I recently attended an Interfaith Dialogue with a class of students in the audience as well. It was this very ‘polite’ atmosphere where the speakers exhorted us to be sensitive to the faith of others, etc.
In the Q/A session I brought up an issue which I wrote down later as a reader’s letter to the Garhwal Post. Here it is:
This refers to “Panel discussion on ‘Talking Faith for Peace’ held”
In principle it is a great idea to discuss the different faiths or religions. In ancient India, debates had a great tradition.
Yet in today’s times “Interfaith dialogue” is not quite sincere. I do not question the sincerity of the participants who talk about their experience with their faith and how it helps them to be a better person.
Yet there is a big difference between Christianity and Islam on one side and Hinduism and its offshoots on the other. And this difference is never mentioned in those dialogues, because it effectively makes dialogue or an exchange of ideas a futile exercise.
The difference is this:
Christianity and Islam both claim that only their religion is true and all most follow it. Even worse: They claim that God or Allah will throw those who do not choose the ‘right path’ for all eternity into hellfire. In contrast, the Indian traditions allow a genuine enquiry into truth. Nobody is sent for all eternity into hell and surely not for having a different view of the Divine.
The goal of life is different, too. For Christianity and Islam the goal is to reach heaven and avoid hell after death by ‘religiously’ sticking to the doctrine which is taught. Hinduism sees the goal in realising the blissful truth that we are one with Brahman in the depth of our own being while living. To claim oneness with God is actually heresy in both Christianity and Islam.
Unless we put the cards open on the table and have a sincere debate whether such wild claims can be true, we have little chance to improve the dangerous situation humanity is in. As it is, the claim that some are chosen and others damned for ever because they worship in a different way has done already too much harm to humanity. Yet this dogma is still taught to children.