Through a recent dialogue I have been having online (with someone who is trying to convert me to their world view) – I have more clearly got an idea for what I think is a more helpful mindset and approach to intercultural or interfaith communication. It is a sensitive issue, and I am sure I have made tons of mistakes already in my attempts to build trust and collaboration among different people – so I am very curious what your thoughts are too.
The ideal in my mind is if people go into a situation/conversation/collaboration with the idea that the two or more people (with different perspectives and from different backgrounds) can come up with a better solution than either could on their own. So, in practical terms, that Africans and Europeans, Chinese and Americans, Mormons and Catholics, Muslims and Hindus, Men and Women, etc., etc., etc. (or any number of combinations) working together could come up with a better overall solution than either could on their own.
I now realize that some things help foster the effective collaboration of people with different perspectives, while other things make it very difficult. I’m curious what you think too.
Here is just one thought –
What to do: If the situation is set to invite each person to go into the conversation looking for what the strengths of the other persons perspectives are, and searching for how the best in what the other person believes/perceives can be utilized to the overall benefit of the relationship – that seems to help inspire trust and make for healthy productive collaborations – where a lot of open and interesting learning and innovation can occur.
What not to do: If, on the other hand, either party begins the conversation by feeling it their duty to try and prove something (either the superiority of their own perspective or the faults in the other persons perspective) – assuming the world would just be better if everyone saw things the same way that they did – I think this pushes the conversation into a situation that is less than helpful. I think it is very helpful and healthy to talk about differences and alternative perspectives (especially after a core of trust and respect has been established) – but this ethnocentric/condescending approach (consciously or unconsciously assuming the world would be better if everyone saw things the same way as you) seems to:
- – push the conversation into defensive mode, where each party begins to look for the flaws and holes in the others approach/perspective,
- – closes off the participants to a greater richness of life that comes from seeking to learn, love, and listen, with no strings attached.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree/disagree?
What do you think helps for the most productive interfaith/intercultural communication and collaboration?
Nah. When you’re right, you’re right, and other people need to be enlightened. Just kidding.
Growing up outside of Utah I had plenty of opportunities and experiences where I needed to explain and/or defend my faith to people unfamiliar with my beliefs and talk with others about theirs–falling both into your “what to do” and “what not to do” categories.
The difference between the two experiences, I think, lies in a person’s underlying beliefs. People can feel when they’re talking to someone with a sincere interest in them, who values their opinions, thoughts and experiences, who has a deep respect for their beliefs, and a curiosity about their life. There is a difference between a deeply founded acceptance of differences, and an attitude of tolerance. I’ve seen tolerance sure resemble something a lot like pathetic patronization (even this week in an institute class), which I believe is a form of pride and thinly-veiled self-promotion. Perhaps, recognizing our humanity, there are times when toleration of another person or their choices is as high as we can expect a particular relationship to reach. But I believe the higher feeling would be one of true acceptance of another person. And I believe that is a personal decision to be made (or state of becoming) before the other person even opens their mouth. It has nothing to do with who the other person is or what they believe or choose to do, and everything with ourselves. And, in my own contradictory opinion here, has everything to do with our relationship with God. (Yes, not everyone believes in God. This isn’t a flawless opinion yet…but give me a second, I’m still thinking.)
What I have come to know and understand so far in my journey to know my God, can be summed up in one word that is every bit of Him: Love. God is Love. Everything He has done is for our ultimate happiness and salvation. I am glad to know that God is the judge, and I am not. I am relieved that He commands us to simply love each other, and leave the weighing of our circumstances and choices up to Him! When our knowledge of Him increases, so does our capacity to love others. It shines in our countenances. It is somehow radiated through us to others. They feel it, and they see His love in our interactions with them. And even glaring differences are put into perspective and in spite of them, conversation can be progressive and positive, and relationships can be fulfilling and enduring.
I’m far from pro at this. But in theory, and in a nutshell (though a big nutshell for a blog) this is what I believe.
Oh, last thought. There are things I don’t tolerate and can’t accept. Though I think I should try to accept the fact that that person has their own God-given agency. But I contradict myself again, because I do believe there are things and people that really do have to be stopped. (Hmm. I don’t think I cleared anything up. =o) )
I think you make a good point here. I too have found that in international and intercultural fora it’s always a bit awkward when people try to convince other people about the righteousness, justness, or moral superiority of their own beliefs. It’s a discussion stopper. (Except for those who hold the same beliefs.)
aha. you ask a question that i feel like i’ve been spending a lifetime trying to answer. and i think we talked about this the other day – you mentioned this post.
hmm. i think rather than answering now my friend – i’m going to sit on this a bit and challenge myself to come up with something novel.
but here. i’ll say this. i agree with VeNicia about God. last Sunday (Fast Sunday) i got up to bear my testimony again. i talked about my trip to Palestine and some of the challenges I think i’ll face – most of which revolve around this very question. so how to approach it? what is the mindset i need to carry? i need to remember that we are all children of God. the Israeli’s, Palestinians, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Wiccans, UU’s, Hindus, Atheists, Agostics. now i know that not all members of those religions believe in God like i do, but that’s okay. it’s my view and it’s within myself that i hold it – i don’t have to tell them that’s how i am viewing them. if i can look at an Israeli soldier who is harassing an innocent Palestinian and remember that s/he is a child of God, or if i am witness to a suicide bombing or rock throwing by Palestinians and remember that they are children of God then I am automatically in a different space. again – i agree with VeNicia here – God is Love. if i can walk into a situation loving someone because they are – like me – children of God then i am automatically in that better space of viewing them with love, and hopefully respect as well. i just need to make sure i remain grounded there during the heat of things – if they get there.
but there is so much more. so so much more. and that- that is where i want to chew for a bit and try to think of something novel. maybe there isn’t anything novel – but i need to push myself to keep thinking about this topic in new and better ways.
thanks for continuing to ask the hard questions. at least i believe they are hard. i struggle with them in my own self every day. how do i pull this off, with grace? when backed into a corner how can i stay in a space of love, and without judgement?
i’ll shut up now – because as you know, i think about this all the time. i could write pages just on chewing on the topic.
Thanks for all your comments so far – I really enjoy reading them, and they get me to think a little deeper.
Yes, I think every major belief system has an internal logic structure that basically proves itself right (and often at the same time proves others wrong) – but it is important to recognize that even if you explain your internal logic in detail to others, there is still a significant chance that they will not buy into it – because of different priorities, starting points, logic, perspectives, etc. In many cases (barring cases like Nazi Germany or other emotionally or physically violent situations), it seems that much better than trying desperately to prove yourself right – is to learn from and live with the strengths that can come from a richness of differences.
So, for now, I separate the type of differences/disagreements into two categories.
1 – The Golden Rule is universal. If things are being done which are self-serving for one group which seem to be inflicting harm on another group, this needs to be addressed, and I would take a stand against it. These situations usually arise from fear and a scarcity mindset that requires people to think in terms of win-lose (either I win and you lose or you win and I lose). Gandhi did a great job of addressing these situations with power, conviction, peace, unyielding determination, respect and love.
2. There are genuine difference, however, between people who are honestly trying to do good in the world (even when both have selfless, altruistic motivations), and I think these differences stimulate way too much conflict when I think they could rather be the starting point for sparking something really positive and synergistic.
I believe in the abundance mindset (i.e. there is enough and to spare for everyone – and that we can work in a way that promotes win-win). That the result of the collaboration between different people can be better than the isolated solutions that either party could come up with on their own.
It has been fascinating to me (and also sometimes strikes me funny) as I have traveled the world to see how something that was so “logical” to a certain people was exactly the opposite for another group. (And – if the beliefs/logic of a different perspective is not unhealthy or dangerous in some way to minorities or weaker groups – I personally think this can be a great thing, which can spark richer consciousness and even new innovations)
I also agree that there has to be space to talk about differences in a healthy safe way, based on trust and respect (if at all possible). I was surprised, for instance, how often this friend, which I mentioned, in trying to “convert” me would make claims about my belief system that (to me) were clearly biased and only partially educated – and it was really good for me, because it made me be more aware of this in myself and question more deeply how often I probably do this to others.
Perhaps just by speaking and showing our ignorance, it is positive thing in that it gives people a chance to offer a different perspective. But I think that ultimately – in international and interfaith collaborations – much more helpful than trying to convince everyone that you are right and they are wrong – is to accept the fact that they may never see things the same way as you, and that this might even be a great thing. I really like this quote “It is often in the paradox that the truth becomes evident.”
To take advantage of the differences in a way that promotes something synergistic – to agree to disagree about things which you can not compromise on, while at the same time showing respect and honor to the good you see in others, and trying to find ways to promote the best in their perspective for the ultimate good of everyone.
A researcher named Dr. Milton Bennett developed a scale called the DMIS (Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity). I like it in that it shows how it is a process of moving from ethnocentric stages (of Denial to Defense to Minimization) – and then on to Acceptance, Adaptation and Integration.
