admin 27 November, 2018 0

A Model For Christian Interpersonal Relationship Theology Religion Essay

There is no gainsaying that Christianity has a strong background in morality. What is not completely obvious and to which much scholarly work is being done and continue to be done is the extent of moral premium that Christians place on moral values of other religious traditions. This paper intends to show how such Christian claim inhibits profound interreligious dialogue. It argues that Christianity is not the sole custodian of morality. It is the view here that such Christian moral claims need not be necessarily placed as superior in dialogue with other religious traditions. Other religions have values from which Christianity could learn. Such disposition will create better ground for interreligious dialogue that enhances personal and interpersonal morality. The research shall be guided by the following: questions what moral values could be learned from religious pluralism? How does this help the Christian understanding of love, human dignity and Christian ethics? It is perceived that Christian moral interaction with other religions would certainly lead to increased religious vitality and would reduce perceived Christian arrogance and ignorance of other religious traditions. Overall, it is from this background that this paper will seek to interpret moral paradigm in religious pluralism.


The denial of religious pluralism is in a way an affirmation that there exist other religious traditions. Moreover, the postmodern age has brought a lot of innovations into the world. Among these innovations is the study of humanity and religion. It affirms the position that a realistic understanding of our contemporary contexts implies that religion is not one, but there are religions. Religion as a theological category must therefore open up dialogue with its environment and people. Reverend Marcus Braybrook affirmed that, “‘each faith has a precious gift to share with the world,’ because each conveys a message that is both unique and universal.” [1] This dialogue of theological experience must seek to address the people’s moral past, present, and their future in such a way that it will create vibrancy and meaning. Religion as theological category is not a historical narrative, it is a lived, living and yet to live history that should be context driven and able to accommodate other disciplines for its task and goal.

A realistic understanding of our contemporary contexts then will entail a reconstruction of religious moral principles as theological method and content, especially the period from Vatican II to date. These challenges will guarantee a constant shift in position in order to accommodate the growing demand and yearning of how these theological tasks could and should be engaged today. Relationship is important in religion; this is what makes religion meaningful to us. God himself exists in relationship. The relationship of the trinity is the essence of the God head. For religion of the Christian Church to remain relevant in the face of these challenges, it must open up itself to accommodate the different experiences that are involved in the process of interreligious dialogue.

Moreover, religious traditions of Africa, Asia and elsewhere are in no way inferior to the Abrahamic religions of which Christianity stands out as the main pillar. This is an affirmation to the fact that these religious traditions by their tenets have had enduring answers to the profound mysteries of the human condition. Moreover, in the context of religious plurality, dialogue as affirmed by pontifical council for interreligious dialogue: dialogue and proclamation entails, “all positive and constructive interreligious relations with individuals and communities of other faiths which are directed at mutual understanding and enrichment in obedience to the truth and respect for freedom.” [2] In line with this reflection, it means therefore that “these religious traditions should be approached with greater sensitivity on account of the spiritual and human moral values enshrined in them. They commend our respect because over the centuries they have borne witness to the effort to find answers to those profound mysteries of the human conditions.” [3] In affirmation, Cantwell reasoned, “the awareness of multiformity is becoming vivid and compelling.” [4] Moreover he argued, “We (Christians) have marched around aliens Jericos the requisite number of times. We have sounded the trumpets. And the walls have not collapsed.” [5] It means that those aliens too, have some values that have been fortifying their cities. Thus there is a need for Christians to engage these other religious groups in a meaningful dialogue to quell down the hostilities that separates them in their understanding of God. Wilfred Cantwell in his treatment of Religious pluralism outlined three problems that borders on comparative-religious study as intellectual, moral and theological.

