Saturday, March 29, 2008

Understanding & Tolerance?

I am going to shock some of you: I think we need to study and understand other religions much more than we do now. Let me explain.

There seems to be an unspoken assumption behind the modernist interreligious dialogue movements, both within the Catholic Church and among adherents of other religions. This assumption underlies the whole supposed reason why we ought to have "dialogue" in the first place. What assumption do I speak of? I speak of the idea that if we just "understand" each other's religions better, then we will see how great there are and come to respect each other. The assumption is that the problem is that we do not adequately "understand" Islam, Hinduism or the other religions of the world. If we just had a better understanding of them, we would de facto like them and their adherents better and everybody would get along. Is there any merit to this point at all?

How about the reality that sometimes really understanding an ideology can make you dislike it even further? One could make the claim that we went to war against Hitler in World War II precisely because we understood exactly what kind of ideology Naziism was. It was the appeasement crowd, like Chamberlain, who failed to understand what kind of a man Hitler was.

In the same way, I have been reading the agnostic Will Durant's classic history text on Asia "Our Oriental Heritage," in which he gushes with 400 pages of praise about India, Hindu religion and classic Indian "philosophy." I have been immersed in the writings and historical developments, cultural institutions and religious traditions of India for two weeks now. I have learned a whole lot more about Hinudism and the Indian subcontinent than I ever knew before and I must say, never have I been so disgusted with it all. I knew Hinduism was a false religion, but it was not until I really studied it and learned what it was all about (ie, that I "understood" it) that I really saw what a despicable, horrid, hopeless and terrible religion it is.

Maybe the interreligious dialogue crowd is right: maybe we do need to study other religions more. Sometimes, to see the warts on somebody, you have to look at them really close.

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