vatican II when the church finally came
to terms with modernity. That Asian bishop saw fresh challenges in the post modern and globalized era. It called for three dialogues
for Christians in Asia, with the Asian peoples, especially with the poor, with their own Asian cultures, and with the religions of Asia, which frankly include all the religions named in Nostra aetate. Peter first wrote,
theology with an Asian face and then in our tongues, and then he turned to
the interreligious arena with Being Religious Interreligiously. There are seven places where you can, in Being Religious Interreligiously, find out what Peter wrote
about in Dominus Iesus. He described initially
as a chilling warning to those engaged in the enterprise, not to move beyond the
pale of Roman orthodoxy. As a return favor, in
its 2007 clarifications required by the book Being
Religious Interreligiously, the committee on doctrine of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops cited Dominus Iesus 14 times. It’s no small book. 290 pages of text in
relatively small type. It’s not the only place
he addresses questions of Christology, pneumatology,
trinitarian theology, religious pluralism, religious
belonging and the like and they found only three areas, and in the end asserted that Being Religious Interreligiously addresses a number of crucial issues that contain certain pervading ambiguities and equivocations that
could easily confuse or mislead the faithful
as well as statements that unless properly clarified are not in accord with Catholic teaching. Jacques Dupuis and
several Asian theologians around this time were charged with similar ambiguity in their writings. Echoing the concerns 80 years earlier, that certain persons teaching in Rome were guilty of modernism. Yet the book is ambiguous to those wedded to scholastic language and categories, and who have not expanded
their theological horizons as Paul the 6th had invited the
bishops of Vatican II to do. As a skilled theologian and scholar, Peter took account of the
criticisms in his future work and he’s been invited to speak and write increasingly since those days. Now I’m sure Peter was just as surprised as the rest of us on March 13th, 2013 with the election of Pope Francis. A consequence intended or
unintended of Vatican II depending on your perspective. Within days, Dominus Iesus was swept aside as were the further restrictions awaiting the Papal’s signature that Pope Francis found on his desk on
his first day at work. On September 23rd, 2015,
addressing the U.S. bishops in Washington, Pope Francis urged them to promote a culture of encounter. I know that you face many challenges, and that the field in which you sow is unyielding and that
there’s always temptation to give into fear, to lick one’s wounds, to think back on bygone times, and to devise harsh responses
to fierce opposition, and yet we are promoters
of a culture of encounter. We are living sacraments of the embrace between God’s riches and our poverty. We are witnesses of the abasement
and condescension of God who anticipates in love
our every response. Dialogue is our method. Not a shrewd strategy, but out of fidelity to
the one who never wearies of visiting that marketplace even in the 11th hour, to propose his offer of love. Throughout his talks and writings, Pope Francis has taken up the language and methodologies that Peter Phan has boldly introduced. Encounter, accompaniment, cross thinking, emphasizing the local
context, spiritual engagement, and sharing interreligious belonging. Peter has recently provided
a theological basis for addressing questions
of immigration and refugees which are very much on
the mind of pope Francis. We are back to an era
of theology on the way asking questions with implications for the future of our relationships across religious borders. Those borders are far
more porous these days. Now my first Asian
language was Vietnamese. Taught to me free of
charge by the U.S. Army. 30 hours a week for 30 weeks. My counterparts in Vietnam
taught me their cultural ways. I returned to graduate studies and after digging into Sanskrit, I studied Chinese, even
reading Confucian classics in the original. Great skills I had at one time. But what never left me, were the lessons of etiquette
of the Confucian tradition, and elder brother or not, if even by one hour,
much less three months, as Peter is to me, if the birther controversy is not here, is always my elder brother. Thus, this most humble younger brother draws attention to the
prophetic voice of elder brother who anticipated these
latter days of Pope Francis, Peter suggests in Being
Religious Interreligiously, using his own words,
the way forward in 2004, that are no less true than 2017, it is allied not with
the powerful and imperial but opting for and living in solidarity with the poor and the marginalized. Willing to empty ourselves
of our cultural traditions and to learn from the treasures of others, humbly walking side by
side with other seekers of God and God’s reign, witnessing to them our faith in Jesus as God’s gift of all
inclusive love to humanity and recognizing the presence
of God’s spirit among them, and learning from them
ways of being more faithful to God’s call. Thank you. (audience applause) – Thank you very much indeed, John. Next speaker, it’s also a great privilege and pleasure to introduce, is Chester Gillis, who is the Dean here at Georgetown College of the College of Arts and Sciences. Chet is also of course
a professor of theology and did his own doctoral
work on religious pluralism and particularly the work of John Hick. Chet previously held the Amaturo Chair in Catholic Studies, and the quality of the
occupant of that chair has gone downhill since
Chet relinquished it. (audience applause) Chet has served on the faculty
of Georgetown since 1988. He was chair of Department of Theology from 2001 to 2006, and Director of the Doctorate
Liberal Studies program from 2006 to 2008. Chet received the
Excellence in Teaching Award from the Liberal Studies Program in 2005. He was previously a research fellow focused on the Catholic Church, and interreligious dialogue, at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. In 2008, Chet was faculty mentor for the Berkley Center’s
Undergraduate Fellows Program. Chet’s many publications
include among others, Welcoming the Religious Other
to a Catholic University, Catholic Faith in America,
The Political Papacy, and Pluralism, a New
Paradigm for Theology. He holds degrees in philosophy
and religious studies from the Catholic University
of Leuven in Belgium and earned his PhD from
the University of Chicago. Please join me in