The aim of this paper will be to treat the moral aspect and show that Christianity is not the chief custodian of morality. The argument will hold that other religious traditions too has some form of moral values of which Christianity could learn through the interpersonal relationship with such religions. The question would be what moral values could be learned from religious pluralism? How does this help the Christian understanding of love, human dignity (Christian ethics)? Interestingly, Mark Chaves &Philip S. Gorski asserts that “although religious pluralism is not identical with religious competition, pluralism has commonly been treated as an indicator of competition, and analyses of the relationship between religious pluralism and religious participation have been the primary source of evidence in favour of the idea that religious competition leads to increased religious vitality.” [6] Christian interpersonal relationship with other religions would certainly lead to increased religious vitality and would also reduce the Christian arrogance and ignorance of other religious traditions. This would promote a pluralist disposition rather than the often perceived exclusivist Christian attitude. Martin Buber spoke of the “the basic movement of the life of dialogue” as “turning towards the other.” [7] Without meeting face-to-face and entering into a conversation with an adversary on equal terms-subject to subject -the process of dialogue would be impossible. Jesus himself in conversation with the Samaritan woman insist that the time come when worship will not be restricted to any particular place, but when true worshippers will, “worship the father in spirit and truth”(Jn. 4.23). By this he opened up the horizons and avenues to grant credibility to all religions. Pope John Paul II, also give this express recognition of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the members of other religious traditions when he spoke of their, “firm belief” as being “an effect of the spirit of truth operating outside the visible confines of the mystical body” [8] A pneumatological perspectives and convictions seem to be the way forward in crafting a model for Christian interpersonal relationship with other religions. John Paul II in Redemptoris missio insists that “Spirit presence and activity are universal, limited neither by space nor time.” [9]

Because of scope and limitation, I will limit my analysis on Islam and African Traditional Religion. Although, I am also aware that even in ATR, there are several “African functionalist approach” to moral issues; however, I will limit my paper to Tiv religious practices as paradigms for interreligious dialogue.

The format shall be, Introduction, Overview of religious pluralism as Theological Enterprise (Vatican II to Date), Issues of morality as a theological task in today’s world, Exclusive Christian Morality, Moral paradigms in Islam , Moral paradigms in African Traditional Religion (ATR), Barriers to ethical relation between Christianity and other religions, and finally, a Conclusion/suggestions.

Overview of religious pluralism as Theological Enterprise (Vatican II to Date)

The period between Vatican II to date has brought a significant shift to the church’s understanding of herself to other religious traditions. This shift has also marked a turning point to issues of dialogue and appreciation of religious pluralism. Jacques Dupuis testify that,”the council’s perspective was pastoral rather than doctrinal.” [10] He argued, “the council quite deliberately had no intention of making such a choice.” [11] The intention, on the contrary, “was to rally the highest possible majority on the council floor in favor of a change of attitude of Christian, and the church toward the members of other religion.” [12] It was with this understanding that the Roman Catholic traditions saw the need to adopt theological reflection to local circumstances, began receiving official support with the Vatican II; where in the decree on the churches’ missionary activity (Ad Gentes no.22), [13] and also pastoral constitution on the church in the modern world (Gaudium et Spes no.2). [14] All of these documents show that such adaptation received explicit appropriation. In the subsequent years, the missionary theology of Pope Paul VI developed this thought, especially in his address to the Bishops of Africa in 1969 and in the apostolic exhortation, on evangelization in the modern world in 1975 ( Evangelii Nuntiandi no.2-3) [15] . Here the Pope insists that the church must strive to proclaim the gospel to all peoples, and to seek by every means to study how the church could bring the Christian message to modern man. The Pope expressly stated that, “the split between the gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time, just as it was of other times. Therefore every effort must be made to ensure a full evangelization of culture, or more correctly of cultures.” [16] All these efforts by the church were geared to show that morality as theological tasks and its engagement for today’s world demand a radical shift. Moreover, this shift that took place in the Roman Catholic Church during the Vatican II which addressed the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the modern world created a space for religious pluralism to flourish. This was started with the affirmation of the freedom of conscience and freedom of religions of all people by Pope John XXIII (Pacem in Terris) [17] and the acceptance of interreligious dialogue as an avenue for evangelization by Pope Paul VI (ecclesiam suam) [18] which became the road map for dialogue. Nostra Aetate [19] provided the shift in relation of the Church to non-Christian faith. It opens with acknowledging the common foundation of all religions (No. 1) , and it also affirms other religion as having doctrine, moral and sacred rites (No. 2). In essence, it affirms that no one religion has monopoly about human revelation and God. Marinus Iwuchukwu testifying to this position said, “Nostra Aetate presents a road map towards effective interreligious dialogue and a firm theological assumption of a de jure religious pluralism for the church and all Christians.” [20] Thus in the words of the Holy Father, Pope John XXIII, “it was time to open the windows of the church to let in some fresh air.” [21]

