An important tool which is very important to the realization of a healthy religious interaction among various religious worldviews as we have in our contemporary realities is the tool of a proper religious dialogue.
For Christians in a pluralistic society like Nigeria, religious interaction with other religious worldview is inevitable. One of the major feature of the Nigeria society since its inception is its pluralistic nature that is Nigeria is a multi-faith society. This implies that within the Nigerian setting, we have more than one faith. Apart from the Christian faith, we have the Islamic faith and the African Traditional Religion.
Arising from this is the daily communication or interaction among people of various religious faiths, with each coming either through commerce, politics, Education etc. with their respective religious identity which is an inseparable part of their lives. And it manifests either consciously or unconsciously in their dealings. It is the aim of this discourse to examine the various principles that can be employed from the Christian perspective for a successful dialogue.
WHAT IS DIALOGUE?
Inter religious dialogue is a challenging process by which adherents of differing religious traditions encounter each other in order to break down the walls of division that stand at the center of most wars.
In other words, inter religious dialogue which can also be regarded to as interfaith dialogue, is about people of different faith coming to mutual understanding and respect that allows them to live and cooperate with each other in spite of their differences.
Thus from these aforementioned of what religious dialogue is, it can be objectively agreed that inter religious dialogue is the coming together of the worshipers of different religions to deliberate on some certain agreed issues.
THE NEED FOR RELIGIOUS DIALOGUE
The primary aim of religious dialogue is peace, inasmuch as religion in the layman words is nothing but a tool employed by man to access the spiritual, recognizing a supreme being wholly greater than him, whom he renders reverence and support to in act of worship and submission, which also influence his daily interaction with the people around him and his physical environment.
Other need for religious dialogue are highlighted below
- To break down stereotypes which block meaningful human interaction.
- To foster mutual understanding of the theological, sociological, political, and personal assumptions which motivate dialogue participants.
- To promote reconciliation in those areas where misunderstandings and divisions exist, or when apparently irreconcilable differences emerge, at least to develop further understanding and mutual respect.
- To appreciate dialogue as an end in itself, this informs the understanding and behavior of participants in other contexts.
- To seek to persuade dialogue partners of the validity of their respective viewpoints on selected issues.
THE DIALOGUE BETWEEN CHRISTIANITY, ISLAM AND AFRICAN TRADITIONAL RELIGION
In the history of Nigeria since it attained the state of a full-fledged nation upon its amalgamation in the year 1914, the Christian religion, Islam faith have both found their way into the religious space of the nation, though a long time before 1914.
Meeting the pre-existing religion in Nigeria, which is the African Traditional Religion, which has been in existence since time immemorial.
These three religions have found space to thrive and evolve in the hands of Nigerians, with its respective adherents holding on firmly to his/her religion.
Noticeable among these three religions is the huge difference between them especially in their doctrinal features.
These differences are the vital thread that gives these individual religion identities, making them different from one another. These doctrines are jealously guarded and revered.
Thus the bid to uphold the tenets of these religions between these three different religions in Nigeria has created a great deal of tension and unrest in the Nigerian society.
Lives and properties have been lost, development of the areas affected set aback by decades.
These incidences are regarded as ‘Religious Conflicts’ they occur when dialogue and understanding has broken down between the adherents of the religious purview in a society.
Examples of these religious conflicts in Nigeria are the 1980 religious crises in Zaria, the 2002 Maitatsine riot in Kano, Bulumkutu in Maiduguri in 1982 and the long seemingly unending Boko Haram insurgency which has led to the wanton destruction of lives and properties in Nigeria.
These ugly occurrences are the result of a healthy religious interaction in the society which could have been avoided through a rigorous but carefully organized process of religious dialogue.
PRINCIPLES OF RELIGIOUS DIALOGUE: A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE.
Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the lord, ‘Hebrews 12; 14
Quoted above is a portion of the Holy Bible which is the Holy Scripture of the Christian faith. The quoted scriptural verse found in the book of Hebrews 12; 14 is clear expression to the adherents of the Christian faith to always be at peace with ‘all men’. The use of ‘ALL MEN’ is a straight and intentional instruction given unto them. Not only with their brothers in the faith, but also with other men of different religious beliefs and codes.
Listed below are the principles, which are guidelines for an effective religious dialogue, from the Christian perspective.
It is often assumed by Christians that religious identity and openness to a pluralistic world are in opposition to each other. Those with a strong sense of their Christian identity necessarily affirm this identity as exclusive of other religion. Most Christian’s identity means knowing Christianity alone as the one true religion, hereby they think the more one is open to the possibility of truth in other religions, the weaker one’s own Christian identity becomes.
In contrast to this notion, the more one is clear about what is normative for one a Christian, the more one can also open to the truth in other religious perspective.
The concept of Openness is very critical and essential in religious dialogue, this enable the parties involved to see beyond sentiments with an opened and object mind, bounded by one common goal, which is peace and peaceful coexistence.
This is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing, it is the ability to put oneself in the shoes of others. Without empathy we will lose our moral compass in religious dialogue, this goes a long way in helping us understand the grievances of the other faith, hence helping us understand the need for peace and a mutual agreement.
This is another key principle which Christians must embrace in the process of religious dialogue with other faith. They must not come with the view of undermining the belief of others, even when it is not in tandem with their, but they must respect them. This gives room for a calm and organized atmosphere.
This is the golden rule in the Christian faith, ‘Do unto others what you want them do unto you’ When this rule is properly embraced by both side, a positive and healthy religious interaction is inevitable. This is because both parties are mindful of the need to be morally upright in their activities towards one another of the other faith.
This is being sensitive to the similarities and the differences among dialogue participants. One of the purposes of dialogue is to break down over-simplified understanding about the group with which one is engaged in dialogue.
The need for an healthy religious dialogue is very important in a multi-faith society like Nigeria. Religion is a very important feature of humans which when wrongly employed can be volatile in nature. Thus for the effective co-existence of people of different faith in a pluralistic society, it is quite important that the principles of dialogue as mentioned and explained above are duly utilized.
- Buddhist-Christian Studies 25.29-40. https;//muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed July 23, 2019)
- Rosale Chan,’Empathy a belief and an instinct ‘,https;//www.digital.olivesoftware.com/Olive/ODN/SAENWeelies/shared/showArticle.aspx?doc
- Sandi Fults,’What is Interreligious dialogue?, http;//www.coistine.ie/what-is-interreligious-dialogue.
- Ushe Mike, ’Religious Conflict and Education in Nigeria; Implications for National Security’. Journal of Education and practice.Vol 6,No 2. School of Arts and Social sciences, National Open University, Lagos.
- Ruether Rosemary 2005,’Religious Identity and Openess in A pluralistic world; A Christian view.’