I'm on Rajiv Malhotra's email list and received a link to this article today (excerpted):

"Given the power of the Vatican, the choice of a new pope will impact people of all faiths, not just Catholics. Whenever there is a change of national leadership in the USA, China, Russia or other large country, it gets discussed and debated by people of all countries because it impacts everyone. Unfortunately, the discussions surrounding the change of the pope have been largely limited to the internal issues within the Catholic Church. I'd like to argue that this transition into a new papacy presents a historic opportunity to change the world in a significant way for the better. All of us, including non-Christians, are stakeholders in this conversation.

Specifically, it would be a watershed event if the new pope would reorient the Church's policy towards other faiths, and implement this change in the structure and practice of the Church. Thus far, the most generous official posture of the Vatican towards non-Christians has been laid down in the "Lumen Gentium," a doctrinal statement emerging from the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). This document, now part of the official teaching of the Church, makes a rather grudging and highly qualified concession to other faiths. It says that God is the Savior who wills that all men be saved, and then it makes the following patronizing statement: "Those also can attain to salvation who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience."

This statement has not improved interfaith relations on the ground, for three reasons. Firstly, Lumen Gentium does not recognize non-Abrahamic faiths such as Hinduism to be worthy of respect as equals; it merely recognizes that all men as individuals do have conscience. Also, it presupposes the Christian view that the human condition requires "salvation."

Secondly, the teachings of the Second Vatican Council suffered a big setback when Cardinal Ratzinger (who later became Pope Benedict) issued an updated doctrine called "Dominus Jesus." This edict clarified that the "truth of other religions" was limited compared to Catholicism, and no others could be considered on par with it. This rejection of genuine pluralism implies that other faiths can help prepare a person up to a point only, while the Church alone can fully implement religious truth, its doctrines taking precedence over all others wherever there is discrepancy. This posture allows many churchmen to speak from both sides of their mouths. It means that other faiths' legitimacy depends on the extent to which they can be mapped onto Catholic dogma about the nature of the human problem ("sin") and the nature of the solution ("salvation through Jesus"). (See my earlier blog, "Tolerance isn't good enough.")

Thirdly, there is no Church mandate or structure in place that would allow for such a significant change of attitude. Such a shift would have to entail, among other things, the denunciation of aggressive and manipulative missionizing of the sort that tells people they are "going to hell" if they are not Christians. (According to many Catholic views, some of them still held, all one billion Hindus and Buddhists -- yes, even Gandhi and the Buddha and all the dharma saints and sadhus, parents, ancestors and children -- have followed a "false" faith, the consequence of which is eternal damnation in hell's inferno.) The new pope should reject the right and competence of any religious body to pass such sweeping judgment on other faiths..."

(Continued)

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Somehow, I am on Rajiv Malhotra's email list too -- not sure how that happened! 

I suppose I could send a response to him -- if I did, I might say something along these lines:

--In Catholicism, the pope/church hierarchy is not really the best place to look for true interreligious dialoguers. I wish it were otherwise. Look instead to people like Hans Kung, Meg Funk, Thomas Keating, Gregory Baum, Anthony de Mello (oops, dead) Beatrice Bruteau, Wilkie Au, and so on. 

--I'm sure it happens somewhere, but I have yet to hear of Catholic missionaries in the 21st century who aggressively proselytize and tell people that they are going to eternal hell if they are not Christians. Despite any contradictory assertions Pope B. has made, this is not Church teaching. The Encyclopedia of Catholicism notes, for example, that "Heaven means to be finally and completely drawn out of oneself in love; hell means to be utterly absorbed and trapped in oneself." Hell is defined more as a state of being, and not a final and eternal place of "deserved" punishment (although one's will is free to resist and remain ultimately closed to love...) Also:  "the Church .... has never affirmed that there is, in fact, a single human being in hell."

--I agree with a lot of is said here (in Rajiv's post), but there is something about the argument that undermines itself. There is a hint of "why can't Catholicism and the other Abrahamic religions approach the different faiths in the way that Hinduism does?" IOW: Why can't "they" be more like "me?" And yet a main complaint is that "they" (the C.Church) is expecting everyone else to be more like -- or to actually be converted to -- its particular idea of "salvation."

Hi, Mary,

Good points.  It would certainly be ideal if the leadership of the Catholic Church could embody the best elements in it (at least, those elements in it that I think are best!) -- meaning its more progressive, ecumenical, contemplatively oriented, and socially conscious currents, embodied by some of the folks you mention here.  But it doesn't look likely for that to happen.  But to emphasize the positive:  For its best interreligious dialoguers, you should also include Panikkar, of course -- no longer alive, either, but he left a great legacy on which others can still draw.  (He may also be more appealing to Malhotra, since he is also part-Indian, and Malhotra seems quite conscious of his ethnicity).

On your second point, I've been doing some dialoguing and reading online, and it seems to me there definitely still are very conservative Catholics out there who believe in a literal hell, who reject Vatical II as a seriously wrong step, and who believe in aggressive proselytization.  (I've spoken personally to some who laugh at the online "Catholic Encyclopedia" as biased and an unreliable source of Catholic doctrine).  But fortunately, the church is big enough, and diverse enough, to entertain multiple orientations, including those that I believe both of us find most nourishing and instructive.

On your third point, yes, I agree.  It's a bit hard for him to make the argument he does, the way he does, and not undermine himself.  Even though I agree with his sentiments: I wish a Vatican III would come, going even farther in the direction of honoring genuine religious pluralism than Vatican II attempted or realized.

Best wishes,

B.

Panikkar: Most certainly! (I was thinking off the top of my head of folks who were alive, but yes: some of our best dialoguers have passed on -- or are about to . . . )

True, there are very conservative Catholics who believe in a literal hell and who oppose Vatican II. (I'm chuckling at their complaints about the online Catholic Encyclopedia, which strikes me as fairly traditional and conservative...) I don't think they are representative of Catholics (in the west, at least), who generally tend toward the moderate. Sometimes I think that those who feel more threatened by change are overrepresented online and in the media -- as with fundamentalist Christians, they scream louder (and more often) and thus garner more attention. But part of that is simply what I see with my admittedly heretical eyes...

As for the diversity of the world-wide church: I remember a talk at a conference by a moderate-liberal Vatican reporter, John Allen Jr., who pointed out that us U.S. Catholics have a pretty skewed view of things. Catholicism is spreading in third-world regions, among people who often take highly traditional/literal -- and frequently magical -- approaches to spirituality. A literal hell, and other mythic notions, holds significance for them -- despite what contemporary theology and doctrine say. If I am to accept KW's notion of the "conveyor belt" (which still resonates with me), I have to hold a space for these literalist perspectives. At any rate, one of Allen's main points was that the moderate-to-progressive American Catholics attending his talk were very much a numerical minority in the world-wide Church. Something we western first-worlders often forget. 

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