welcoming Chester Gillis. (audience applause) – Thank you John. Thank you for organizing this conference, and Peter, my friend, I will take some credit
for having you be here. I was the chair of the theology department at the time that we hired peter. What a wonderful hire. (audience laughing) Look what’s happened. I’m very nervous when Peter gets a cold because when he coughs a book comes out. (audience applause) In their document, clarifications
required by the book Being Religious Intereligiously, Asian Perspectives on Interfaith
Dialogue by Peter Phan, the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference
of Catholic Bishops stated Being Religious Interreligiously, defends the view, quote, “that the non Christian religions possess an autonomous function in the history of salvation. Different from that of Christianity.” End quote, and that quote, “They cannot be reduced to Christianity in terms of preparation and fulfillment.” The book asserts religious pluralism, is not just a matter of fact, but also a matter of principle. That is non Christian religions, may be seen as part of the
plan of divine providence and endowed with a particular role in the history of salvation. These theologians, that
is Peter, as they wrote, believe that it is necessary to go beyond the second Vatican
council’s position and to assert, quote, “that these religions may be said to be ways of salvation, and that religious pluralism is part of God’s providential plan.” After years of administrative duties I’m returning to scholarship. Writing a book tentatively titled, Two Shall Become as One? Question mark. Interreligious Marriage in America. In this book, I’m examining
religious pluralism on the ground in the most intimate and important relationship, marriage. In these exogamous marriages, I argue that religious
pluralism as Peter said, is part of God’s plan. One dimension that young
about to be marrieds no longer consider as important
as previous generations is religious compatibility. Only 42% of young singles consider it important to find a
spouse of the same religion. In fact, religion itself
carries less significance. They want someone who shares
a common spiritual interest, but this does not necessarily translate into a religion or a denomination. While religion may not
be the determining factor in a marriage relationship, the fact that 75% of marriages in America still take place in a
church or a synagogue, means that religion plays some role in a majority of marriages in America. Exogamous marriages produce complications that endogamous ones do not, and interfaith couples cannot afford to be sanguine about them. At the same time, religious difference should not inhibit couples from pursuing a relationship and marriage. Negotiating difference is never easy, and religious difference presents unique and sensitive challenges. After all if someone has
been taught all their life that her religion is the right one, the implication follows that the other religions are somehow to some degree wrong. Her heart may be telling her that this is the right man, but her religious upbringing delivers a different message. However, different does not
necessarily imply wrong. The theological thinking
that she was exposed to in her religion, no doubt centered on the
single religious path to God, and did not suggest that
other available paths may also lead to God. In my view, God cannot be sequestered and religion should treat one another with greater respect, and encourage mutual understanding. Religious provincialism, seems to be a natural state of being for many religious communities. By separating themselves from the other, they can more easily
ensure their own doctrine. John correctly argues that religions are natively conservative, in attempt to draw
boundaries that separate and distinguish them from other religions. The dilemma that confronts religions in the 21st century, is not how these religions
can survive on their own but how they can survive together. Concretely, the pluralism of religions in the United States means that no matter where you live,
your religion exists alongside one or several others. In some rural areas, the diversity may be confined to two Christian
denominations coexisting. Perhaps, one with a
significant majority presence and the other minority. In cities, one encounters multiple expressions of Christianity, and perhaps a few other religions. In major metropolitan areas, the panoply of the world’s religions abides in neighborhoods, and is evident in the
diversity of worship spaces from gurdwaras to synagogues, churches, meeting halls, and temples. Clearly, the statistics support the notion that religious unity affords greater stability to marriages. Nevertheless, not everyone finds the love of their life at church. Social and professional circles, foster contact with a
wide variety of people who come from a variety
of religious backgrounds. In America, people fall in love with all kinds of people. In some nations, where marriages are generally arranged,
such is not the case. Families involve themselves deeply in the negotiations that lead to marriage, and religion plays a key role, in the decision making process. The tradition of marriage
for love in the United States allows greater autonomy for those who wish to pursue marriage, but its lack of restrictions, also sometimes complicates the process of choosing a spouse. In our multi-cultural society, some may opine that religious difference makes no difference, but that is naive. However, to suggest that
religious difference erects insurmountable
barriers is equally naive. Religious difference must be addressed and negotiated thoughtfully
by each partner. If the couple wants the relationship to evolve into a permanent union, and the wedding symbolizes
a moment in this process, not an end to it. Religious identification
or non identification, practice or lack of practice, children’s religious affiliation, significant life markers, birth, adulthood, marriage,
death, for example, and family traditions,
must all be negotiated. Even for those who are not religious, they must agree with each other to be so. Couples may not wish to admit that their religious differences matter, or they may be reluctant to face the inevitable issues that
religious difference services. Love may conquer all, but not without a struggle. Exploration of religious identification or non identification, does not seem the usual topic, for which romance begins, but it is sometimes one at which it ends, and therefore must be taken seriously, and I can tell you stories from people. I had a student at Georgetown, who was a Christian
student here, Catholic, who fell in love with a Muslim man, and he went on to Yale law,