Simply being willing to set aside your own perspective long enough to really try to listen to someone else and learn from them seems to be a more difficult thing than I originally imagined.
Of course, it is even more difficult to do if you sense that the person or people you are communicating with are at all trying to push their own agenda on you (instead of actually trying to listen, because they already “know” you are wrong)- and it seems to be a lot easier to do if you can sense how they recognize and value the strengths of your very different perspective.
My personal goal is to somehow be able to learn to do it either way. I also want to do better at trying to avoid pushing others into the situation where it is difficult for them to both be open and honest about themselves, while at the same time create the best situations where people from very different perspectives can really be able to listen and learn from others.
OK – enough of my rambling for now. Any more thoughts from anyone?
In my cross cultural workshops we address many aspects of this, but you are correct that you need to understand the other person’s worldview, to speak the other person’s language. If you’re lucky, maybe they’re trying to understand you too, but that would be a rarity.
Your discussion is on the right track.
so i just got back from a drive to kaysville, ut and back (2 hours). i was thinking about this question on my way back up. and the biggest question i have is not necessarily about the kind of mindset you need to be in for this kind of communication to be effective (see above answers for that) – but rather how to move people into that kind of mindset. and not just people – but how do i keep myself there? i have so much training in communicating, understanding and listening, but i get easily triggered. e.g. one day in class when i spoke up about privilege and someone said “well, i don’t have a bmw so i’m not privileged.” the ignorance drove me through the roof and 2 weeks later my very bad solution was to make a passive aggressive remark about the comment. yes – it was very dumb on my part, but i was so convinced that he was wrong and simply uneducated to the world of oppression that i couldn’t see past that. i am much more able to have these kinds of conversations with people that i trust to have skills and awareness than those who i don’t trust and who i don’t believe really have an interest having an effective cross-cultural dialogue. (and i define cross-cultural very big. on the outside me and this fellow i threw the passive aggressive comment at look exactly the same in terms of religion, nationality, race, and social class, but on probing more the differences in our world view become huge because of life experience).
for me, while i love talking to people who are thinking deeply about these issues, and it is terribly valuable, what i’m find myself drawn too is having a discussion just like this with other people – people who may not have spent gobs of time thinking about this topic. as someone who is trying to begin to learn how to walk a path of peace i want to sit down and pose this question to those who supported war in reaction to 9/11, who still support the iraq war, who honestly believe that if they don’t have a bmw they aren’t privileged and the quakers at home in eugene who warned me about the mormons upon learning i was coming to utah. it is these people that *i* find most difficult to talk with, to not move to a place of anger with. thus it is these folks that i want to have this kind of discussion with the most. and i know that this work has been done for decades – and really i need to do a big ol’ lit review on it to get answers- but i’m sure there are answers that aren’t in the literature. i can’t predict what the answers will be from folks who don’t spend gobs of time thinking about it. and so this may be a stupid thing to do – but honestly i’m thinking i want to put together a survey asking this question to people and try to get responses. again, it may be a whacky idea, but i think that a more effective discussion would take place, at least for me, if it can include those folks.
Wow – look at you go Brooke. Always a step ahead of the game. I’m still back here trying to figure out what a healthy/helpful mindset is and you are already up ahead thinking of ways to get more people to that point. If you end up doing your experiment, I’ll be curious what you find.
I fear I may have sounded cocky in my comment about not being curious about the kind of mindset needed. Maybe I’m just not looking deep enough at what the answers are. But – even beyond that as I pay attention to movements like Marshall Rosenburg’s Non-Violent Communication, the work of groups like Heart of Now and other like groups, the intentional community movement – and then further groups like the Christian Peacemakers and other such groups committed to non-violence, and then even H.H. the Dalai Lama and it feels like there is a whole segment of the population not being touched by any of it. A whole segment being left out of the conversation. Thanks for the encouragement. I’ve been thinking about it all evening, and the kinds of things I see you grappling with I’m going to take up with some of my colleagues here at USU and then onward. I know they’ll simply see it as me being me. I’ll let you know if I come up with anything. 🙂
I just read this, and I thought it was helpful (although it applies specifically to interfaith communication and collaboration, I think much of it can also apply to cross-cultural collaboration too):
The late Krister Stendahl, emeritus Lutheran Bishop of Stockholm and professor emeritus of Harvard Divinity School, established three rules for religious understanding: (1) When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies; (2) don’t compare your best to their worst; and (3) leave room for “holy envy” by finding elements in other faiths to emulate. These principles foster relationships between religions that build trust and lay the groundwork for collaborative efforts.
It is important to note that interfaith cooperation does not require doctrinal compromise. Though different religions can assert their ecclesiastical independence and recognize their doctrinal differences, this does not prevent them from partnering with other faiths in charitable projects or other collaborative efforts. These efforts are based on universal values. Every major world religion has, for example, something akin to the golden rule in its sacred books (e.g. “love thy neighbor as thyself”). It is OK to maintain a separation between charitable efforts and doctrinal tenets, while at the same time sharing mutual concern for those in need. People do not need to have the exact same beliefs in order to serve those in need or in accomplishing great things in making the world a little better for all human beings.
i agree with you 100% clint. during 2000 i was working on a campaign that opposed measure 9, which in 2000 would disallow any positive discussion of the lesbian, gay, bisexual (lgb) community in any public school (including higher ed) that received monies from the state of oregon. i happened to get in an email conversation with the wife of the fellow who was leading the charge to pass the measure. by the end of the discussion my conclusion was simple – we were both doing what we thought was right for the students of oregon, we just had differing ways of going about it when it came to this issue. this allowed me to move into a place of understanding and respect for her – and her husband – rather than a place of anger, like i had been until that correspondence. so – my point – i’ve had personal experience of the things you talk about. the only thing is that for me is that with difficult things like the lgbt community and the war in iraq i have not yet been able to move from a place of respect for the person and compromise on action. that is something i’m desperate to do, because if i don’t figure it out – if we don’t – then we will continue to have a need for the mattis firesides, and innocents will continue to die in the gaza. (big jump, i know, but, you know – to me this is a movement issue, ala dr. king, gandhi, and the 8 million people who protested the iraq war on 15 feb 04. the world community has *got* to figure out something sooner rather than later this crucial issue of intercultural and interfaith communication because if we can get there then it could make other issues actually solvable!).
and so that’s why i’m actually moving forward with this whacky idea of a survey (not that i’m going to start a movement, but maybe i’ll learn something that can help a movement starter type) to understand how those who don’t spend gobs of time thinking about these isssues. the other day i was with my friend v and her 4.5 kids and i told her about this conversation and my idea and she agreed that it was a good idea, and that yes – she spends all her time thinking about her family and not multicultural and interfaith communication. she also agreed to fill out my survey when i finalized it. in it’s current incarnation it can be found at: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=QdHvBWRjWse4PAg15BNzAw_3d_3d
if anyone has comments on it, i’d love to hear. but because i’m on a free acct @ survey monkey i’m pretty sure i’m limited to 10 questions, which is good actually.
oops – that would be the anti-war protests of 15 feb 03, not 04. the first anniversary of the war bit.
I think you may need to make a distinction between what is appropriate for interfaith collaboration and interfaith communication. I would offer that much of what you suggest about loving others is fundamental to any interpersonal relationship and thus any collaborative effort. People of different backgrounds collaborate in the workplace every day to achieve great things, and they can do so in the public square as well for the noble endeavors mentioned above.
Interfaith communication is a slightly different activity, though. The end of the dialogue should guide the type of discussion.
If the end of the dialogue is better human relations, say between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, then the dialogue should take place on a level that best fosters that end. For example we participate in a program that places Catholic and Protestant students from Ireland in American schools of their opposite denomination in the hope that time spent in a neutral environment with those of the opposite tradition will help to foster healing. In this type of situation, the foci should be on recognizing and fostering a love for our common humanity and on finding ways to forgive and forget past grievances. This type of dialogue is badly needed and very important, but it should not be the only kind of interfaith dialogue.
If the end of the dialogue is geared towards growing in understanding and searching for the truth, then it should not rest on superficial levels but honestly discuss differences. This type of dialogue can only occur in the very special instances when each person respects the other enough to go beyond superficiality, though. It can only occur when each loves the other enough to hear what he really has to share, for example the gospel. There are great contradictions and difficulties in this world that will not be solved until such deeper discussions can take hold. I would challenge each of you to consider whether there can be the healing you want until the gospel of Christ is spread more thoroughly, by deed first and word second, in this world. I would also challenge you as to whether true harmony will be established by honoring each contradictory “truth” as equally valid. Can there not be only one absolutely and universally true religion, even if God works through other partially true (yet also partially counterfeit) religions too? Are we not trying to build the Kingdom of God in vain, if we do it apart from God’s grace and mission? Once a level of security and trust has been established between religious persons, it is time to search together for the truth, the “truth that will set us free.” This search is tremendously hard. We all fail at times in this joint pursuit of truth, but it is the most noble pursuit and dialogue to have. If we want to change the world, we must start by ridding ourselves of the falsity and contradictions within ourselves, and this requires this type of difficult dialogue with those who can see the faults of our viewpoints more easily.
