Thursday, December 1, 2011

Obstacles to Interreligious Dialogue

The corresponding video can be viewed at:

12/1/2011 12:44 pm (et) Moderator: logs in on 12/1/2011 12:44 pm (et).
12/1/2011 12:54 pm (et) Susan: private message to Moderator: logs in on 12/1/2011 12:54 pm (et).
12/1/2011 12:56 pm (et) Laura S: private message to Moderator: logs in on 12/1/2011 12:56 pm (et).
12/1/2011 1:00 pm (et) Moderator: Welcome! This is Rebecca from the InterFaith Conference (IFC) and I will be your moderator. Let me explain how this will work. On the right, you will see a video playing of our current topic to get the conversation going. If you have a comment and/or question send it along to me, the moderator. As long as I deem it appropriate, the comment will be posted to everyone and the speaker will have the opportunity to answer your question.
12/1/2011 1:00 pm (et) Megan: private message to Moderator: logs in on 12/1/2011 1:00 pm (et).
12/1/2011 1:00 pm (et) Clark Lobenstine: logs in on 12/1/2011 1:00 pm (et).
12/1/2011 1:00 pm (et) Moderator: Today, our topic is ‘Obstacles to Interreligious Dialogue,’ featuring Rev. Clark Lobenstine, Executive Director of IFC.
12/1/2011 1:00 pm (et) Moderator: As always, I would like to remind you of the rules of our engagement. This is a respectful place where we come together to learn more about the religions of the world. Whether you agree or disagree, we welcome your comments and questions that are posed in a respectful manner. Please no profane or offensive remarks, they will not be posted. Also, this is a place of learning, so please refrain from ‘soapboxing.’ If there are any issues or questions about this, they can be submitted along with the comments pertaining to our topic. I am here to make this a pleasant and educational experience for all, so enjoy and remember there are no stupid questions, just hostile ones!
12/1/2011 1:01 pm (et) Sheaya: private message to Moderator: logs in on 12/1/2011 1:01 pm (et).
12/1/2011 1:01 pm (et) Moderator: You can now view the beginning comments on the right. As you listen, please feel free to start sending questions or comments (YES, we want your comments). Also, the video will remain within the sidebar, so feel free to return to it as you wish. Our chat window automatically refreshes to keep the flow going, but if you wish to view the whole of the conversation, just hit the archive button. And lastly, PLEASE do not use double quotes as it leads to some issues.
12/1/2011 1:02 pm (et) RevMark2U: private message to Moderator: logs in on 12/1/2011 1:02 pm (et).
12/1/2011 1:02 pm (et) LGomez: private message to Moderator: logs in on 12/1/2011 1:02 pm (et).
12/1/2011 1:02 pm (et) Vikings: private message to Moderator: logs in on 12/1/2011 1:02 pm (et).
12/1/2011 1:06 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: What do you think makes people believe that their way is the only right way?
12/1/2011 1:06 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: You mentioned Scripture, but I also see a lot of sociological concerns at work as well, what do you think?
12/1/2011 1:07 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: Also, there are traditions such as Baha'i and even Sikh that seem more open to dialogue, what contributes to this?
12/1/2011 1:09 pm (et) Clark Lobenstine: Thanks, Susan for your initial three questions! I think that people believe that their way is the only right way for several reasons. The most important I believe is that persons are following the beliefs of others in their tradition whom they respect and believe are correct.
12/1/2011 1:10 pm (et) Clark Lobenstine: Let me say at the outset what may not have been clear in my comments. I do hope that you believe your way is the right way for you. But that is very different from saying it is therefore the right way for everyone else.
12/1/2011 1:11 pm (et) Clark Lobenstine: Yes, there are a variety of sociological factors besides Scripture that influence persons of diverse faiths. They can be important dimensions too.
12/1/2011 1:12 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Susan, there was a time when I was young, that I felt that my religion was the only right religion and everyone ought to be it. But now I realize that was strictly a matter of ignorance of other religions and an uninformed ASSUMPTION
12/1/2011 1:13 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: I think that is very true, I also think there is a difference in saying there is one way, and you should believe that yours is that way, while respecting that others feel the same about them...I mean in the end we're all in the same boat of not truly knowing with certainty
12/1/2011 1:13 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: Keeping that view of uncertainty I think helps maintain respect for everyone's convictions
12/1/2011 1:14 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Susan: I think newer religions like Baha'i and Sikh inevitably tend to end up more open to the views of others, if for no other reason than that these newer religions developed in a more globally aware time.