Consequently, John Paul II who came after these previous popes took this advice very seriously. In the pontifical council for Interreligious Dialogue: Dialogue and proclamation [22] , he reflected on orientation about interreligious dialogue and the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Redemptoris mission, [23] Pope John Paul II assures non-Christian of the love of God made manifest in Christ (No.3); raises questions and answers on the universal salvation in Christ (Inclusive pluralism) (No. 12-20). He also recognizes the Holy Spirit as the principal agent of mission (Nos.21-32). Marinus in his praise of John Paul’s II efforts argued that, “John Paul II, in his pontificate advocated better harmony and cordial engagements among world religions in search of a more peaceable world and he firmly believed in advancing the propagation of the gospel by engaging other religions of the world in healthy interreligious dialogue.” [24] This shift between Vatican I and II created a significant growth and development mostly in the Roman Catholic Church theology. As could be seen above, express indications of the church’s willingness to dialogue with other non-Christian religions became clear with post Vatican II. All these efforts are geared towards the church’s willingness to dialogue and appreciation of other religious moral values and traditions. Thus, “Vatican II became first in the conciliar history of the church to speak positively, albeit guardedly, about other religions.” [25]

On the contrary, this opening of the window seems only to be letting in little air into the church’s understanding of her faith in line with other cultures. The fact of religious pluralism de jure is yet to gain acceptance in the Christian church cycle. Their acceptance seems to be on the de facto levels. In practice, exclusivists and inclusivists approaches seem to be towering higher in the church than religious pluralism. Thus the contemporary theologians under the umbrella of post-colonial theologians are still knocking for the doors to be open as well. They insist that ‘system theology’ which was colored by Western ideology and categories must be decolonized and pluralized so that systematic theology will strive and flourish. In African and Islamic contexts, this flourishing could only be found through the model of inculturation (contextualization) and doctrines. It means that the basis for this shift must be built on the lived experience of the people, and not on church’s theological pronouncements. The church has done much in theory; but much needs to be done at practical level. Significant importance is the moral appreciation and values of other religious traditions. The church in many respects still sees herself as the sole custodian of morality, and other religious traditions have to learn from her. This kind of understanding is inimical to the true spirit of dialogue and religious pluralism. The church must open herself to learn from these other traditional moral values.

Issues of morality as a theological task in today’s world

In the light of the above, morality as a theological task has made it imperative that theology must develop large ears and open her eyes to the realities around. Realities that are born out of lived experience of a particular cultural context, and that theology must be decolonized in order to fit the pluralist project. Robert Young observes, “deconstruction’ is a deconstruction of the concept, the authority, and assumed primacy of, the category of ‘the west.” [26] Morality as Monolithic and monoculture context of the west which dominated the universalized approach to theology has become unproductive and meaningless to other cultural contexts. The contemporary theologians have become very critical of the ready-made theology of the west that was imported and transported to many cultures of the world. In place of the above, and the future of Christian morality, they propose two positions: “pluriversality and Identity” [27] . In praise of this position, Mignolo who is considered one of the leading figures of postcolonial thought said,

[t]he celebration of bi-languaging is precisely the celebration of the crake in the global process between local histories and global designs, between ‘mundialization’ and ‘globalization, from languages to social movements, and a critique of the idea that civilization is linked to the ‘purity’ of colonial monolanguaging. [28]