Well, I am the condescending one behind this conversation. I have striven for true belief before God, and I continue to strive for it by listening intently to Clint’s claims for Mormonism. They have not convinced me, though, and I am forthright, and sometimes proud, in my scrutiny of them. Yet my scrutiny shows that I am indeed listening. I also like to think that I fail in my scrutiny yet still persevere in a much deeper charity. I like to think that at any point we can rest from this dialogue to work joyfully and cheerfully hand in hand in any collaborative effort.
I thought Clint was ready for this deeper dialogue that goes beyond superficiality. I thought we had established a friendship that could suffer through some failings and confusion in this noble pursuit. I thought it was obvious that if I am to take my Mormon friend seriously, then I need to think through his claims, spoken and unspoken, with the utmost sincerity, which means testing whether they are true. I think there can be many benefits in it for both us, even if it is very difficult to do well.
I would offer one last note on religious communication with Mormons. It is hard to respect your overtures to benign dialogue as anything but a ploy, when you have gone on mission against my faith. I think there is a second level of difficulty in the fact that you seem to test the validity of one’s message by his spirit, which is another way of saying morality, rather than by reason. You may even hold yourselves to be in possession of more truth simply because you may dialogue more politely or openly or liberally. You can decry my Catholic triumphalism and my failure to play the can’t-we-all-just-get-along game in my deeper dialogues, but you’ll have to consider whether it may just come from my knowledge of a deeper truth that cannot be compromised and that sets itself against relativism and shallowness. Clint may bemoan my in-depth comparison of our faiths, but it started with his attempt to convert one of my friends and his visit to my house to learn more about what I think. Well, learning what I think may entail hearing why I think you are wrong. Learning what I deeply hold may entail a discussion of how I think your viewpoint on the world is harming you and others.
It is not hard to work politely and graciously for a common good. It is also not hard to have ecumenical and interfaith activities. I have collaborated very well with people of every faith and ideological persuasion. We frequently interact with Jewish and Episcopal friends. Furthermore, I have even counted as friends a worker at NARAL, who I hold to do the work of the devil, and a Protestant missionary against a Catholic college. These friendships are much more challenging and of greater depth than any collaboration. Like the collaboration, they can be rooted in the goodness of the person and our common humanity. However, if asked to have a dialogue, I would press to have one that goes beyond superficiality to search rigorously for the “truth that will set us free.”
I hope you see that the distinctions I have made are necessary to bring the gift of the gospel, by deed first and word second, to those who would not receive its transforming truth without both an active witness of love of neighbor AND deeper discussions on truth. The gospel is opposed to relativism and positivism, both of which have a deep hold on our society and are a constant temptation to any true interfaith dialogue.
Wow – I have never had a real monk post a comment to my blog before. Cool! I hope you will forgive the time it has taken me to reply, as I am traveling at the moment, and I also hope more and more people of any background feel comfortable also posting comments here, as they feel so inclined.
Here is my response to your comment.
Being Against Relativism
I’m grateful that you’re trying to tease out the difference between a “lets-just-all-get-along” point of view that is a relativistic “anything-goes-and-is-equally-good” mentality, and a willingness to engage deeper into discussions of differences – with a willingness to try to somehow weigh the value of different approaches. I feel that distinction is important to make – so people are not afraid to make the best choices they can, be open to seeing if they could do something in a better way, and, when necessary, take a stance against things that are harmful towards themselves and others. I also agree with you that not all beliefs or belief systems are created equal, in a similar way to the fact that not all food is equally healthy for humans to ingest. And you are correct that I do think that you can know the quality of a belief by the fruit it bears in the lives of those who accept it.
I am always curious – what is the effect in the lives of those who have “swallowed” a certain belief? How does the belief influence their views of: themselves, the earth and universe, deity, their relationship with God, and their relationship with others (both those who are alike themselves and those who are very different from themselves) – and what kinds of actions do these beliefs inspire and empower?
Take for example a belief that leads people to view certain groups who are different from them as enemies in a way that justifies their approach to do suicide bombing. I do not think that this belief is as healthy as one that helps people learn to see others (even those who are different from them or who have hurt them in the past) as children of God, to find ways to resolve differences skillfully and peacefully, and to forgive past actions while intelligently building a better future in which people of multiple backgrounds are respected, honored, and their needs are met. At the same time, I think the belief that certain countries are “the axis of evil” and that it is our duty to change them through the force of arms seems about as “enlightened” as the crusades or inquisition. (Isn’t there a chance that more good could be done if the same amount of money that has been poured into war was spent on training people and sending them out in the world as ambassadors of intercultural communication and collaboration, whose job is to find, learn from, and magnify the voices in each society which promote the best in that society, and to seek to understand what the greatest problems in the world from multiple perspectives in order to use synergistic means for jointly resolving everything from humanitarian to economic issues?) Additionally many beliefs found in materialism and popular culture also seem to lead to unhealthy actions which don’t do any good for individuals or society.
People who know me know that I thrive on deep discussions of differences – and enjoy hearing alternative perspectives to ones I have assumed in the past (especially when finding previous beliefs which were unhealthy in comparison to a new approach). I like finding the particular strengths in each belief system that bring out the best in people, in families and communities, in international settings, and that empower and inspire actions that make this world a better place.
The issue of “logic” vs “fruit”
Although I think it is better if a belief system is coherent, I don’t think that you can logically prove through the “reasoning” of which you speak to me about that any belief system is superior to another for a variety of reasons. What is logical and counts as reason in the US and in the West is often very different from what counts as logic and reason in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Polynesia, etc. And even in western society and history, what counts as “logic” and “knowledge” is constantly evolving. The other problem is that each of the major belief systems have an internal logic that proves itself true – but when presented to others who do not believe the same, usually appears to be a weak argumentation – and it usually leads to just that – argumentation. It provides endless fodder for people to argue with each other and look for weaknesses in each other instead of seeking to understand each other and look for the strengths in the other. It puts people in the position where they have to somehow prove something that can not be proved. And it usually closes people off from the mindset which is synergistic – making them more interested in being right than in coming up with something better than either had in the past (through the synergistic interchange of multiple perspectives).
Faith is called faith – because it can not be proved. Really, the main “proof” even Jesus gives for whether a belief is good or not is that you can know “by the fruits” what kind of a tree has produced it; knowing if a belief is good by what it produces in the lives of individuals and people who live it.
Opponent vs. Synergistic Learning Companion
I have appreciated your dialogue, but one thing I realize is that even through it all – if I don’t accept the claims that you make or see things the same way as you, you still see me as someone who is against you. That is exactly why the kind of dialogue that I am talking about is different from the one that you wish to engage in. The end of the dialogue which you seem to be working towards (i.e. to try and prove to me that the Catholic church is the authority on God) leads to only two conclusions – either I come to agree with you and become “enlightened” by “the grace of God”, or I disagree with you and remain either lost, evil, or simply a fool. You know the end from the beginning – and so you have tried to “prove” something to me which can not be proved.
You have described to me in careful detail the logic system of Catholicism – as if it was the definitive word – and that your job was to convince me of it and of the error of my own ways. You said you “thought I was ready for deeper dialogue” – which seems to mean to you that you hoped I was ready for you to be able to show me all of the negative things you perceived or had heard somewhere about my own faith and positive things about you own. The “end” that you mention in your emails to me is that you can somehow prove to me that Catholicism is the “most reasonable faith”.
From reading your comment, I realize you must feel misunderstood, and somewhat frustrated. After re-reading my entry, I can see how you might take it wrong, and so I want to apologize for any misunderstanding. Let me take a few of your statements – and perhaps clear up a little of the confusion?
Your comment: “I would offer one last note on religious communication with Mormons. It is hard to respect your overtures to benign dialogue as anything but a ploy, when you have gone on mission against my faith.”
My response: First, the fact that you see me as “a Mormon” instead of as Clint – a unique individual who also happens to be a Mormon among other things (including a friend of the Catholic church), makes me wonder how many Mormons you have even met, or how quickly you can label people within a belief system (Bennett’s stages apply). I’m also thinking: “Hmmm…I’m trying to remember. I don’t recall going on a mission against the Catholic faith or against any church or against any people.” I did serve as a missionary ten years ago, but it was for my desire to serve others, and to share some of the faith that had brought me and my own family happiness – and helped me to feel the presence of God in my life and to feel more love for others.
If you see it this way – that I was serving a mission against your faith – then it makes more sense why in your emails you felt like you needed to prove something to me. I didn’t realize that you felt like I was against you in some way from the beginning – and I guess I obviously did not do enough to convince you that I still am not against you.