12/1/2011 1:14 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: I agree with Clark about people thinking there is only one way, and “I have it, and you need to learn it.” I think the obstacles get even more subtle, and the subtleties are important. Language is not neutral. It is full of cultural and often religious biases. It is structured in particular ways (subject-verb-object in the Americas and Europe compared to gerunds and gerundives in Asian countries). It is full of particular categories. Different languages have different degrees of nuance (more words for different kinds of snow in Alaska than in Texas), etc.
12/1/2011 1:14 pm (et) Clark Lobenstine: Some traditions may be or seem more open to persons of other faiths than other traditions. Yet I've experienced close minded persons, persons who know they have the right way for everyone, in many religious traditions.
12/1/2011 1:15 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: So it’s always vital to try to examine our assumptions and to remember that the dominator religion of our culture perceives the world differently than the dominator religion of another culture. So, I’ve noticed that dialogues in the U.S., where the various Christianities form the dominator religion, there’s often an assumption that people of other religions and cultures see the human condition as essentially broken and in need of salvation, usually (though not always) aiming toward some kind of perfect life after death. Sometimes U.S.ers then ask questions like (and I’m somewhat caricaturing), “How are people saved in your religion?”
12/1/2011 1:16 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: That's true though RevMark, so much of pluralist theology does focus in on that question, that concern for the afterlife
12/1/2011 1:17 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: Question is can we get rid of those assumptions?
12/1/2011 1:17 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Clark, Do you find that some people come into interfaith dialogue with ulterior motives? That they are really there to share their faith and convince others that they have THE Truth rather than being there to listen to others? How would you suggest that others deal with or respond to this when we discover that's what's going on? What do we say when, in the midst of dialogue, we feel that what is coming from another is an attempt at prosylytism? How can we respond to this RESPECTFULLY?
12/1/2011 1:18 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: Homestly, I feel as if I am of that mindset, what are some other things that dialogue can revolve around?
12/1/2011 1:18 pm (et) Moderator: Megan said: Some people have fears that interfaith dialogue means watering down one's faith. How much of an obstacle is this to interfaith dialogue, and how can one address it?
12/1/2011 1:19 pm (et) Clark Lobenstine: I think life after death is another issue on which our diverse religious traditions have varied answers. We may well not agree with another's perspective but its important to know what it is. I can remember speaking with a mother who was a Hindu in India whose approach to her son's very recent death in a motorcycle accident was very different than mine would have been.
12/1/2011 1:20 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: And there are those of us - most Unitarians, religious Humanists and Naturalists, Daoists - for whom there is no personal life after death. This life is IT!
12/1/2011 1:21 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: I think the key is well-formed questions.
12/1/2011 1:21 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: However, looking at the answer Clark and RevMark have said, I am still fitting it into my own view, thinking from my own view, can we get out of that? Or is it even necessary to do so? And if not, what are we doing in dialogue?
12/1/2011 1:22 pm (et) Clark Lobenstine: Yes, Laura. I agree that ulterior motives such as proselytism can definitely be barriers in interfaith dialogue. I would suggest that we state what we are experiencing -- that the other person is involved in this dialogue to convince us of the truth they are presenting. But doing so with 'I' statements makes a BIG difference in communicating respectifully
12/1/2011 1:23 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: And stating ground rules at the start, which Clark is excellent at doing.
12/1/2011 1:23 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: 'I feel' rather than 'you seem to be doing...'
12/1/2011 1:24 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: This is bringing to my awareness that people are at different levels when we come together to dialogue.
12/1/2011 1:25 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: To some, talk of
12/1/2011 1:25 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: To some, talk of 'what are our assumptions' will be pretty meaningful.
12/1/2011 1:25 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: To others, such talk will be nonsense.
12/1/2011 1:26 pm (et) Clark Lobenstine: Megan shared a frequent concern that interfaith dialogue is watering down our religious beliefs. A Muslim scholar, Dr. Sulayman Nyang, says that interfaith dialogue and interfaith collaboration are dilating our perspectives, not diluting them!
12/1/2011 1:26 pm (et) Jessica: private message to Moderator: logs in on 12/1/2011 1:26 pm (et).
12/1/2011 1:26 pm (et) Moderator: private message to RevMark2U: Double quotes don't allow for a clean post, please try to use single, thanks!