an accomplished scholar, and she went for his graduation, and the family banned her
from all the activities because she wasn’t a Muslim. This is not that long ago. There’s examples in other communities too, but that’s the kind of thing on the ground where religious pluralism
meets the theory. In many cases, one partner chooses to convert to the other’s religion. This encourages harmony, only when the conversion is undertaken not simply for convenience, but with genuine conviction. In other cases, each
partner plans to continue to practice his or her religion. Respecting the religion of the other and conferring on the children, a dual religious identity. Others begin their religious life anew, by joining a neutral religion, that is new to each partner. Thus not favoring either previous
religious identification. In some instances, the couples choose to abandon religion altogether. All of these choices have
inherent complications that affect the couple and
confront them with decisions regarding the single
religious, dual religious, or non religious identity of children. While the trend towards
an increasing number of interreligious marriages signals a decline in religious
isolation and bigotry, it also creates complications that may have not been anticipated. For example, a minority
religion like Judaism faces the debilitating effects that assimilation by marriage presents. In the 1920s only 2% of Jews married Christians in America. Today that number has
increased to over 50%. Marriages between Muslims and Christians, now more common than a generation ago require delicate negotiations about religious and cultural practices that affect couples and their families. The same is true for Hindus,
Buddhists, Sikhs and others who now have a significant
presence in America. Marriage commitments and ceremonies often require creativity and concessions but they represent only the beginning of inter faith decisions, that multiply with childrearing, religious practice and social relations. Of course, not all couples believe that the religious dimension of marriage represents a vital aspect of married life. Substantial numbers of Americans, do not take religion seriously, and it plays little to no role in their conception of marriage. This ranges from outright antagonism towards religious
identification to apathy. Often couples maintain
a veneer of religion, by having some quasi religious ceremony to begin their married life, but the motives for this range from placating parents and relatives to lack of another ceremonial model that is sufficiently dignified. How many marriages have you been to lately where the minister was
Universalchurch.com? I’ve been to several in
the last couple of years, who got their credentials the day before, and the ceremonies are
usually not eloquent. Shall I say. Whether or not couples are devout, religion virtually
always must be considered when choosing a partner. This remains as true for those who profess no religion, as it does for the weekly church goer, because religion touches
not only individuals and couples, but families in society. For some religion represents customs and traditions that are easily tied to ethnicity and family, as they are to religious practice. Thus even those who don’t
practice their religion, by going regularly to religious services, or do so only a few times a year, or on widely celebrated occasions, such as for Christians,
Easter and Christmas, or for Jews, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, religion maintains an importance that exhibits itself plainly when considerations of marriage arise. A dimension that may be in
the background in daily life often comes to the foreground when considering a marriage partner. Usually potential mates do not inquire about religious identification when they first meet
for dinner or a movie, and even for me to say
when they date, I’m dated. Nobody dates anymore but anyway. But when they establish a relationship, what religion is
professed is become known, making it a bridge or
a potential obstacle. If the couple does not broach the subject, family members surely will inquire. Parents, grandparents, siblings,
relatives, and friends, will exhibit a natural curiosity about a potential mate’s
background, family, profession, and religion. It may be none of their business, but this will not
prevent them from asking. When potential partner’s religion turns out to be different, often it is cause for advice,
speculation, and concern. I’m reminded of when I
met my wife’s parents, and they said, “Is he Catholic?” She said, “Oh, wait till you find out. He’s a Catholic theologian.” (audience laughing) But since I was a Catholic theologian, they knew there was a big future. I always said, my wife is a golddigger. Married a theologian. She could just see a great theologian figures for life. After all, if she is from New York and he is from Seattle, people will wonder where
they will make a home. If she is a Methodist and he is Jewish, how will they negotiate difference? In the words of the popular
play, The Fantastics, a bird can love a fish, but
where do they make a home? If it were only theological differences that couples must negotiate, that task would be difficult, but focused. However, religious difference implies a host of other areas of concern, not limited to but including social, familial, cultural, and personal. What sacred day does an interfaith couple celebrate when their
tradition’s different? What do they serve at table, when two extended families with different dietary sensitivities and restrictions sit together? Who in the extended family is likely to be offended by their food, symbols, or religious participation
or non participation? For many, religion
intertwines with culture, so that the two become inseparable. To be Jewish, for some, may not necessarily mean being religious, but it does mean being Jewish. To a Muslim implies Islamic culture as well as religion. To be Hindu, means that
castes carry significance. To be Buddhist means that non violence is a way of life. The majority of Americans, religion is important and to deny this is to set
oneself up for trouble. Exogamous marriages produce complications that endogamous ones do not, and interfaith couples can’t afford to be sanguine about them. At the same time, religious difference should not inhibit couples from pursuing relationship and marriage. For cultural, social,
and religious reasons some may try to prevent
