Interreligious Openness: Another Criterion for the Catholic Voter?

   Pope at LourdesCambridge, MA. As we get closer to the election, there is naturally more discussion of the role of religion in politics, including the responsibilities of Catholics both as candidates and as voters. Much of the discussion has to do with issues such as abortion, genetic engineering, and marriage, and these are obviously very important. But in our increasingly complex global context where religions are meeting all the more intensely, we can also ask: Which candidate knows not only her or his own faith, and remains seriously and intelligently committed to it, but also has studied and thought about other religions? Which candidate goes beyond slogans about Christianity or other religions, and shows that she or he knows something about other religions, is receptive to learning from and with their members, and is not chauvinistic about her or his own? Which candidates steadfastly refuse to pander to religious fear and bias? There are numerous reasons for not voting for someone, and few reasons can be decisive by themselves, but from a Catholic viewpoint, interreligious ignorance and lack of seriousness about mutual learning are good reasons for not voting for someone.

     I reminded of this because the Pope has again brought dialogue to the fore. During his recent visit to Lourdes, on September 14th, Benedict addressed the French bishops, and in the course of his remarks, he reminded them — and us — that interreligious dialogue is one of the duties of Catholics in today’s society. It “is a real striving for mutual understanding” which is a real good, since “ignorance destroys more than it builds.” Its purpose is to “seek and deepen a knowledge of the Truth;” even as the Pope goes on to stress that Christ is the Truth, he does not see this confession of faith as short-circuiting a real and honest shared, dialogical search for truth. He advises us to favor interreligious initiatives that “favor reciprocal knowledge and respect, as well as the promotion of dialogue,” while avoiding “those which lead to impasses.”   One-dimensional claims about other religions get us nowhere and do more harm than good. The final step is “witness and proclamation of the faith,” but this must begin in listening and in dialogue, and then too in “to theological discussion” — both of these precede proclamation. The Pope’s position, by no means liberal, is still basic and strong: we have a duty to seek the truth together, cultivating mutual respect, and working together for mutual understanding in and for our common quest. In a world where ignorance of religions and inexcusable stereotypes are prevalent, the easier options are relativism or a confusion of Christian fidelity with (at best) condescension toward other religions — and such easy options must be put aside, in favor of commitment to the serious work of dialogue. The work of proclaiming Christ does not excuse us from dialogue, but requires us to enter upon dialogue intelligently and with vulnerability, such that we might learn as well as teach.


     Perhaps dialogue is not the very first Catholic priority, but neither is it something optional, secondary, or merely polite. It is a real and integral part of Christian work and witness today, and without dialogue, proclamation is deficient. So my question: How would it be if we expected Catholics — including those in politics — to show that they are serious about interreligious respect and mutual learning? 

     So I at least will be looking for candidates, local and national, who show interreligious sensitivity, who have bothered to learn about other religions, and who do not use their faith as an excuse for ignorance of or disrespect for the faith of others. If I could host a debate, I would love to ask candidates who make an public issue of their religious identities what they think of the Pope’s assertion that our “globalized, multicultural and multireligious society” is “a God-given opportunity to proclaim Truth and practice Love so as to reach out to every human being without distinction, even beyond the limits of the visible Church.”

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10 years 4 months ago
Sorry, it's totally naive to believe a voter has a solid foundation on which to judge a candidate's ''interreligious sensitivity''. We have a difficult time to determine their true beliefs on such basic issues such as war and life. I'd be more comfortable with this directive if an example, or two, would have been provided illustrating the point.
10 years 4 months ago
I was struck by the request Obama made to God on the note he left at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. This note was made public. Among other things he asked for humility. This impressed me a great deal. For me it meant that his theology was probably more like mine than McCain's. I live in San Francisco and go to Mass in Berkeley. Really most of the people I go to Mass with me are interested in interreligious dialogue with Buddhism and Hinduism. Also most of them are Benedictine (Camaldolese Benedictine) Oblates. Presidential candidates should become sensitive and knowledgeable about all religious traditions including non-Christian traditions.
10 years 4 months ago
Interreligious understanding is indeed a desirable thing; however, I often despair of it between Christians and Muslims. Any desire for cross-faith understanding appears to come almost exclusively from the Christian side, while Muslims have little interest in understanding faiths other than their own. When was the last Christian church erected in Saudi Arabia? And Muslims who chose to convert to Christianity are condemned as "apostates," for which the penalty is death. Interreligious understanding is an end devoutly to be wished, but both sides must desire it equally, and I don't see that happening.
10 years 4 months ago
I agree that interreligious hospitality is an important criterion for selecting a candidate for public service, particularly in cases where the candidate will interact on the international level. Religion plays a foundational role in shaping how people across the world perceive and understand reality and one another, so if our “foreign policies” are to have much basis in the real world, those deciding such policies need to have studied and thought through the religions of those who are affected by their policies. Moreover, the Church’s call for international solidarity calls our public servants to seek to understand others on the international sphere as others understand themselves. That understanding requires that our public servants approach people of other religions with an eagerness to listen to them and with the humble awareness that the other's religion is more than what they know it to be.
10 years 1 month ago
The question isn't religious insecurties. True there are insensitivities in any two people with differing vantage points. Some of it is fear that what we know and believe to be true will be challenged by others than that don't share our exact points of view. While differences can breed controversy they also create discussion which can also bring divergent viewpoints together. Even if we end up agreeing to disagree, relationships that reach beyond our enclosed groups have the opportunity to form.


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