This idea you imply in your comment that if you serve for one church you are acting against other churches I think is one of the most unhelpful ones. We hear a lot about how Islam should redefine itself towards modernity, well – if there was one aspect of Christianity and Christian faiths that I wish would be redefined, it is this idea that if you are for one faith then you are against all others. I may not be a typical Mormon (as I don’t think all Mormons are like me), or a typical Christian (as I don’t think all Christians are like me), or a typical person of faith – but I chose to emphasize those areas in which we are working to the same goals and have the same aspirations (which I believe is different from relativism, positivism, or shallowness). I think people can agree to disagree on things that they do not feel like they can compromise on – but it does not mean that they are “against” each other. I also do not think that recognizing that I am not against you counts as being “shallow”, “superficial”, or some “ploy” by me (who also happens to be a Mormon).
Consider these statements by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
“God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of his great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous, for any one people.” (Orson F. Whitney)
“I would encourage members of the Church wherever they may be to show kindness and respect for all people everywhere. The world in which we live is filled with diversity. We can and should demonstrate respect toward those whose beliefs differ from ours.” (President Thomas S. Monson)
And one of the core articles of faith in Mormonism: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” (11th Article of Faith)
And there are so many more…from leaders of many denominations (or no denomination) that wish to emphasize that we are not enemies or fighting against each other, but can be friends working towards many of the same good causes.
Each morning I was with you in your church I heard you pray that God would destroy your enemies and those that hate you. It struck me as strange, and I wondered if it wouldn’t be more helpful to pray that you could see that people weren’t your enemies and don’t hate you. But I also realized that your faith has produced many who are already are like that – realizing that there are more friends than enemies in the world. Consider these words of your own abbot, who I respect and admire a great deal, in response to the funds from the carwash fund-raiser that my “Mormon” friends and I did few weeks ago for your monastery – out of our respect and appreciation for what you are doing to make the world a better place:
Thank you for your letter and enclosures, and for the extraordinary act of kindness of yourself and your friends toward us monks. I was quite taken aback, and very moved, and so were the brethren; we are deeply grateful. And what a wonderful gesture of interreligious friendship you have made; may the Lord richly reward you. As to the generous donation which you have sent as a result of your car wash, we will use it to help us with our needs in the monastic community, and I will pray for many blessings for all the good people who made donations.
We very much enjoyed your visit with us, and we hope that you will come again, sooner rather than later. As you say, it was so good to set aside any differences we have, and just love Christ together.
Please be assured of my and our prayers for you and all your needs, and for your service of the Lord, which must be great. Please remember to keep us monks in your prayers.
Yours in the Lord,
I wish there was something I could do to assure you, Brother Cassian, that simply because I do not believe in the infallibility of Catholic church or that it is the final authority on who God is, does not mean that I am against you or your faith. I think there is more good than bad there, and I have learned a lot from my friends in the Catholic church regarding how I can live a better life.
I’m left baffled to a degree – wondering how deeply held are your skepticisms that you still see me as an opponent? Perhaps because as humans we are always questioning the motivation of others – and your pre-disposition was to distrust Mormons, to look down on them, and to feel pity for them? Then maybe it becomes frustrating that even after you carefully lay out your logic – I still don’t agree?
You are right – Part of listening and caring is listening to when someone thinks you are wrong. I am glad I have listened to you, and to how you think I am wrong. I have learned some valuable things from it. At least one of the things I have learned is that I need to allow you a chance for you to state your negative pre-conceived notions about me in order to offer for you an alternative perspective (although I’m still wondering at this point if even that has done much good – and still hoping it might in time).
Your comment: “Well, I am the condescending one behind this conversation.”
My response: I’m glad you recognize that. Knowing you, I don’t think that you enjoy being that way – and I imagine it makes you feel awkward. I also recognize that you really are doing your best to try and love and live what you believe.
Your comment: “Clint may bemoan my in-depth comparison of our faiths, but it started with his attempt to convert one of my friends and his visit to my house to learn more about what I think.”
My response: Oh, ok – so my visiting with Father Patrick is also an issue for you. Well, perhaps I can make a few distinctions between my relationship with Father Patrick, and the particular approach that you have taken.
I met Father Patrick on an airplane 10 years ago. The sum of our conversation was that he asked me and I asked him a lot of questions about our beliefs, faith, experiences, and through it we found a deep appreciation for each other. I shared with him a book about faith that has benefited me (The Book of Mormon), and he kindly shared one with me (a beautiful prayer book that he wrote). He told me He saw Christ in me, and we kept in touch for 10 years, sharing thoughts and experiences about faith with each other – and a mutual appreciation for each other. I did visit the monastery – simply to listen, learn and love this great friend. I made some recommendations for how you could improve your website, based on my professional experience. I came back from the monastery to get my “Mormon” friends to do a carwash fund-raiser for the monastery because of our appreciation and respect for the work done there.
I feel comfortable that I acted in these instances according to the words of Gandhi “You must be the change you wish to see in the world” or the words of Christ “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Out of that situation I guess somehow you felt threatened – or distrust? Perhaps just the presence of other people who are intelligent, good people (and even who feel the power and love of God in their lives) yet who do not believe in the same things is a threatening thing?
For some reason, you thought the most loving approach was to tell me I was wrong, naïve, misinformed, and that “through the grace of God” you are in a better perspective to perceive truth.
All I am saying in this blog entry is that this approach doesn’t work. I simply think no one will succeed much with the approach that automatically assumes moral superiority (unless those they converse with already believe the same, and/or have a weak confidence in themselves and their relationship with God).
When you say I “bemoan” our “in-depth comparison of our faiths” I wonder what you mean?
Unless you are talking about how I said that you were condescending in your approach – through telling me that through “the grace of God” you knew more than I do about “truth” and by continually referring me to negative things you had heard about my faith from 3rd party sources, most of which were clearly biased and very poorly reflect who I am and what I believe.
* Is that honestly the approach that you think is more enlightened, absent of superficiality and shallowness?
* If one person starts a conversation by saying essentially “you are wrong, and this is why” and the more that person talks the more it becomes evident how little they know about who I am and what I believe – it is hard for me to call it a “deeper dialogue that goes beyond superficiality”?
* If the main intent behind your listening is to prove yourself right and to prove the other person wrong, does that really count as deep listening?
* Is this really a deep listening that comes from “knowledge of a deeper truth that cannot be compromised and that sets itself against relativism and shallowness”?
Just some questions to consider.
I do not pose them because I am any better – in fact, I am perfectly aware that I have a lot to learn (and I had to catch myself once I got pulled into the wrestling match to realize how pointless it was). From my limited perspective, this (“I-am-in-a-morally-superior-position-through-the-grace-of-God-
and-the-internal-reasoning-of-my-faith-system”) approach (which seems to be universally applied by people of various faiths around the world) will not bring people to any “truth” other than the realization of how frustrating and unhelpful doctrinal wrestling matches can be. And I think at the same time closes its participants off more and more from alternative perspectives, locks them more into self-reinforcing “reason” and circular logic – and can keep each person from a richness with which I believe God works in the world.
A better approach
I think the same thing goes for anyone, Catholic, Mormon, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, of any faith or no faith at all. And I think the same thing that applies for interfaith communication also applies with intercultural communication.
Escaping ethnocentrism, in my opinion, does not lead to more superficiality, but less. I do think it leads to more peace, appreciation, richness, innovation, respect, and the potential that comes from seeing others who are different as synergistic partners in the patterns of life instead of as opponents and enemies.
There must be some room in Catholic theology that allows for that?
Emphasizing those aspects of Catholicism, Protestantism, Mormonism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, etc – the aspects which encourage people to love, respect and learn from and collaborate with each other – in the international arena and in interpersonal relationships just seems like a good idea. We hear way too little of those aspects of faith, and way too much of the more self-righteous, ethnocentric approach.
One thing that stifles that process of interfaith dialogue is when – in your case for instance – you see your dialogue partner as an opponent, that you already have a more or less complete picture of the truth – and that your job is to try and somehow prove it to your dialogue partner.
Much better, it seems to me, is to ask your dialogue partner sincere questions about who they are and what they believe – looking for nuggets of truth and strengths in their perspective which can add more to your life and to the mutual goals you are working towards. When you come to points where you disagree – then there can be dialogue to clarify perspectives – and even agreement to disagree, if necessary.
Ultimately, I think it is best when there is a respect for the intelligence of the other party, a belief in their general goodness and well-being, and a faith that if their best conscience and their relationship with God leads them a different direction than where your own pre-conceived framework suggests they should go – it does not speak anything less of either you or them.
That, my friend, is obviously a difficult place to get to – but it is also a very healthy, wonderful place to be. It is not relativism or positivism (which I also reject), but it is an honor and respect for the diversity of ways in which God clearly works in the world and in the lives of good people.