Here he explores further the colonial epistemic difference through the possibility of a bilingual or bi-langauging epistemology as the way forward in the study of theology in contemporary contexts. This project is vital because it will create location which is the production of moral knowledge, culture and religion. Thus for Mignolo, it means we have to speak from the colonial difference in order to give voice to the margins-subaltern voices through the process of bilanguaging (plurality). All his efforts were to create location and identity for local histories to become avenues for doing theology in contrast to global designs of the west. Closely related to the postcolonial thought are the liberation theologians. They understood theology not as self-transcendent, but as being in solidarity with the poor and the oppressed. In fact Liberation theology attributes a hermeneutical significance to the experience of the oppressed. This experience of oppression affects how morality is read, interpreted, and applied. The African theologian also is faced with the task of retrieving moral cultural values and interpreting them in the light of lived experience. Fiorenza maintained that this experience serves as “retroductive warrant.” [29] According to Fiorenza and Galvin, a ” warrant is retroductive to the extent that it offers the most feasible and comprehensive explanation of the phenomenon, accounts for unexpected and unanticipated phenomena, and enables the scientific endeavor to move on in practice.” [30] It was precisely from this background that Gustavo Gutierrez who is widely regarded as the father of Liberation theology kick-started the agitation to challenge theology on the plight of the poor and the oppressed. He rejects the idea that theology is a systematic collection of timeless and cultural transcending truths that remains for all generations. He concludes by saying that, “the attempt of Liberation theology to reflect on the experience and meaning of faith based on the commitment to abolish injustice and build a new society must be verified by the practice of that commitment itself.” [31] Thus he warns that “liberation theologians must be careful not to fall into an academic self-satisfaction of acquiring ‘new’ vision of Christianity.” [32] Segundo who came after him, became more systematic in treating this matter. He took off to free the subject matter through the instrument of “Hermeneutical cycle.” [33] In his words, “Hermeneutical cycle is a way of ushering in theology that would take their cue from flesh-and-blood of human beings to fashion the kingdom of God out of the human materials of our great but oppressed continent.” [34] He questions the absolutist position of faith, he contends that the whole concrete content of faith and all the attitudes and beliefs in which it is embodies are dependent on the relative context in which they occur. For him, “the problem of Catholic theology begins when one tries to define the precise content of these revelatory processes.” [35] He maintains that Christian option does not absolutize a value or a doctrine but rather it is an educational process dealing with values. All these efforts are to promote universal salvation in Christ as against there is no salvation outside the church “extra ecclesiam nulla Salus” that was previously held by the church. This made the church to shift her position about human salvation. All these efforts are not to promote ‘religious indifferentism’ or ‘syncretism’ but to promote inclusivist pluralist understanding of religions.

Exclusive Christian Morality

The fact that all humans are created in the image and likeness of God, makes all humans morally good. Exclusive Christian stand on morality therefore does not make her position supreme. It means that Christian morality by itself cannot define adequately the moral view of a pluralistic world. Right of existence of other religions, morality and religious values must to a very large extent have to contribute and compliment Christian moral values in a way of interpersonal relationships. Peter phan in his celebrated book affirms this when he said, “being monoreligious is going to become ever rarer in postmodern age.” [36] He insists that, “Instead, migration, globalization, and postmodern thought have created a situation where boundaries are porous and most people will be genuinely religious only if they live interreligiously.” [37] Basic to postmodernist epistemology, Phan insist “is respect for and celebration of particularity and “otherness” in all dimensions of human life, from race and ethnicity to gender to religion to culture. Diversity and plurality, which otherness implies, are seen not as curses to human flourishing to be exorcised or as threats to human unity to be suppressed.” [38] Thus he opined that culturally, socially and religiously, “church must not only respect but also incorporate into its own life and worship the teachings and practices of other religions in order to be enriched and transformed by them.” [39] Edward Schillebeeckx, a Dutch theologian, in his understanding of religious pluralism and dialogue asserts that,

Because modernity has given rise to multiplicity of world-views and institutions, and it is no longer the case that one, specifically Christian, view of the world is given social endorsement, the world has become a kind of market place in which different and divergent views of the world and mankind are on sale, from which one can choose. [40]