12/1/2011 1:26 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: I forgot that line of Sulayman's. Beautiful line.
12/1/2011 1:27 pm (et) Clark Lobenstine: I would add that a key to keeping interfaith dialogue from watering down our religious beliefs is to share where we may or do disagree with another rather than only focusing on where we think we hold the same or similar beliefs.
12/1/2011 1:27 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: RevMark, will you elaborate on that last comment about assumptions?
12/1/2011 1:27 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: Which one?
12/1/2011 1:28 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: Just that talk of assumptions is nonsense to some people, what do you mean?
12/1/2011 1:29 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Susan: you seem to be asking a tough question (re: getting out of our own mindset so as to dialogue with others who hold a very different perspective). I do not think we ought to feel that we need to 'get out of our own view'. I think what dialogue can do is help us to EXPAND our view, to realize that others do think or see things quite differently. Then, perhaps, we can ADD to rather than 'get out of' our view. Be able to place 'our own view' within a larger context. To compare and contrast it to the views of others.
12/1/2011 1:29 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: I mean it's senior high level stuff, if not college level - to know what an assumption is and to examine ones assumptions.
12/1/2011 1:31 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: Laura, that certainly makes sense, we are using language of assumptions, but it may be better cast as our worldview, which is intricately interwoven with who we are...
12/1/2011 1:31 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: RevMark: that is often hard to do (expecially for young people) since we often do not realize that our assumptions are just that - assumptions. It is, in fact, an assumption to think that our assumptions are not assumptions
12/1/2011 1:32 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: Bingo! Right on!
12/1/2011 1:32 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: More on assumptions: Take the question about personal salvation. That’s a question that somewhat makes sense to Muslims, I think. But it doesn’t make any sense to Jews. And it’s completely foreign in cultures like India’s and Japan’s where the dominator religions are Hinduism (so-called) and Buddhism-Shinto. Those cultures and dominator religions don’t conceive of humanity as fundamentally broken and in need of personal salvation. They are more likely to assume that life is a journey from a kind of hypnotic trance into higher “awakeness” (awareness), which one realizes through specific practices. So folks from those cultures-religions can make a different assumptive mistake and ask, “What are the practices by which your religion helps people to awaken to their true Selves?” Another case in point is this subtlety: When it’s said “There is only one way to God,” this leaves out a religion-culture in which there is no God (many forms of Buddhism, for example, and religious Humanism or Naturalism). Or the “study of our different scriptures” can overlook that “scriptures” have a different meaning and strength in Hinduism or Buddhism than in the 3 Abrahamic faiths, and religions like my own or like religious Humanism have no scriptures.
12/1/2011 1:33 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: What might they be if not assumptions? We take it for granted to be the truth. We assume something is the truth when we do not know any differently. Thus it comes back to a matter of simple ignorance.
12/1/2011 1:33 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: Loads of assumptions. But do I know they are assumptions?
12/1/2011 1:35 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: Here's what's forming in my mind, and I'll direct this question to Clark, because I believe you have done more dialogues with people who were at different levels of understanding. How do you manage that? When, say, you have 'graduate level' participants and 'simple believers?'
12/1/2011 1:35 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: And they're in the same group.
12/1/2011 1:35 pm (et) Clark Lobenstine: Interfaith Dialogue can help us understand that something we assumed everyone held to be true is not held by everyone, shattering one of our assumptions.
12/1/2011 1:36 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Another assumption that seems to be quite common amongst people who simply do not know otherwise, is that people in different relgions or different religions themselves, are quite different or even entirely different than our own.
12/1/2011 1:36 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: I just mean that even the assumption that RevMark mentioned, that life is broken and needs salvation is not only an assumption, but exactly how I view the world, so the assumption is perhaps that everyone sees it this way, but the content is really more of a worldview
12/1/2011 1:36 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: So maybe there is recognition that not everyone sees the world this way, but that does not change that I see it so
12/1/2011 1:37 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: I mean is that recognition enough of a bridge for dialogue?
12/1/2011 1:38 pm (et) Clark Lobenstine: But, Susan, that is a very important distinction and point of growth, I believe. Moving from the view/assumption that everyone believes X or Y to a point of understanding that I believe that and many others may believe that too, but not everyone believes that.