You must realize that there is more than enough evidence for intelligent, spiritual people to seriously doubt the claims of Catholicism. I also recognize that there is also enough evidence for intelligent, wonderful people to doubt the claims of Mormonism. (In both cases, however, I think people need to be very careful that they are not being fed mis-information, and use first-hand sources to check what they have heard elsewhere.)
I also know there is definitely enough evidence for intelligent, wonderful people to accept the claims of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormonism), and to find a meaningful relationship with God through it. Or conversely for intelligent, wonderful people to accept the claims of Catholicism, and to find a meaningful relationship with God through it. Which one you accept, or if you accept neither of them, depends a lot on where you come from, what is most important to you, how persuasive different arguments are to your conscience, who you have known and what you have seen in the influence of those beliefs in the lives of those who adhere to them, etc…
The fact that 3rd party research such as the multimillion dollar study conducted by the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill found that of all the religious groups in the US that they studied they were surprised that Mormon teenagers were the healthiest, most optimistic, most productive at school, engaged in the least risk behaviors, and fared best in almost all of the indices they researched speaks to me and says that at least something must be going right. I was also impressed by a recent 3rd party 30+year study published in the premier preventative medicine journal this year (2008) that indicated active Mormons live on average about 6 years longer than any other demographic group (the researchers said it was due to the strong focus on families, education for men and women, and healthy living). The fact that St. Anselm’s Ontological Argument, St. Thomas’ Cosmological Arguments and others have carefully laid out certain logical arguments for the existence of God and the authority of the Catholic church speaks to you. Obviously neither provides enough evidence to prove to the absolute authority of either perspective or of the uselessness of listening to and learning from each other.
I am aware that Mormons are not perfect, but from my experience (and what I have seen throughout the world) I do believe that if people study and actually live the truths found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – it will be an incredibly powerful force in helping them live in a productive, healthy, empowering ways – assisting in the elimination of both selfishness and fear, replacing fear and loneliness by expanding hearts with a love for others, God, and an admiration for the world and universe that He created, expanding minds with curiosity and intelligence, instilling hope and peace, propelling the development of talents and confidence – and ultimately helping people to reach their greatest potential.
Although I personally have seen how faith in Jesus Christ and in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has the power to transform people to become better than they thought they could be, that doesn’t mean that I think everyone else in the world will become a Mormon (or that all Mormons do a very good job of living what is taught) – or even that all people in the world have to see things the same way as me.
I very frequently see literal miracles happening in their lives of other people (e.g. Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or of no faith at all) and admire who they are and the good that they are doing (which comes from what they believe), and I think – wow, in many ways that person is better off than I am – and I have a “holy envy” to become more like them in those ways.
I don’t know why God has left so much room for people of conscience to feel compelled to follow different paths – but it fascinates me.
It also fascinates me personally how, unfortunately, the way that something which is so good and brings so much out of people (i.e. faith) can simultaneously also be used by some people in a self-righteous way (and I keep wondering how to get around that in myself and in others).
This aspect (which seems to come from of the natural ethnocentric tendencies of being human) turns many people off to faith and to interfaith dialogue. Unfortunately it also often invites the kind of dialogue that pits people against each other (in the ways that seem to bring the worst out of people) instead of placing them on the same team (where they see that working together they can come up with something better than either had in the past).
Perhaps also because most people of faith have at least some doubts, that is where some of the defensiveness comes in? In trying to prove something to others, they are also in a sense trying once again to prove it to themselves?
I definitely do not think I am superior to you Brother Cassian – I have a respect for who you are, I admire so many things about you, and I hope to be more like you in many ways (e.g. your dedication, your good heart, the almost poetic way in which you can write, your understanding of things like ancient Greek and Jewish philosophies, and especially your desire to give your life in service to God and to others). Neither do I see you as an opponent or enemy. Rather I see us on the same team with each other, and with good people from different backgrounds all around the world.
I am not interested in trying to spend my time trying to prove anything to you, or have you try to prove to me something (which ultimately can not be proved anyway).
I’m much more interested in following one of my passions which is to discover from each belief system, world view, and society that I can – what are the best fruits they have to offer?
What can I learn from their weaknesses as well as their strengths?
How can I both live and promote the best that exists?
Additionally, how can people from different backgrounds work together to produce something better than either had when they started?
Those are the kinds of questions that I am constantly asking myself.
I think you have really misunderstood things. You must be careful to separate morality from reasoning. It is not a commentary on one’s morality to say that he uses his intellect poorly. I can point out many mistakes in your assessment of relativism without making a single comment on your moral standing. You can be morally well disposed, yet confused and mistaken. As I said, part of the problem is that you justify your belief by morality, rather than reasoning, and so you see a critique of your faith’s rationale as a critique of your morality. Such is not the case. As I said, God may work through the elements of truth in every religion to make each of us into more humane and better people. God may well have made you holier than me in Mormonism. For my part, I reserve all judgment of these matters to God, for I cannot judge another man’s heart. For example, I cannot tell whether one’s almsgiving is true or vainglorious, to use St. Thomas’s famous example. Even when I note another man making an objectively sinful action, I still cannot judge the level of ignorance and such that he had in doing so. Let us, for the sake of argument, though, say that you are holier than me, that God has given you more moral graces. Does that make your religion more correct, or does that merely make your response to God’s graces more wholehearted? Again, I cannot judge anything in the subjective moral sphere, for I cannot read your heart.
I can, however, listen to your reasons, and assess your intellectual judgments with my God-given intellect. You are a relativist, whether you know it or not. You may want to say that you are not, but to say that there are competing logics is false and relativistic. The principle of non-contraction –that something cannot be and not be in the same respect at the same time— is universally and absolutely true. It is as true now as it was two thousands years before Christ. Everything that is true shares these universal and absolute characteristics. Whatever lacks these universal and absolute characteristics is merely opinion. One side of every contradiction must be false. This is not Catholic reasoning; it is human reasoning. Now, there are erroneous epistemologies, ones that go astray beyond this fundamental principle, but this principle is really all that we need for this discussion of truth.
Since every religion in the world is contradictory with the others on some level, all of them cannot be completely true. So, either salvation came from Jesus or not. Either the Catholic Church fell into universal apostasy from true belief in God, or not. If you are a relativist, then you are not a friend of Jesus, at least not at a very deep, personal level. I cannot betray my friend, my friend who is also my God, by saying that his acts were unnecessary, nor can I betray what I believe are revealed truths from God.
I acknowledge that God can work in every religion to some extent, using whatever truth He finds therein to bring people to greater perfection, although I know not whether or when He does so. So, a Mormon or Muslim may be holier than me, because of God’s grace to them, even though I hold their religions to be less true than mine. If so, they do very well by what they have, whereas I do very poorly by what I have. (By in large, this is my assumption in life, and it is the assumption that I have made with regard to you and our dialogue.)
But morality does not establish truth. To try to establish truth by morality is merely to make a proud, holier-than-thou statement.
There must be one, and only one, completely true religion, if any are true, even if God may work through the partially true and partially counterfeit ones. This is merely a statement of logic. In the instance of our two religions, yours was founded on the notion that mine is false, and mine contains revelations that are contrary to yours. We cannot paper over these contradictions, nor just search for the best in each others’ religions while ignoring the pink elephant in the room. Such an approach is often called for when the relationship has not developed to the level that it can discuss these things, but this approach is only superficial or shallow when a deeper conversation can take place between two people striving for integrity before God.
I think we would both hold that Jesus’s words and mission are transformative, and thus it would be important for us to understand His words and mission properly. We should study each others’ claims to see if one is superior to the other, on the order of universal logic, not on the order of moralism. We’ll then have to compare the superior one with any that have potentially superior claims to it, until we find the true faith. Integrity before God requires this search and thus deep discussions on it. Furthermore, such a search is not the dark black pit of skepticism. It is always directed towards God, not away from Him.
We must at the same time strive to be as holy and moral before God as we can. Integrity requires that as well.
It is also false that such conversation cannot occur about faith. Faith requires belief, but the product of that belief is a vast set of truths and facts that can be analyzed. Indeed, those truths and facts should be analyzed, for a blind faith can be a very erroneous faith in our time. We are called to use our God-given intellects in the study of revealed truths just as much as we are called to use them in the study of natural truths. Our world is an ordered cosmos with universal laws, even if we make it look like a chaos by our sinfulness. This natural order of the world, from scientific laws to logic, comes from God. We give God great respect in the application of our minds to the facts of faith, for we trust therein that God is the source of all truth and that God cannot be in contradiction.
There are many more nuances to be made about the nature of God, mysteries, and miracles. I have already made them privately, and so I see no reason to bring them into this forum.
I will, however, say a note about fideism, while I am talking briefly of applying the use of our God-given intellect to the articles of faith. Fideism can be broadly defined as an insecure blind faith. Blind faith runs the risk in our day of falling into an incoherent, internally contradictory belief system. If a prophet cries out that henceforth 2+2=6, then we must not sit back in awe saying “well, shucks, all things are possible with d’Almighty.” Yes, all things are possible with the Almighty, with a stress on THE Almighty, for we know by logic that there cannot be two omnipotent beings, but God has already chosen to order the world in such a way that 2+2=4. If He wants to work a miracle, then He is free to do so. Some of His decisions, though, have come before others, and He always works in true ways.