interreligious marriage, but no one disputes their increasing presence in America. Religious communities may seek to preserve their identity. Parents may discourage their children from seeing potential marriage partners from another faith, and society may look awkwardly at interreligious combinations, yet despite these disincentives, such unions are increasing, not decreasing in the United States. Different theologies have engendered different religious identities that often pit one religious person or religious community against another. These theologies often
clash into one another, in awkward and painful ways, when persons from different religions contemplate or enter into marriage. Some prefer to circle the wagons and protect the purity of
their religious identity at all costs. However, this strategy
only works imperfectly unless strict vigilance and
enforcement accompany it. Even when it succeeds, it can lead to a xenophobia that separates and distinguishes the religious community
from those of its neighbors. Unless the members of a community live in close proximity to one another, maintaining religious purity usually becomes problematic. Some may wish to promote exclusively interreligious marriages, for reason of religious purity. Others may want to protect the ethnic identity of the community. Each of these objectives has an internally coherent logic as long as purity does
not imply prejudice. No one faults communities
for preferring their own, but indeed these
combinations often work best. If the preference implies denigration of those who are religiously different, then it casts a different
shadow over the community. Religion provides a rich dimension of commonality for couples, and thus accords legitimate priority when seeking a spouse. Shared dimensions lay the
foundation for harmony in a marriage. Differences bring novelty, and often expand the
horizons of each partner, but they also present obstacles. The obstacle of religious difference must be taken seriously, but it should not be
considered insurmountable. Most religious communities, do not teach their adherents how to negotiate religious difference. Instead, they create
theologies of separation and pastoral practices
that cater to their own and largely ignore the religiously other or treat them as an aberration. They think and act as if God has been revealed exclusively to them. Even though they know the
world is religiously plural. However, those who believe
differently from them are not about to disappear, and ignoring them fosters ignorance that as we have seen time and again leads to characters and misunderstanding. The time to think about
religious differences is before marriage However, the time for love
is before enduring marriage, and that can be the characteristic that makes all the difference. The theological investigation
into interreligious marriage needs to begin with God. However, that starting point
lacks specificity and clarity. Particularly when examining
the broad phenomena of religion across the
spectrum of religions. Since religions do not conceive of God in identical ways, and since some conceptions
contradict one another, the theological analysis requires careful accounting of how different religions
describe the transcendent. A key thesis of this project centers on how the construction
and use of theological categories and theories, affects the appropriation of religion and this appropriation in turn affects self understanding, attitudes, beliefs, and practices of religious believers. These dispositions then affect how the believer interprets
the religion of the other and how he or she relates to
the religiously other person. One may be suspicious of those who do not share fundamental religious categories
in an identical manner. Though one may think they may misinterpret who or what God is, and how God relates to human kind. These capture precisely the suspicions that complicate interreligious marriage and can interfere easily with the ability to understand one’s
religiously other person. Most religious persons grow up believing that one well formulated definition of God is the only one. From the profoundly simple
Quranic manifestation, that there is one God to the
more complicated theology of the trinity, religions
fundamentally subscribe to an internally coherent and uniform definition of the transcendent. Adherence of the religion usually learn the definition early in childhood, and experience reinforcement regularly in prayer and worship. However, they appropriate not simply a convenient or useful definition, but as a true one. They believe it because they think it is not merely a suitable description because they believe that
their description is true. Thus the Muslim believes
that God is uniquely one and Muhammad is the messenger. The Christian professes that God is three persons in one. The Hindu believes that
multiple manifestations of Gods and Goddesses, represent Brahman, the ultimate reality. These descriptions of the transcendent usually rest on revelation disclosed in a text, through a
prophet, or an epiphany. The originating text, persons, and events, occupy a privileged place
in the religion’s heritage and influence the construction
of systems of belief. Over time followers of the religion, clarify and codify the original elements proposing authoritative interpretations and structuring the resulting
beliefs and practices in what can be calmly
described as a religion. A community that forms that holds certain beliefs in common, and uniform practices arise, that further define and solidify the community of believers. These developments enable a religion to form a distinctive character, a set of beliefs and practices, that community can separate them from other identifiable communities. Without these evolutions, religion likely would
not survive its infancy. Forging a clear and distinct identity aids the social bonding necessary. The process I’m describing does not occur in a matter of mere years or over decades, but centuries and generations. Those born today both reap
the benefit of this legacy and are heirs to century of refinement. At the same time however, they are hostage to
sometimes arcane formulations historical disputes, and differing sects of the same religion. What may have started out pure, gets muddy with time
and human manipulation. But theological theories and teachings play a role in these situations, since they ground the
beliefs and the religions of the religious practitioners, and they should not be ignored or considered mere theories
without consequences. I am trying to think through the understanding of God across traditions so that people are in
these kind of marriages can understand and appreciate