For him, “the problem is no longer the one formulated at the level of the earlier awareness of the problem: Is Christianity the one true religion, or is it a better religion than all the rest? … The problem rather is how can Christianity maintain its own identity and uniqueness and at the same time attach a positive value to the difference of religions in a non-discriminatory sense?” [41] Thus he argued that it was not possible that any one religious tradition or faith could exhaustively accommodate all that is good and valuable from God. His religious pluralism seems to be theocentric. God is the center and all other religions participate in his being with equal proportion for their being and goal. No religious tradition can claim monopoly of God’s knowledge and participation. He concludes that “multiplicity of religions is not an evil which needs to be removed, but rather a wealth which is to be welcomed and enjoyed by all.” [42] He affirmed “[t]here is more religious truths in all the religions together than in one particular religion.” [43] Thus he affirms the need for dialogue and even incultulation.

Moral paradigms in Islam

The quotation of Aliosa Inyumba, former head of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, Kigali, September, 2006, aptly describe the importance of dialogue. This has addressed the conflict between Christianity and other religions. He said, “[I] it is a very difficult thing to enter into dialogue with someone who has no respect for you as a person, being quite happy to see you dead. And yet without renewed dialogue, you cannot put an end to the suspicion that perpetrates the conflict.” [44] Christianity has over the years occupied the position that it is the only religion that has all answers on issues of morality. African Traditional religion and Islam have been branded as religious groups that have only to learn about morality of Christian tradition. This is an erroneous and ill-informed conception. That fact remains a closer study of these two religious traditions also revealed that Christianity also has a lot to learn from them on moral matters. John B. Cobbs and Ward M. McAfee attests that “it is possible for Christians to learn from other religious traditions and their wisdom. And that it is also possible to formulate the Christian faith in the light of what they learnt from other religions.” [45] Christians are called to rethink their faith in the light of the challenges posed to them by other traditions. In the light of these, dialogue becomes inevitable. The emphasis is not to reject what is distinctive in the Christian message but to “enrich one another through our differences.” [46]

In his treatment of Christianity and Islam McAfee argues that both Christianity and Islam have much in common. To him, both traditions proclaim one God and share insights on communal values (life of prayer and practice). Both “teach common humanity and respect for it.” [47] To this he affirms that “traditions no longer have the luxury to refuse invitation to dialogue.” [48] He insists that “we must develop the wisdom to see both what Christianity and Islam share in common and areas where we must agree to disagree.” [49] McAfee is of the opinion that “we need a better theology capable of both encouraging peaceful dialogue and resisting our own assumptions that we should dominate.” [50] He advised for the removal of log in one’s eyes before seen the splinter in the other. He cautioned that violence should not be associated with Islam alone, historically, “‘each of these three faith traditions’ was birthed in a time of great social upheaval.” [51] Christianity is not immune to history of violence; it has its fair share of religious and social upheavals of its time. Overall, McAfee concludes that the Christian self-righteousness and contempt for Islam is profoundly inappropriate.

Moral lessons that could be shared between these religions are based on the fact that “[t]he message of Muhammad’s revelations was one of both divine authority and social justice.” [52] The social justice issues dominated the teaching of Islam as propounded by Muhammad. Islam egalitarian is underwritten by the hajj, the annual pilgrimage of Muslims to Mecca. McAfee explained, “on this pilgrimage, each Muslin is to be clothed in a simple white garment so as to eradicate any and all distinctions during this holy congregating of the Muslim community.” [53] Moreover, the message of Jesus was one of radical equality and so was the tendency of Muhammad’s reform in his time and place.

Another great moral lesson Christian could learn from their Muslim brethren is the moral character of the jihad. Jihad is the most misunderstood word in the Muslim faith, however, it has a moral lesson if properly understood. John W. DE Gruchy contests that “[t]he origin of jihad is the need to establish an egalitarian and just political orde


I'm Moses!

Would you like to get a custom essay? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out