I want it to be clear that I make no judgment of anyone’s subjective morality here. I do, though, call upon any and all to use their God-given intellects to grow in relationship and integrity before God. I may even spur you to do so through flourishes of rhetoric that note your naiveté, but such digs are merely to help you. If you are already holier than me, then you can only gain the more by getting closer to God, by knowing His truth and personal love in greater measure. I firmly attest that my personal relationship with Jesus Christ will never allow me to betray Him into relativism. I make only logical arguments, because that is what is needed. I can make spiritual appeals and testimonies all day long, but it would only muddy the waters for those who do not understand where to find real foundations. It is completely incorrect to call me a skeptic. I place the commitment of my entire life to God as a monk before any who would make such a claim. I do scrutinize, but it is only in an effort to live in integrity before God. If someone wants to walk with me in deep conversation, then he must bring his faith and reason with him; he must also be ready to discuss the most important questions, and not just the superficial ones. I hold that only such deep conversations will bring the deepest progress to this world, and I pray that we can have the trust and peace necessary to engage in them.
Hi again. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts again.
Here is one question to consider: If “truth” could be proven by logic alone, then why would the whole world not be in agreement or at least more easily persuaded?
Is that really the best place to start interfaith dialogue?
Although there are contradictory statements of “truth” – and it is a human thing to address them and try to resolve them – surely you must recognize that the premises by which your conclusions are drawn are unique to your being Catholic (and at least partially come from your desire to prove Catholicism as the only true church). And although those premises and conclusions are persuasive to Catholics, I’m surprised how difficult it is for you to recognize that they are not very persuasive for others – and the reasons why. Is the best conclusion to this scenario that others must not have as “deep and personal” a relationship with God – unless they come to the same conclusions that you have?
And I’m surprised you do not recognize how easily your reasoning leads you to feel conflict with others – and that they are against you. I know other Catholics who definitely do not feel like their faith leads them to this.
But before I go into another long response though – I am curious what others think?
If anyone has had the patience to read this dialogue so far – what are your thoughts in either supporting or challenging what Brother Cassian is saying here?
I know it is a tricky subject, but I am curious what you think? I want to make this a safe place for anyone to share their thoughts in a respectful way.
Again, I would urge you to be careful in your reasoning. I noted that every relativist, not every non-Catholic, notes in his actions a poor relationship with God. I can think of Jewish friends who stand firm to what they believe, rather than betray what God has taught them. I can also think of relativist Catholics and Christians who have no problem supporting gay rights or abortion on demand or fornication or adultery or any number of things that are contrary to Jesus’s teachings, the decalogue, and/or the natural law of every man. To state that any doctrine is fine for the other person, is in effect to live without doctrine. To fail one’s own doctrine, the revelations God has given to him, is to fail in relationship with God. Many people fail God in this way, making Him and religion into nothing more than some vague, abstract, and non-important, or merely personal aspect of life.
There is a great worldliness in this viewpoint. People choose to belong to the world, rather than to God. I choose to belong first to God. This choice certainly brings me into conflict with many people. You had once asked why anyone would dislike monks who spend all day praying for the world. I answered that anyone who stands up for the truth of Christ is persecuted and crucified in part with Him. The world, especially our world, is antithetical to Christ and His message. Put in reverse, Christ is contrary to our sinful ways. I would urge all to read Christ’s gospels anew, noting just how hard his teachings are. Too often Christ has been watered down into a nice moral teacher of peace, when his message was much more complex and deep than that. Jesus, indeed, wants peace, but His path to it is very different than the liberal, post-modern, post-Christian one of our times. Here are his words:
“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Luke 12:49-53).
Moderns wants to sidestep these passages and passages on hell and all of Jesus’s hard sayings as antiquated, but to do so denies that they are true words from God.
So, yes, I am in conflict with many people, just as Jesus was. By any worldly standard, my preaching and following Christ crucified is folly (1 Cor 1:23). My standard is God, though, and not the world, and so I am more than happy to follow my Lord and my God in whatever vocation He asks of me. Yes, I am a rock of contradiction whenever I argue for integrity before God. People don’t want integrity before God. They don’t want to hear that they are wrong or sinful. They are scandalized that God revealed his truth to me, rather than to them. They let that scandal prevent them from seeing that I am offering them God, the real God, the God who loves them and will give them a deep personal relationship with each of them. Make no mistake, though, one must die with Christ to know him in this way. I have failed Jesus Christ myself, and so I know how unworthy I am to know Him as I do and to have been given the gift of true belief. When I say that it is a grace that I have true belief, I am saying that it was not my doing. God came and found me. I don’t know why He choose to save me and become close friends with me, but I am abundantly thankful that He has done so. He can do with me whatever He wants. My only desire is His glory. I care little –what should be none at all– of my worldly standing or what people think of me. Like the prophets of old, my job is to honor God with all my mind, heart, soul, and strength.
If you want to know the true vocation of the monk, it is to live this witness to God, to be his instrument and in part relive his agony, death, and resurrection with Him. People say that monks are mirrors for others. We show people themselves, their hypocrisies, whenever they judge us. We stand in witness that it is the cross of Christ that saves and transforms this world, and not vain human efforts. God gives us deep knowledge of Himself and ourselves, but it only increases our awareness of the great sinfulness in us and all around us. God gives us the grace to carry all of this sinfulness and the darkness of this world, though, and to overcome it with faith, hope, and love.
So I pray. I pray the psalms, just as they are, for they are God’s prayers. I meditate on God’s passion for me and you, for it strengthens and renews me and draws me closer to Him. I drink in the Word of God, the Bible, for it gives me God’s words to me personally, for consolation, rebuke, and direction. I offer up all of my sufferings as a participation in Christ’s cross (Col 1:24) to help bring Christ’s redemption to this world. My vocation is not easy. Every day I see the grave failings of myself, those I love, those I teach, those I know, and of our whole world. I patiently endure them, trying to help the little that I can, and over time I see the fruit of my offerings. This is the work that God gives me to do, and He works through me (gives me the grace) to do it. It is truly His accomplishment, not mine, although I do cooperate with the work. This vocation is tough, but it is very joyful. I do not have much of the passing happiness of worldly things, but I have the deep satisfaction and joy of doing God’s work and being close to Him.
Do you have the faith (and humility) to consider whether God has actually made use of me to bring you into a deeper relationship with Him? I have actually taken a look at your claims, and perhaps taken them more seriously than you do yourself. I feel this is part of integrity. It is true that at times I did so quickly in certain areas, but I have explained that thoroughly in my document to you. I do not often engage in dialogue. It is not my job, as a monk, to try actively to convert people, other than my own Catholic students and parishioners. I do so when God asks, though. I did feel called, and have continued to feel called in prayer, to engage in this dialogue and give you this witness. Please listen to my words, especially the long document that I sent you, as you wish. My job is merely to do God’s will. If what I have sent you is true, then it can only be a very good thing for you. I now feel that I have more or less resolved my duty. I hope soon to return in greater part to my prayer and growing in relationship with God. I will check back in from time to time. I look forward to hearing what you think of my document. It is probably best to carry on these discussions in private, but I am abandoned to God’s will.
With prayers for you and all who read this note.
P.S. I went too far in mocking fideism, tragic though it is.
Here’s my thoughts… Cassian is right in the first comment he posted where he says the end or goal of the interfaith dialog should guide it. You both have very different goals, and so you keep talking past each other.
Cassian is interested in interfaith dialog as a means to prove to others that Catholicism is the absolute authority on truth (including his focus on how others are wrong) – and so he should find someone who is interested in struggling with him about those claims. (Although Clint appreciates his faith and who he has become by it, he is not trying to debate with others over which faith is best. You might be able to find other Mormons who are interested in that kind of a debate, Cassian, but that doesn’t appear to be what Clint is about.)
Clint is interested in finding strategies for people of different backgrounds to want to learn from each other and to synergistically come up with something better than either had to start with – and so he needs to find other people who are willing to share that same goal.
Those goals aren’t really mutually compatible. You might even find other Catholics who are also interested in your goal, Clint, but it doesn’t appear to be something that Cassian is interested in.
Cassian, from a dogmatist position almost everything else seems relativist. I’m not sure if dogmatism or relativism is worse, though.