and respect one another in a deeper and more formal manner. Thank you. (audience applause) – Thank you very much indeed, Chet. It’s also a pleasure and privilege to introduce our next speaker. All the way rom Italy, Deborah Tonelli, is a professor and researcher, at the University of Trento in Northern Italy’s Institute for Religious Sciences. Based at the Fondazione Bruno Kessler. She also teaches for the faculties of politics and political science at the Pontifical
Universities of Saint Anselmo, and for the faculty of social sciences at the Pontifical Gregorian University the Jesuit University in Rome. Deborah has established a research network that encourages collaboration on the topics of religion and violence, between various Italian and
international Universities, including Fondazione Bruno Kessler. (speaking foreign language) She is presently working on an interdisciplinary book on violence in relation to various
different religions, as well as working to
broaden international participation in the research network, and we’re also delighted that she is a visiting researcher this semester at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs here at Georgetown. Please join me in
welcoming Deborah Tonelli. (audience applause) – Congratulations for your Italian. It’s better my English, so I apologize for my English, but first of all, I’d like to thank the
director of Berkley Center, Professor, and of course
extend my warm thanks to Gerard for inviting to this
celebration of our Peter Phan. It’s a real honor to be here today, and not last I’d like to thank Emy Felix for correcting my English text. Of course, she’s not
responsible for the content and for my bad pronunciation. When I was a student in
the faculty of theology in Roma, the theology of religion was only just appearing in other programs. Exactly what this emerging
field means was not clear, but we students had an impression that a big change was happening. At the time, I didn’t comprehend precisely the meaning of the theology of religions, and I preferred to work on the bible which was at the foundation of my research in political philosophy. My first position was to
the biblical tradition before and the religious
one was political. Because it testified to
relation among humans, among believers, and with God. Every human relationships,
is in the sense, a political relationship. Of course the biblical tradition is not only political, but I consider it unacceptable, the polarization between
religion and culture, religion and politics, religion and economy and so on. This dichotomy is a
legacy of enlightenment. After years of research,
my first impression on biblical tradition
was not contradicted. Politics and religion are closely linked. The relationships among
religions are political before being spiritual or religious. At the same time, the biblical tradition continues to be part of
social political debates directly or indirectly,
consciously or not. We think for example, about the debates of inclusion of biblical tradition, in the European constitution. The European policy was developing a new vision of religions, and its inclusion in the political space. Or to think of the use of a separate tax to justify religious wars, and the fundamentalism, and to counter them. From ecological point of view, the contribution of Peter Phan to the inclusion of religiousity in social political debates
is unquestionable important. In the decades in which I started to note of contemporary political debates it was impossible not to cross such issues as a secularization, religious pluralism, interreligious dialogue, and so on. The question was always the same. What does it mean to be religious today? In this book, I will
try to delineate briefly some connection between
religion and politics, in the horizon of religious pluralism and to show the needs for each to interact with the other, and what these interaction can offer us. Some recent books analyze
the role of the faith in the contemporary world. One of them is Faith as an Option. Possible Futures for Christianity. In this book, the German sociologist asks how the believers today can intellectually justify their belief. This book is focused on the secularization and the author argues that the emergence of a secular option does not means that religion must decline, but that believers must understand that their faith is one option among many. It calls upon faith to articulate contemporary experiences. Churches and the religious communities, must take into account
religious diversity, but the modern world is not
a threat to Christianity or to faith in general. On the contrary, Joas says, modernity and faith can
be mutually enriching. What does mutually enriching mean? In our contemporary world, we are continuously urged
to transform challenges into opportunities. This is an optimistic vision, which permits us to add self understanding of our relationships and they aid us in developing the ability for reflecting on not making rash
decision, before unexpected, but the question remains, what does it mean to be religious in a global environment
inundated by pluralism or indifference or hostility
to religious experience? The questions arises from the need to interpret the present
categories and approaches. Today, being religious, doesn’t legitimate forced conventions or allow for a sense of superiority. Yet, it need not mean giving up a certain pride in the
religious affiliation. At the same time, we have to consider scientific progress that permits us to distinguish among the
religious traditions. Peter Phan has written prophetical books. The prophet is not one
who foresees the future, but in a biblical sense, one who knows so well the traditions, and sees so clearly the present that enables one to have the key to imagine the future, and thus enabled to propose an alternative future. The imagination is one
of the most important characteristics of
theologians and politicians. It is the ability to look beyond and to create something unexpected. I think it’s not accidental
that the analysis of foolish wisdom in the first chapter of Being Religious Interreligiously. Some of Phan’s prophecies are coming true. Others will come true when
the time will be ripe. The title of this book
is an excellent synthesis of the contemporary issue of religion in a context in which we cannot
be indifferent to pluralism. Interreligiously means first of all that we have to take
into account religions different from our own, and to try to build a kind
of relationships with them. It is relationships that
is more than religious because it influences
politics, culture, society. Nevertheless, to open
religion and theology, are not able to able to legitimated to participate in social
political debates. In which way does this