12/1/2011 1:38 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: I'm happy to call it either. What makes it an assumption is awareness. If I'm not aware this is one worldview and there may be others, I assume there is only one (my) worldview.
12/1/2011 1:39 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: Of course, my assumption is that there are several or many valid worldviews, with none privileged above the others.
12/1/2011 1:39 pm (et) Clark Lobenstine: Keep hold of what you believe hile opening yourself up to what others believe
12/1/2011 1:39 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Interesting that there are assumptions on both ends of the spectrum: that different people/religions do see things more differently than we do (entirely different concerns, categories, priorities) but also my earlier observation of the assumption that we are more different than we are
12/1/2011 1:39 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: RevMark, it seems we are back to where we began... the belief in only one right view
12/1/2011 1:40 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: as an obstacle
12/1/2011 1:41 pm (et) Clark Lobenstine: Mark, I'm not avoiding your question! Just getting sidetracked in this lively conversation! One way of working with persons who are coming from very different places/experience with interfaith dialogue is to have those who are more advanced sit together while those who are engaged perhaps for the first time sit in a different group. What else have you found helpful?
12/1/2011 1:41 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: sorry, my error: I meant the first assumption that other people DO see things the same way we do...
12/1/2011 1:42 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: So assumptions that are not recognize act as an obstacle? Am I getting the gist?
12/1/2011 1:42 pm (et) Clark Lobenstine: They certainly can act as an obstacle, Susan.
12/1/2011 1:42 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Susan, yes, I think that's it in a nutshell
12/1/2011 1:42 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: That's my gist, anyway.
12/1/2011 1:42 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: I can see that it casts people in a specific light, defining them in light of our own thoughts, instead of allowing them to define themselves
12/1/2011 1:43 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: Clark, I would agree ... a little segregation (at least temporarily).
12/1/2011 1:43 pm (et) Clark Lobenstine: I would certainly say AMEN to that, Susan
12/1/2011 1:44 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: I'm wondering if a kind of 'parable' approach isn't perhaps helpful.
12/1/2011 1:44 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: one the one hand, it is only natural for us to make assumptions (about all sorts of things) based on limited life experience. The more we dialogue, the more people we interact with, the more schooling we have, the more we come to recognize our past assumptions
12/1/2011 1:44 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: Bt allowing them to define themselves and comparing and contrasting within own worldview that we now recognize is helpful as it allows us to understand and grasp, so in the end once recognized those assumptions do help
12/1/2011 1:45 pm (et) Clark Lobenstine: One of the reasons the InterFaith conference successfully works with persons of such diverse faiths is that we are consistently letting people define themselves.
12/1/2011 1:45 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Mark, you are thinking of the parable of the blind men and the elephant?
12/1/2011 1:45 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: So, if I say, 'I bet you and your spouse have found yourselves thinking you were talking about the same thing and seeing it the same way, and then found out, 'Oops. No, we aren't on the same page at all!'
12/1/2011 1:46 pm (et) Clark Lobenstine: I got a call recently to speak on Islam to a youth group. I know a good deal about Islam, but responded out of our commitment that people define themselves. I found a Muslim who could speak on Islam.
12/1/2011 1:46 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: Hmm. Forgot about the blind men and the elephant. I think that one does speak to a lot of people.
12/1/2011 1:47 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: RevMark: the opposite is also true: we think we are talking about different things only to discover (through dialogue) that we are just using different language to talk about the SAME thing
12/1/2011 1:48 pm (et) Clark Lobenstine: And part of interfaith dialogue is understanding that within a faith tradition there are disagreements. The saying that if you have two Jews you'll have three opinions could be said of many other faiths as well.
12/1/2011 1:48 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: I am just trying to think along those lines Clark. It seems as if no one can learn a tradition other than their own, there could be no Muslim scholar of Catholic theology...
12/1/2011 1:49 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: I think the other very important thing is that we can't let these obstacles stand in the way. We really, really, really need to be aware of them. But we need to get down on the ground and get our knees and hands dirty.
12/1/2011 1:49 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: ah, yes Clark. That is another assumption that many of us have - the everyone in the same relgion holds to the same beliefs, values, practices, etc. InTRAfaith dialogue (as you mentioned)
12/1/2011 1:49 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: How do you suggest doing so RevMark? I mean how do we move beyond recognition to action?
12/1/2011 1:50 pm (et) Clark Lobenstine: There may be a Muslim scholar of Catholic theology, but its important he or she states who he or she is -- a Muslim scholar. We cannot speak as a practicing Catholic if we are not a Catholic who practices that tradition.