It depends on what you mean by dogmatist. If you mean a person who fails to consider other arguments and sticks to his opinion no matter what the evidence, then such a dogmatist would be just as bad as a relativist. To hold that one’s own uninformed or untested opinion is the truth is just as wrong as to state absurdly that all truth is relative. When it comes to questions of faith, I would argue that the fideist is the greatest dogmatist, for he refuses to use reason to check whether his belief is credible. If by dogmatist, you mean someone who strives for integrity before God by comparing faiths and tries to instruct others in what he has found to be the best, then such a dogmatist is in far better shape than any relativist, who automatically betrays truth and the source of all truth, God. I would much rather talk to a true believer of any faith, someone who is striving for integrity before God, than a dogmatic relativist. Yes, even the relativist can be a dogmatist, and perhaps he is the worst dogmatist, for he refuses to acknowledge the absurdity of proclaiming as a universal truth that truth is not universal.
Just a month or two ago, I shared a very nice dinner with a rabbi and his wife, and we were all very happy to discuss the tragedy of relativism together, and many other topics, over a nice meal. Even though I am, by dint of hard work, a hardliner on the Catholic faith, until proven otherwise, this faith and my openness to truth, which can come from anyone, allow me to be in a better position with others than a close-minded dogmatist. I only appear to be a close-minded dogmatist to those whom I challenge, primarily those who claim to be the true believers of Christ without taking into account fully what that claim entails, because I have reviewed the truth in greater detail than them. So, I will challenge Protestants and Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses to note the contradictions in their faiths, and how they each would be better off in the true church founded by Christ. To shy away from the challenges that the contradictions of disunity press upon the followers of Christ is a silent dogmatism. It is essentially to say that you think you are right without proving it or at least trying to prove it.
I have been maligned for attacking all of these heinous dogmatisms of the worst kind, when all I have wanted is to have the real discussions about truth that lead to integrity for each of us. We cannot paper over our differences, the cracks and leaks will only remerge until we address the deeper questions. Some of us must be in part, yet in a very important part, in the wrong. I can offer many very excellent reasons as to why it is that I hold you to be a less faithful followers of Christ, and I have yet to hear any excellent ones (or even rational ones) in return from Clint. I have spelled out all of these things rather precisely, given the time that I have had to give to this subject, in a document to him, and I am quite sure that my arguments will be different from those he has seen in the past. If you would like a copy of my document, then I am happy to provide it, but its contents are not germane to this topic.
Finally, no true follower of Christ, He who is “the way, the truth, and the life,” can be a relativist. Let us turn to Christ’s own testimony of this to Pontius Pilate:
“For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
“Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’” (John 18:37-38)
Do not wash your hands of this search for truth as Pilate did, for it is only a betrayal of the important action required from you, a great sin of omission.
The great decisions of each life, whether you like it or not, is to decide on who Jesus was, whether to follow him, and, if so, how to do it best.
May the God reign down abundant blessings on all of you. I am quite sorry for my indiscretions in previous notes.
Um, this moron meant to say:
May God rain down abundant blessings on all of you.
Br. Cassian, I think I have put you in an awkward situation, and if that is the case, I wish to apologize.
First let me say that I love your motive of integrity. I think it is wonderful you want to be faithful to God. I admire that you would be bold to say what you think, even when you know others disagree. I am afraid, however, that right now you feel in a position where you feel bound to defend yourself, and see it as almost a “holy war” of words. You might be thinking right now that to do anything else than state the truth as you see it would be a betrayal of who you are – and that there is something noble in the challenges and defenses you are making.
Try to trust me
I don’t know if you can trust me for a moment or not, but if I have done anything to gain even part of your trust, then please just follow me on this for a moment.
Put your walls down just for a second, and try to believe that you are not in a fight or struggle against me.
I think perhaps you are speaking a language and logic which others do not understand, and which doesn’t come across as you intend – and so I’m afraid that others will see a side of you which really, honestly does not do you or your cause any justice (e.g. easy to read as dogmatic).
If you believe in your cause, and you want to progress it – let me suggest the possibility that there are much better ways to accomplish it. Through your approach, you will not win over any friends to it other than those who might already believe as you do.
Let me start by saying that I do believe in absolute truth, and if I miscommunicated that to you then perhaps I need to be more careful in the future. One thing I do believe, however, is that no human has a complete picture of absolute truth, and that it definitely can not be proved by logic and debate – my own experience has shown me how futile it is to try and force any understanding of truth in that way (whether professionally, personally, or spiritually).
Defend and Debate?
Let me start by gently asking you this – when in your life with issues like this has a debate brought anyone to agreement? Does that approach work in Ireland with the Catholics and Protestants to convince anyone of anything? If you somehow were able to write a document with carefully laid out logic, would it persuade all the Protestants or Muslims or Agnostics of your truth? Does debate work in the Middle East with Jews and Palestinians? Would it work if we could just get a Catholic over there to convince them through logic that they are both wrong? Does debate work between parents and children? The reality is that it works very rarely, if ever – and in most cases it does more harm than good as it pits people against each other, gets them used to seeing the other as an opponent, and usually ends up resulting in each being more convinced of their previously held positions. Even for those who are so focused on logic and reason, it leads to so many comments that are so starved of either.
I wish I was better friends with you so you could trust that what I am saying here in this whole comment is something you should pause and consider – instead of thinking immediately that you have to find something wrong with it.
When you get in the debate and defend mindset – it becomes very easy to label people too quickly and listen too little – quite often making judgments you feel are totally justified about their words and motivations (which are often incorrect judgments), and ultimately making the situation worse than when you started through your resulting words and actions – at the very least not accomplishing what your deepest desire is.
I hope this doesn’t sound like I think I am better than you and am trying to teach you something – because that is not how I feel. I think in your deepest heart you also sense some of the same things, and perhaps I am just verbalizing what I have learned from making lots of mistakes first.
You probably feel as if I have been led to meet you for a reason, and that reason is so you can, through the grace of God, convince me that my beliefs do not add up, and that the only truth which really makes the most sense is that which is found in Catholicism. And that at the very least you need to make sure you leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that you have bourn the clearest witness that you can, partly out of the charity you feel for me and also so that you can stand tall in doing the duty you feel before God. Am I close?
If that is true, then let me assure you that I recognize the gift you have given of your time and your witness, and I appreciate your desire to be true to your deepest sense of the good you have found in your spiritual journey.
Let me just try to offer a perspective, poor as I am in being able to explain, with the weak hope that perhaps you will see that I am not against you – even if I do not believe the Catholic church to be the ultimate authority on truth. Also, if it is not too presumptuous, could I try to offer a perspective on how you might come across to those who do not know you (in ways that probably don’t do you or your cause justice)? If it doesn’t make sense to you, then of course you have permission to go on with your life as if I didn’t say anything – but if you find it helpful at all, then great.
Getting past debate and defend mindset
#1 Instead of jumping to conclusions, would it not be better to ask more questions? Often times in our conversations I think there has been a confusion of definitions, thinking we were talking about the same thing, and so quickly making judgments about the other.
For example, relativism. You took from my statements about recognizing the reality of multiple forms of logic and reasoning that I believed there was no absolute truth – and so you quickly made a judgment about the nature of my relationship with God as inferior to yours, and then also assumed things about Mattyh and everyone else who might be reading this conversation – who you know virtually nothing about.
Let me assure you that recognizing the reality of multiple forms of logic and reasoning structures throughout the world, Brother Cassian, is not a betrayal of God anymore than is recognizing that there are more than one language in the world. It is just the way the world is. I think it is fascinating, and it gives me new perspective on Isaiah 55:8-9.
But I can see why it would be difficult to understand (as it took me a while to get it) and perhaps you have just never traveled much or studied intercultural communication – both of which really do help people face the hidden assumptions we have that not everyone shares. For some examples of interesting research in this area – I have attached this document.
So what is absolute truth and can we know it? I do not believe it can be proved by logic – nor do I believe any of us humans really has a complete picture of it. Are there apparent contradictions in truth? Definitely. Can we try to solve them through the best intellect that God has given us? Absolutely. Are there some which even our best reasoning and powers can not solve? Yes. For example, I have read a good part of the document you sent me. I can see how it would be interesting and persuasive for Catholics, or perhaps for others who are insecure. Is it persuasive for me? No – absolutely not – in fact all my discussions with you have made me happier and more grateful for my own faith. I gently suggest that you even flatter yourself unnecessarily by asking me if you are more like Socrates or Virgil in writing it. My humblest conscience and God-given intellect rejects the claim that the Roman Catholic church is the definitive word of truth and that you have a superior relationship to God. I honestly wish it was as easy as you try to make it and that everyone could just so clearly be persuaded that one church was clearly the definitive word on truth through the debate of logic, but for whatever crazy reason, life has not been created that way.
Here then we have a choice:
Option #1 – you can see me as an enemy of truth (or stupid or prideful or just severely deceived past ability to reason logically or whatever you will), feeling sad that I will never really have a deep relationship with God; and I can see you as deprived of the revelations of God, by being so steeped in your traditions and creeds, and although I can pray for you I feel sad for you at the same time that you will never feel the same peace, joy, and love that is possible from knowing what God can bless you with if you would only let Him.
And that is where we leave it.