distinction of environment influence the development of the debates on religion and the strategies of interreligious dialogue? I think in a negative way. If we conceive human
beings in a holistic sense that is a whole, and how personal actions are consequence of inner vision, or a sense our actions are consequences of moral evaluations. From this point of view, it’s very difficult to distinguish our belief from public actions. Our morals from political relations and our every action will be part of wider horizon. Religion is today one
among the many options. However, it still
provides a certain cosmic and individual order, and a way of making reality intelligible. In ancient times, the Greek and the biblical mythos of creation was to explain the status of the world, and to show the superiority of a deity, upon the chaos, interpreted
as absence of meaning. In this worldview, history began with this release of the chaos and the beginning of order. Today we are orphans of
this meaningless framework, and no religion can
claim universal meaning. Nevertheless, despite the
disenchantment of the world believers and not believers, have not given up this claim to religion as a source of order. Indirectly we could suppose that the contribution of religion, of contemporary conflicts, is closed by this combination
between religion and order. We expect that if a
religion is well working order will rule the world. Social political chaos
could be interpreted first of all as a consequence of the ability of religion to offer a meaningful context. For an analogy, we could interpret the interreligious dialogue as a research of global order, that can help us find answers to develop new vision, perspectives, interpretations in relation to the chaos of the contemporary situation. Only from this point of calm, we will be able to find the tools and the strategy that allows us to act in a constructive way in situations of conflict. How this translates isn’t
contingent to reality is hard to say, but certainly we should stop continuing to distinguish between
religious and public space, politics and interreligious dialogue. Think for example to the European debates to include biblical tradition,
and our constitution. It was symptomatic of the faculty to consider religion in the public space and its contribution to
European cultural history. One of the merits of Peter Phan urged the Catholic church to take a stand with regard to interreligious dialogue. This means to create a new global order beyond our religious experience. Only a theologian could
explore in novel way the intersection among
religions and culture. Only one who is continuously between different cultural worlds, can translate Semetic
western religious tradition into faith experience. We are too much inheritors
of enlightenment from the need to build a
new vision of the world based not only on rationality but also on human
experience and on dialogue. Phan wrote in his book, turned into a primarily
constructive instrument to unmask oppressive structures. Reason remain unable to offer constructive vision of reality. Personal experience, allows
to overcome this vision. If therefore, follows that find an alternative between logos and mythos, in the wisdom fully. Peter Phan wrote the
purpose of this chapter is not to provide an account of how foolish wisdom, or the wisdom has
functioned in diverse fields of human endeavor, but to show how this
peculiar way of knowing which is distinct from mythos and logos, can if properly practiced, lead to the recovery
of the love of wisdom. In some way, the prophetic
imagination of Phan is foolish because it breaks all schemes. On one side, starts from contingent needs. On the other side is faith, and the histiological reflections. His idea of religious pluralism is based on idea of humanity. Not ideal, but real. Dialogue is too often
considered an ambiguous weapon. To counter this ambiguity, the German philosopher Karl Jaspers for example elaborated a
rational vision of discourse. According to his vision, only rational humans can
participate to public discourse, and its rules are rational. Rationality produces
the illusion of control. In Phan’s realism, dialogues sensibility and strike balance between
intangible characteristic. Dialogue is first of all a
way for sharing experience and building relationships. If we share our deepest experience, as religious experiences, this cannot be without consequence, in our public life. The human being is behind the meaning. Political activity is the most important because in it, it is possible to realize. Discussing our deepest convictions and finding solutions together. As with religion, the political space is characterized by freedom. There doesn’t exist without
freedom and equality, but the questions remain. The real problem is to find the criteria to establish the boundaries, and the way of translation
of a way of life. Thank you. (audience applause) (foreign language speaking) – Thank you very much indeed. After our final speaker, we’ll have time. We’re running a little over. Just for one or two questions, so I’d like to ask you
to try and think of, trying to formulate the question, that could really be
addressed to the entire panel and to formulate it very
briefly and succinctly. Just try to be thinking
about that question that each of the panel
could perhaps speak to and perhaps we will have
time for one or two of those at the finish. It is also a real privilege and pleasure to introduce Professor Keith Ward as our final speaker for today. If John spoke about Peter as his slightly older brother, Keith Ward is my Doctor Varte, so my doctoral supervisor, so it’s wonderful to have Keith and his wife Marian
here in Washington D.C. And Keith is a British
philosopher, a theologian, a priest, and a scholar. He’s also a gentleman. He’s a fellow of the British Academy and a priest of the Church of England. He was Canon of Christ Church Cathedral. For those of you who
ar Harry Potter’s fans, this is where much of the
film was filmed, until 2003. Comparative theology, and the relationship between
science and religion, two of Keith’s many
main topics of interest. Keith was Regius Professor of Divinity. Appointed by the Queen at
the University of Oxford from 1991 to 2004. He’s the author of many many books, including the rule of love,
religion, and human nature. Why there is almost certainly a God, and recently, Christ and the Cosmos, a Reformulation of Trinitarian Doctrine. In 1992, Keith delivered
the very prestigious Gifford lecture at the
University of Glasgow. He is also served as the
Gresham professor of divinity at Gresham College in
London, between 2004, 2008. He’s presently a
professorial research fellow attached to Heythrop College,
