Clearly, we are now living in a period in history characterized
by many historians and sociologists as “postmodern”. One
characteristic of this period in history is a greater awareness of the
different religious traditions. In some places and periods we have
been deeply aware of other religious traditions living and growing
alongside our own. However, we have to admit that “this pluralistic
consciousness has only fully emerged during the lifetime of people
now living.” (Hick 1992: 7) Prior to our age, religions such as Hinduism,
and Buddhism, Judaism and Islam, were generally seen as “strange
and dark residues of paganism, utterly inferior to Christianity and
proper targets of the churches’ missionary zeal.”1
Today, however, we
have all become conscious, in varying degrees, that our Christian
history is one of a number of variant streams of religious life, each
with its own distinctive forms of experience, thought and spirituality.
In a much greater degree, we are now more aware of our “neighbors”
who belong to other great world faiths. Knowledge and information
about these great religions can now be easily accessed. In big colleges
and universities, we find ourselves listening to lectures on Buddhism,
Hinduism and Islam. Our libraries (and especially our local bookstores),
on the other hand are well equipped with books about the sacred
writings of great world religions. Travel opportunities have also
multiplied and great number of people has spent time in India, Turkey,
Egypt, Sri Lanka, and other non-Christian countries. As a result, more
people have actually encountered people who actually belong to these
major religions. Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus can now be
encountered as “real” people in our day-to-day experiences.
Such a tremendous awareness of religious pluralism is very pertinent
in our time today. The question now is: how should we, as Christians
Martin Buber: Interreligious Dialogue..
deal with this emerging consciousness with people of other faiths?
Can we still claim that ours is “the only way”, one that possesses the
“absolute Truth”? What would be the most appropriate approach to
dialogue? How should we reach out to our brothers and sisters who
belong to other faiths?