12/1/2011 1:50 pm (et) Clark Lobenstine: And obviously, even among Catholics who practice their tradition, there are important differences.
12/1/2011 1:51 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: I'm back myself to ground rules and setting the stage. One of my favorite lines of Clark's is the one about dancing in the dark. 'Inter-religious dialogue is like dancing in the dark. You are bound to step on your partner's toes at some point. So, partners, be ready to say, 'Ouch!' and dancers, be ready to say, 'I'm so sorry; please forgive my clumsiness.'
12/1/2011 1:52 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: I just worry that it makes too strong a delineation, I mean if we can't really know another tradition, then why participate? What is the advantage?
12/1/2011 1:52 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: There is something to be said for the 'outsider' as well as 'insider' perspective on any given religion. Sometimes the 'outsider' scholar will have a larger perspective but is not able to speak from the personal experience of an 'insider'. I think that both perspective are necessary for different purposes. Together they can give us a more complete perspective
12/1/2011 1:53 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: Back to the other, parallel, conversation. I agree. Sometimes 'the Other' sees many things about us that we don't see.
12/1/2011 1:53 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: That's a value of dialogue, too.
12/1/2011 1:53 pm (et) Clark Lobenstine: Its very helpful, I have found, for persons to know that Muslims believe or practice this and that Jews do that. And that is said as a Christian who is neither a Muslim or a Jew (or a Hindu or a Sikh)
12/1/2011 1:54 pm (et) Clark Lobenstine: Yeah, verily, Mark! sometimes the "other" can see things that we are blind to.
12/1/2011 1:55 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: It's just how close can we be to making the 'other' inclusive if we can't know them to the fullest extent? I don't mean in trying to make them like 'us' but accepting diversity into 'us'
12/1/2011 1:55 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Susan: in terms of 'we can't really know the other', There are ways to get closer to this knowing: experience. visit places of other religions, see what they do, get to know others as personal friends. It take courage and time to really get into it on a more personal level - on the level of experience rather than just intellectual knowlege.
12/1/2011 1:55 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: I like that King's Jamesish 'yay verily'
12/1/2011 1:56 pm (et) Clark Lobenstine: Could other participants summarize what obstacles of interfaith dialogue they have found, perhaps through this chat room?
12/1/2011 1:56 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: You know it shouldn't be so difficult to accept for me, I mean Mystery is a basic category to a Catholic!
12/1/2011 1:56 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: Yes, especially any lurkers.
12/1/2011 1:58 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Sometimes, people are shy to share. The dialogue lacks richness when some people just listen but do not speak their perspective
12/1/2011 1:58 pm (et) Moderator: Well, we have just a couple of minutes left, so please finish up any final thoughts! Thank you for a great discussion today!
12/1/2011 1:59 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: In general, I still use the metaphor of 'the opposable thumb,' that which makes us human, that which allows us to grasp things.
12/1/2011 1:59 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: Wrestling with these obstacles is a form of god-wrestling (the meaning of Yizrael, or Israel)
12/1/2011 1:59 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: How do we make the silent ones comfortable enough to jump into the dialogue more actively?
12/1/2011 2:00 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: And our differences can be appreciated as not only sometimes obstacles, but also as 'opposable' like our opposable thumbs.
12/1/2011 2:00 pm (et) Moderator: Megan said: Ummm well this isn't through the chat room, but I've found that, as a Christian learning about Islam, people tend to assume that my interest in better understanding another faith means I'm converting. And, of course, those who dislike it the most are my fellow Christians who think I'm treading on dangerous ground...
12/1/2011 2:00 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: Our differences allow us to grasp more of reality.
12/1/2011 2:01 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: That does seem to be an issue, but God-wrestling is a very important, again to grasp more of reality, but it has a strong basis in the Judeo-Christian tradition
12/1/2011 2:01 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: And the ineffable Mystery, the Source of all Life, shall remain un-nameable .
12/1/2011 2:01 pm (et) Moderator: RevMark2U said: Lao Tzu had that one quite right.
12/1/2011 2:01 pm (et) Moderator: Thank you for your participation today. Next week our topic will be ‘Religion in the Occupy Movement’ with Rev. Brian Merritt, IFC Board Member, hope to see you there! If you would like to contact or guest, please contact me at
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