I had absolutely no desire to debate with you when I first met you, and still feel no desire. I have done debating earlier in my life and found it pointless. If you want to still debate logic as the way to truth, please find someone else who also wants to do it with you, and I think you will soon also find that it doesn’t do much good, and usually does more harm than anything.
Option #2 – Or I can trust that you are being honest with yourself, knowing I am being honest with myself – and still respect you in the way I would anyone that is good and honest and trying to do what is best, even though we don’t agree I can feel that there are things I can learn from you – and things we can do together that would not be possible for either of us on our own. This next option is something that I am exploring at the moment, because I see it as a possible way to really honor, respect and listen deeply to others without any agenda or need to prove anything.
I feel like one of my missions in life is to try and get people of different backgrounds to want to work together in ways in which they can deeply listen to, learn from, and appreciate each other – as the jointly create something that either could not have done on their own.
Perhaps an analogy would help. Here is what I am working with in my mind anyway. When you are in two dimensions, there are complexities which seem to contradict each other that are then resolved when there is a third dimension. With three dimensions, for instance, Newton came up with certain truths – laws of motion. When scientists found that these same truths did not really apply in space and the universe beyond the earth, they were confused. It was only when Einstein added the fourth dimension of time that many of the apparent conflicts resolved themselves. After we have done our best to figure out the truth, and done our best to share it with others, which is what we are asked by God to do – all of us get to places in which there are certain mysteries which we can not explain. Is it not possible that God’s thoughts are above our thoughts – and that in His realm things which seem like impossible dilemmas to us make sense to Him? Even the Bible has seemingly contradictory statements. Is it not possible that God even planned the world to have dilemmas because it helps us learn and grow more quickly?
Or perhaps it will just take a lot more power and reasoning than any human has – and if so, why be against others who are honest and acting in their best conscience anyway? What enlightened good does that do?
[I must admit that I wonder if your instinct is to try and slice this last option to pieces because it doesn’t jive with the words of God as you understand them, but oh well.]
Option #3: I’m sure there are more options, but I’ll just highlight the first two.
Ok – moving on…
What do we choose to emphasize?
#2 Do you really think you do you or your cause much justice by emphasizing the harsh nature of Jesus (as interpreted from the scripture you shared)?
Of course we all know that there are times when love means that we are direct with people about things that might not be pleasant to them. For instance, my dad, good friends, or God (out of love) have pointed out things that I have done wrong or could do better – and that is often when I know their love is genuine. But I know it is love as they do not come from the predisposition of thinking I am against them or that they somehow need to prove something to me.
Is it not a healthier approach to emphasize that (while recognizing the need to stand for something) one of the most powerful message of Christ is the countless examples from His life and teachings where he discouraged harshness and encouraged compassion – especially to those who the Jews saw as different from themselves?
• When Peter was a bit rash, thinking he was defending his friend by cutting off the ear of the soldier, the scriptures say: “Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” And Christ healed the ear.
• The story of the good Samaritan – a contrast of compassion for those who are very different from us. Not a desire to prove anything to anyone, just to love for who they are.
• The woman at the well – the fact that Christ would talk to a woman, much less one that was such a sinner.
• The woman caught in adultery…
• His plea to love your enemy and do good to them even.
• The scripture, “God is love.”
• The scripture “Love one another. By this shall men know that ye are my disciples.”
• And I’m sure you know of a ton more too…
You felt for some reason the need to lecture to us about the harsh nature of Christ (in order to justify your own actions). Then, if I read your words correctly, you honestly encouraged everyone to read the New Testament again – only this time to look for all the ways in which God is harsh. Is that really where your self-proclaimed superior deep and personal knowledge of God leads you?
If it is, then I would just caution you or anyone of any faith (including any Mormons who might hold that perspective) to be very careful with that belief.
It seems like the “logic” and “clear reasoning” you are voicing (i.e. that those not of your faith are against you, and that Christ/God is harsh) in combination with a little power, pride, greed, and/or fear is what led Catholic authorities to put Galileo under house arrest for finding truth that did not mesh with their pre-existing understanding (i.e. that they were not the center of the universe after all) – and the same mindset has led many throughout the history of religion to even more messy things, which I do not even need to list because you are probably even more familiar with them in Catholic history than I am. Do you not see how emphasis on this combination of beliefs can easily lead to the same place?
I do not think it is your goal to paint a face on Catholicism that is harsh, anxious to debate, condescending and self-righteous – but that is how you come across, whether you intend to or not – and this is sad when there are so many better ways to accomplish the same deeper goal you have. Thankfully I know of other Catholics (e.g. Father Patrick, Father Thomas, Mother Theresa) who do not emphasize in their words or actions such a medieval and frighteningly incomplete picture of the One who tried to bring us a new level of compassion, forgiveness, and “holy respect” for those who are different from us – and I do not think you would have emphasized it either, if you would have had more time to reflect.
I much prefer the words of Joseph Smith. He said that while God can not look on sin favorably, at the same time “The nearer we get to our Heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs. If you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another.” (Joesph Smith – DHC 5:24) While “it is the nature and disposition of almost all men . . . to exercise unrighteous dominion,” Joseph Smith taught instead that we can only truly lead and teach “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned.” Joseph Smith’s love for the people seems to have grown out of his service to them. “It is a time-honored adage,” he taught, “that love begets love. Let us pour forth love—show forth our kindness unto all mankind, and the Lord will reward us with everlasting increase” – And his love also grew out of his respect for their agency, even if they chose something different, “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience and allow all men the same privilege; let them worship how where or what they may.”
Harshness and judgment – especially the kind you display in conversations, does not beget love or progress your cause, and my conscience tells me it does not come from an enlightened sense of either God or charity.
I can contrast it with the correction (which in some cases is even more severe) I get from others in my life, for example, which does inspire and empower.
#3 Do you not find the irony in your declarations of so many statements that imply your own piety and superior knowledge (which is recognizable only by you and perhaps other Catholics), and at the same time your invitation for me to be more humble?
It is just such a stark contrast to my experiences with Father Patrick, for instance – who is so absent of any self-righteous rhetoric or actions.
I know you think and say you are being humble and only acting out of charity – but I can promise you that it is not very convincing.
I’m sure you also recognize that there are more ways to dedicate your life to God and His will than to become a monk – and these other ways can also come from pure in motivation and desires to contribute to following God and thus making this world a better place.
I know from your comments that it is perhaps too much a stretch for you to believe that God could be directing me to do what I am doing, and so you frequently question my motivation and imply in your statements that there is some devious attempt behind it to do something for my own glory (as if that is the only possible reason that people could doubt the authority of the Catholic church).
I like a story from LDS church history. While the pioneers were traveling across the planes to Utah, some would buy up land to sell other church members who were coming after them at a huge mark-up. Brigham Young asked them this poignant question: “Are you building God’s kingdom or your own?”
That is a question that I ask myself frequently too, in my work, relationships, and spiritual life. And although I always need to be careful, I feel like asking this question helps me to stand most of the time with a clean conscience that I really don’t need anything for myself, but am quite happy to be at the service of where God’s spirit and my own conscience lead me. I suppose the next question then can be – are you doing this in the best way to build His kingdom?
For what it is worth, I do feel a closer relationship with God as a result of our discussions and more confidence in the directions He is guiding me (even if in a different way than you might have expected), and at least in that your prayers have been answered.
They say “God works in mysterious ways” – but perhaps they are only mysterious to us because we do not see all the dimensions.
Moving on to something more productive
Brother Cassian, like you said, you feel like your duty is done and you would not normally come out publicly in a conversation like this – and I also recognize that you have been in a bit of an awkward situation after your first post, feeling you need to clarify/defend yourself, and perhaps saying things that you would not say if you had more time to think and ponder.
I do think it would be helpful for other people to be able to learn what they can from reading this discussion we have just had with each other, but at the same time I do not wish for any embarrassment to come to you or to the monastery which I have come to respect. So if for any reason after you have had time to reflect you wish for me to remove part or all of our discussion from this public space, then I will honor your request.
Additionally, I now can more clearly recognize what my goals are (and what they are not) in interfaith and intercultural communication – and that I need to spend my time to find others who share the same goals, or convince others that they are worth trying.
I’m glad to be alive, that God is a central part of my life, and that He has given me whatever love and light He has. Feeling His love and direction is more satisfying to me than any earthly reward (and I feel it makes it worth facing any fear or challenge).
I also believe that because of the experience of our discussions I am at least somewhat more capable of structuring and inviting interfaith/intercultural conversations and relationships in a way that is synergistic.
But I do hope you won’t disappear completely from my life either. I’m glad you can consider your job completed as far as trying to convert me to Catholicism, as I really do not share your goal of debating logic as a path to truth – but I’d like to at least remain friends, if you would like, and I even hope to possibly visit the monastery again at some point in the future.
In the mean time, you can consider all of my questions rhetorical – as I really do need to move on to other discussions that I hope will prove to be more productive. God bless.