Faith in dialogue
I’ve been reflecting for some time on the importance of understanding what we and others believe. This latter part has become more important as I met with Jehovah’s Witnesses for over a year and have recently started meeting with members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). Couple this with my recent visit to a mosque, and one thing is very clear in my mind.
Before we can even begin to claim one another’s beliefs are ‘false’ we need to get rid of our own ‘false beliefs’ about each other. So often those from different faiths or sects have a certain viewpoint about what each other believe. If a person of that faith was told what we think they believed, they might be most indignant! It is impossible to have a genuine and helpful debate about something when both parties are consistently misunderstanding each other.
This is why I think we need first to start promoting dialogue with the express intention of understanding the beliefs of the other individual. I say individual because within every faith will be a whole array of personalities, groups and interpretations. We would not want to be identified with everyone who labels themselves ‘Christian’ – why should it be different in any other faith?
Telling someone what they believe is never helpful. Asking someone what they believe gives them the opportunity to correct any misunderstandings, explain any terminology (we often use the same words but mean different things!) and give you sense of what he or she believes on an individual personal level. Even within a very strict framework, that person will still have his or her own unique slant.
- Never assume you know what someone else believes.
- Every one will be different.
- An enormous amount can be gained from simply enabling each other to explain our faith and why we believe it without any agenda except for that explanation.
- By ensuring we do this before anything else, we can provide an atmosphere of trust and honesty which allows for debate and disagreement without building on misunderstanding.