the Jesuit University in the University of London, and he’s on the council of the Royal Institute of Philosophy. This semester we’re delighted that he is a visiting professor, just over the river at the
Junior Theological Seminary. Please join me in welcoming Keith Ward. (audience applause) – Well thank you very much Gerard. It’s great to see Gerard again. It’s also a great privilege to be here to speak in honor of Peter Phan. Peter has been a leader and thinker in the area of pluralism. Other areas too, but that’s the one I’m gonna talk about, and I think one phrase
which he must have one time at least has used himself, was that he is or was,
an inclusive pluralist. If you don’t know what that means, you’re in good company, but I think it’s certainly a good thing. Whatever it means. (audience laughing) I think it’s a great step forward for Christian affairs personally. I’m not a Catholic, so that I myself am part
of a pluralist community and not so very long ago, it would have said that
I could not be saved. Well perhaps it still
would by some people, but then neither can
you, so that’s all right. (audience applause) I want to think about inclusive pluralism. I want to make it clear. I’m not actually trying to improve on what Peter did. I can’t do that. I don’t intend to do that, but I’m going to address it from a slightly different perspective, to look at what I think Peter is saying, which I agree with, and to put in slightly different terms because coming from the U.K. My chief influences in
this regard were John Hick and people of that sort, so that there’s a slightly
different way of approach. Focusing, converging on
the same point I think. Well, you can judge. The first thing I’d want to do in thinking about the
relations of religion is compare them. I’ve been a philosopher most of my life, and as a philosopher you
just get used to the fact that if you say something, everyone else in the room is supposed to disagree with you, and so disagreement is not a problem if you’re a philosopher. You don’t say that you’re more intelligent than everybody else. Well, you do. (audience laughing) Really you just say, human beings being what they are, you expect there to be disagreement. It’s not. You don’t have to get involved in things about do you
have the one true faith or something like that? You think, yeah, what I
think is probably true. It’s got some mistakes in it, but on the whole what other people think is probably false, but you don’t get worked up about it. I’m very interested, that religious people get
worked up about these things and I wonder why that is. I find it rather odd, and I want to make a big
distinction to start with between salvation. The question, who can be saved, and truth, what is true? These are quite different questions. Sometimes not Peter, but some of us run them together, so you’re asking, can you be saved, and is what you believe true, as if they’re the same question. They’re not, of course. I think John Paul made this quite clear as far as I can make out, when he said that it was God’s will that everyone should be saved. I think that’s true. Nice biblical text for
that is a Protestant and there is a text. God’s will is everyone to be saved. I think if God wills that, God will make it possible, and since most people
haven’t ever heard of Jesus than I accept his prophecy
or something like that, and pair of jeans, and then perhaps you have to say, God must make it possible
for them to be saved. It can’t be through hearing about Jesus. There must be some vivid efficacy in lots of other ways of life. Not just religious ones. I think that has to be true. If you think that God’s love is unlimited and not excluding. That’s all right, but then I want to make
another distinction, which is equally important between what we now are justified in believing and what we will
ultimately when we’re dead, and perhaps a long time after
we’re dead, I don’t know, be justified in believing, and I want to say what
a little child of six is justified in believing, is quite different from what an adult whose been to University is justified in believing. They’re the same person, but you wouldn’t expect the same things to be true of them when you
ask about justification. And the same way, I think when
any human being in this life, in this world, is asked for justification
for their beliefs, you’ll get many different answers, and in answer to that question, are they justified in believing, things other than the Christian faith, yes, they well are, and they can be redeemed and love God, and come to know God, on that way, but of course not during this life. That’s the point, because they’re never going
to think there is a God. I mean if you’re a very
hard line Buddhist, you think there isn’t a God, and that’s a superstition, and I don’t want to love God. I think it’s a bad thing. You say, well that’s hard to see, that they’re gonna be
living forever with God if that’s not what they want. That is true, and I suppose what the
Christian then has to say, and what the Buddhist could also say from their own point of view, is but when you’re dead you’ll know. As John Hick wrote,
eschatological verification. That at some time truth and
salvation have to connect. When you are finally saved, when you love God and you know God fully, then you’ll know the truth. That’s correct. Truth and salvation are then connected, but they’re not connected now. Now, in this life it’s true, that even people like me, who according to lots of you, I believe lots of false things, I can still be saved. I can be saved even if
I believe false things, and I hope that is true. It all depends on what the
false things are really. There you are. But those two distinctions, in this life it’s no problem with seeing many different religions, and
humanism too, as salvific. As setting people off towards what Christians believe is salvation. Although they don’t believe that. Then you could say, well I’m finally in the life, in the world to come, then truth will converge, and you’ll find out of course we believe as Christians I think, that Christ is the one
only way to salvation. Eventually, that’s the point. Eventually. There’s that point that I want to make. But then truth has to be
connected to salvation and we have to think
what we believe is true. I believe it’s logically necessary, that if you believe X is true, you must believe that not X is false, so it’s a necessary
condition of claiming truth, that other people can believe things which aren’t true. I’m not a pluralist in
the sense of thinking, well, this is Ratzinger’s
relativism really. Lots of different things, even if they’re contradictory can be true. I know there are some
