For the past several months I’ve had the distinct pleasure of witnessing a close friend rediscover the beauty of the Catholic Church. At one time he described himself as a mix between an agnostic and an atheist, so his reversion to the Church in December of 2011 is nothing less than a miracle. We’ve had many conversations over those six months but the topic we’ve grappled with the most in recent weeks is the issue of interfaith dialogue.
Nowadays, almost every university, publically owned company and nonprofit organization has some type of mission statement that includes the words “diversity,” “tolerance,” and “inclusion.” These are not inherently troublesome ideas, but, as Allan Bloom notes in “The Closing of the American Mind,” when these values become the pre-eminent virtues of society, we’ve reached a very dangerous point in human history.
Take President Obama’s decision to support same sex marriage. Although his progressive values ostensibly restrict him from actuating public policy based on the teachings of his Christian faith, he came to the conclusion that gay Americans should be able to marry because the Golden Rule compels us to love thy neighbor as thyself.
There’s been a tidal wave of commentary devoted to demonstrating how the president’s understanding of the Golden Rule is philosophically incoherent, but Carson Holloway, in a post for Catholic Vote not long ago, debunked his position better than most. He writes:
To be of any use as a moral guide, the Golden Rule must presuppose some known, objective standard of morality…If it does not, then it would lead to obviously ridiculous outcomes. In the absence of such a moral standard, the Golden Rule would require me to help the depressed person commit suicide. After all, I’m supposed to do to others what I would want them to do to me.
The President wants to “do unto others” with regard to gays who want to marry. But what about all the other people — equally human beings — who oppose same-sex marriage? Doesn’t the Golden Rule require the President to treat them as they would wish to be treated, and to join with them in rejecting same-sex marriage?
As my born again Catholic friend mentioned to me not long ago, it seems that we now elevate our love for our neighbor above our love for God. In other words, we value interfaith dialogue more than intra-faith dialogue.
Marcello Pera, an Italian philosopher and President of the Italian Senate from 2001 to 2006, wrote about the purpose of interfaith dialogue in a 2006 book called “Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Islam.” “In the Christian religion,” Pera writes, “dialogue cannot be an instrument for the discovery of truth, because Revelation plays that role.” However religious dialogue does have two important functions: it allows “for believers of various faiths to communicate and foster understanding; and to preach, spread, and advance the [Gospel].”
To be sure, Pera adds, dialogue can promote brotherhood, tolerance and peace, but these “’are secularizing values,” and “Christian evangelism does not preach secularism.” It preaches transcendence, “the unique, sole, true transcendence.”
Pera’s views are important to understand, and they invite a larger question: how much should the Church be willing to collaborate with other religions? After all, Pope Benedict has already written that ““interreligious dialogue in the strict sense of the word is not possible.”
Stephen Kokx is an adjunct professor of political science and a featured columnist at RenewAmerica.com. Follow him on twitter @StephenKokx