Degrees of Sympathetic Engagement or Hostile Rejection
According to the theologian Avery Dulles, there are four models in which faith-traditions deal with each other: coercion, convergence, pluralism, and tolerance (“Christ among the Religions,” in “Church in Society,” 36 1ff).
Coercion and Convergence
The history of religious coercion is a long and painful one, excluding no one faith-tradition. In Europe, it was customary for the people of a given country to follow the religion of its king or leader, but the bloody wars over religion taught the painful lesson that the cost was too great.
As for convergence, there is no satisfactory platform for dialogue, not theocentric, polytheistic, and not atheistic. The way to God is disputed, whether through Jesus Christ, Moses, Allah, or the Buddha.
Pluralism describes a stance in which all traditions reflect certain aspects of the divine. All faith-traditions are united in that they grow out of a sacramental basis beginning with an experience of the holy in the here and now. They hold to a sacred transcendence whose presence issues an ethical call to organize one’s life within a context larger than the everyday.
In Judaism, God saves in the present moment; likewise in Catholicism, with the faithful participating in the Trinitarian and sacramental life. In Islam, prayer throughout the day puts a Muslim in constant contact with Divine Presence who is always transcendent. Hinduism pursues the integration of the self with the All. God is in all, all is in God. Buddhism holds to the integration of self into nothingness. Confucianism seeks harmony and balance. To possess yourself, you must lose yourself into something higher and greater.
Our experience of the numinous suggests that God is close by, near, and immanent; God is also beyond and transcendent. Some religions make God too immanent, as in pantheism and polytheism; others make God too transcendent, too numinous as in deistic and Greek philosophy. Every religion is uniquely different in its connection to the sacred.
Tolerance allows all religions and no religions to exist without prohibition. Tolerance does not require religions to approve of each other’s doctrines and practices. It does insist that they avoid any effort to coerce the members of other denominations to agree with them (Dulles, 365). In the process, one religion can come to respect certain tenets and practices of another, as in methods of meditation and prayer. Of late, tolerance resembles a drum roll whose ominous crescendo has ushered in the return of coercion.
A Useful Scheme for Global Religions and God
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The schema found below determines the degree of sympathetic engagement or hostile rejection of a religious tradition other than one’s own. It was developed by my brother whose Ph.D. in comparative religion from Harvard University prompted him to devise a continuum in which global religions encounter each other from both affirmative and negative, and from acceptable and unsatisfactory ways. Whereas the positive tipping point may lead to conversion, the negative may lead to annihilation. This schema and the Dulles’ models are intended to inform this essay, tinged with darkness and light.
Progression for Global Religions
1. Sympathetic Engagement (from 1-5 in ascending incremental order)
Five steps that ascend from tolerance to full acceptance of a religion may be outlined as follows:
Tolerate: To allow to exist and without prohibition; minimal acceptance
Respect: To affirm positively one’s freedom to believe as conscience dictates
Accept: To approve of another religion
Advocate: To be taken in by another religion
Appropriate: To participate in another religion
Share: To participate more deeply in another religion
Identify: To become an integral part of another religion
2. Hostile Rejection (1-5 in descending and destructive order)
Five steps that descend from tolerance to full annihilation of a religion, with the worst case being the Holocaust:
Reject: To feel bigotry, to refuse to recognize or to tolerate
Restrict: To confine by means of restraint
Censure: To strongly disapprove; to issue an official reprimand
Persecute: To subject to harassing or cruel treatment
Erode: To destroy by slow disintegration
Destroy: To put an end to; to render useless
Annihilate: To destroy utterly; to reduce to utter ruin, to wipe out
The Golden Rule