people who believe that but I don’t think that’s possible. You have to say truth is exclusive. It excludes the opposite
of what it’s asserting. But then you look at
religious truth claims and things get a bit more difficult, and they get difficult because truth is a property of propositions. It is propositions. It is in a language. Some statement in a language, is said to be true or false. Our language is meant to reflect reality but there are lots of questions to ask about the way in which
language reflects reality. Let me just quickly name four, which I think are very
important in religion. First of all, languages, the best languages we have, can be inadequate to reality. That should be no
surprise to a theologian. Our language is about God, are inadequate to the reality of God. If in physics, you think
you have a language, most people have a
language about electrons, as little planetary lights things going around the nucleus of an atom. Any proper physicist
knows that it is false. It’s actually false. It’s a very inadequate view. It’s like a Sunday school
view of what an electron is, but it’s all people can cope with, so you say is that language of electrons as little particles
going round the nucleus, is that adequate? The answer every physicist
will give you is no, it’s not adequate, and if you say, well
can you do any better, they’ll say well if you take a course, a couple of PhD in
mathematics I can do better, but apart from that no, you
just have to stick with it. Adequacy is important, and if you say I know that a lot of what I think about god, and I’m speaking personally
now is inadequate then how certain can I be, that actually somebody
else’s inadequate view is more inadequate than mine? I can sync that but I’ve gotta have a little bit of humility. If all languages are inadequate, then things are a bit
more difficult than saying I know this is a desk, or that’s not actually
what it is, a lecturn, and if you say it’s an elephant, I know you’re wrong. But then if it’s a question of electrons, you might be. If it’s about God. That’s the first thing. Adequacy. The second one is, our terms about God, and about salvation. Are they literal? When Jesus is, recorded himself, there’s son of man, is that a literal statement? That’s a very good question to answer. If you say Jesus ascended into Heaven. Is that a literal statement? Again, this codifies the notion of truth. I’m starting off with exclusivism. Truth must exclude error, but then I’m saying it’s a bit difficult if a statement is not literally true, to say exactly what to excludes. Let me give you an example. Some people would say of me, I am a fox. He is a fox, they’d say. You say, is that true? Does it exclude it be true, that he is a lion? No it doesn’t really, because those terms
are not literally true. You’ve got to think, well in religion how much of what is said is not literally true? Adequacy, question of literalness, and then there are other questions too about religious terms, and I think one of them might be your formulation of truth
in a certain language is precise or vague? If you say, the trinity is three persons in one substance, is that a precise statement? The truth is it depends
on who you’re talking to, because most people don’t know what it means at all. I think we have priests who don’t know. (audience laughing) But to know what it means, you have to know what persona, what they all mean. What they meant when
the original documents were written. There’s a lot you have to understand and then you have to ask, how do we transfer all these terms into something contemporary? Rigidity and precision are not always required in religious statements. Let me give you an example from the Anglican Roman Catholic dialogues on the mass. You probably know that all the Catholic theologians have all agreed on what is going on. Complete agreement, but the Pope, the Vatican didn’t agree. The Church of England
was even more important didn’t agree either. (audience laughing) The part was about the substantiation. Some of us would say that’s too precise. You’ve got to learn. You’ve got to believe you can detach atoms from their substances. You can have that philosophical argument, but what’s it got to do with the mass? Has a lot to do with it, but the question is, what is the precision of such statements? Some religious views are
state very precisely, but others are very vague and imprecise, and when you make statements about God, are you being really precise? You have to believe exactly this. You have to say three
persons in one substance. You can’t say three modes
of being in one subsistence. Catholic theorists have said. What are you going to do about that? What I’m saying is, truth is exclusive. Salvation is inclusive. Exclusive truths exclude contradictories, but when you’re talking
about religious propositions in a certain language, which the terms of which have varying degrees of precision, might have varying degrees of literalness and symbolic character, and have varying degrees of adequacy to the reality of anything. We’re in a world which is very fluid. You’re in a world where
we have philosopher conceptual web, with a central core, are very important concepts. God, Jesus, covenant, salvation, and then a peripheral core
of less important concepts but they’re all bound together, and these webs of concepts, actually don’t form rigid excluding sets of absolutely precisely true propositions. That propositions aren’t all
that important to religion. Perhaps Christianity is almost unique in making propositional thought more important than practice, or as important. There are some religious views which you wouldn’t think that at all. When I speak, as I have done in Japan, I’m always accused of
being a western logician because I’m being too precise. I don’t say what is a commie exactly, and they say that’s not the point. That’s a Western way of thinking. Whatever you do about that there’s obviously a difference, to the people who want
less precise definitions, which will exclude, you see, other countries and contradictions, having more evocative, more symbolic, more vague propositions, and are important. When you’re looking at
the religious perspective that exists in the world, it’s not so clear that the truth as we express it in our language, with our concepts, excludes language which is very different and which is perhaps framed in inadequate and symbolic and imprecise ways. If you have symbolic
imprecise and inadequate conceptual systems existing, they perhaps can blend and mix. That I think might
leave you with something that Peter might call inclusive pluralism. (audience applause)

 

Leave a Reply