Interreligious contact and debate: useful or not?

Maybe this is something for an other board on this website, but I put it here since this is so far the only board I’m familiar with for for debate.

What is your opinion on the question in the title.

There are at least two sides on this coin:

  1. One could see interreligious contacts/debates as adding to tolerance and understanding of other peoples views and beliefs in order to resolve difficulties, tensions, misconceptions.
  2. One could say that if everybody left the others alone there wouldn’t be difficulties at all.

But there is also the factor curiosity about -or interest in - how other people formed their believes or in what they believe and why.
I would say that this is the most natural and favorable approach since it can give you insight and tolerance without affecting the questioned others negatively.
What do others think about this, including those who don’t have any kind of religion because to me that is a belief on itself.

Thank you.
Salaam. A

I not only live in a very pluralistic culture with a wide variety of religious faiths around me, my own faith is a minority grouping within a minority grouping among them. There is no way that I can avoid contact with those who outnumber me, whether they be true majority groupings (like various forms of Christianity) or other, more widespread minority groupings (Judaism and Wicca being the ones I encounter most often in my own circles).

The ‘everyone should leave everyone else alone’ option isn’t particularly feasable for my situation; I’m in perpetual contact with other people’s religious beliefs (as they take them as seriously as I do mine) while at the same time being quite possibly the only member of my faith that many of them know (and even more likely the only member of my denomination). There are times that I’d hold out for point #1 just because being the Token Whatever is a pain in the ass and having a little less ignorance out there means that I’m not always misunderstood or on the outside or everyone’s resource for questions.

Unfortunately, many of the people who study other faiths do so not out of curiosity, but in search of points that they can discredit or ways to attack and/or attempt to convert. Which means that as a rule I think I’d come down overall in agreement with you; an honest curiosity about the processes of other people’s beliefs is probably superior (at least when measured on a scale of politeness towards others) than knowledge intended to highlight points of difference.

I think if nothing else, exploring other faiths might put one’s own faith into perspective. That might strengthen your faith or weaken it. I suppose either way something useful has come out of the experience.

As long as there is talking, there is less chance of killing. But eating together is even better than talking.

With luck, the various religions would realise that they all believed different things with equal passion and decide to drop their religious beliefs and do something useful.


Does the above comment apply to the religious-right wing in the USA ?

Exposing yourself to other people’s beliefs can have the added benefit of expanding and enriching your own belief system.

For an atheist like me, it can be interesting to interact philosophically with someone who has very deep-seated religious beliefs - but I’m much more interested in **why **a person believes than in **what **he believes. And you can’t learn about someone without also learning about yourself, in a new perspective.

Debates about religion can be enlightening and useful, unless you come out swinging and insult people (as you have done) or threaten them (as AlahAkbar has done).

As an atheist, I am more than willing to listen to the religious beliefs of anyone who is able to act in a mature and open-minded manner. We have such religious people on this board–sadly, we also have our share of close-minded fundies, of all stripes.

Can atheists be fundies?

That is, can they practice the same sort of intolerance that they find so distateful in other points of view?

Can they express the opinion that their’s is the only right way?

Judging by some of the responses, I guess that they can.

As to the original question, it would seem to me that the culture beyond the religion is the determining factor. If the culture en toto is pluralistic then certainly differing faiths (including non-faith as a statement of belief) can co-exist in relative peacefullness. If the culture isn’t tolerant, then there’s no reason to believe the religions in the culture would be tolerant.



You touch a very important issue: The influence of culture on religion and religion on culture.

In my opinion both are very much alive all over the world.
The mere fact that the Pope tried to have some reference to Christianity inserted in the coming EU constitution is already and example of this.
Salaam. A

I’m all for greater understanding of other people’s faiths myself; from plural motives; firstly, it can be very interesting to learn about the beliefs of others and the reasons that other people come to hold them, but also because it can help to avoid causing accidental offense.

And drinking together is even better than eating together!
(Aldebaran - you get to be the Designated Driver :slight_smile: )


Dan Abarbanel

Oh God… Don’t speak about eating and drinking now…

Info: Ramadan just started…

Salaam. A

First post here - I apologize in advance if I break any rules or etiquette. After just observing these boards for a bit there seems to be a myriad of do’s and don’ts that I haven’t quite got the hang of yet!

Anyhow, to the point in hand - I think the theory that if the various faiths left each other alone then everything would be fine is flawed. For a start, no contact with how other faiths think breeds that most dangerous of mindsets, the thought the you and your religion possess a monopoly on truth. With no interreligious contact, there becomes a heightened sense of ‘the other’ where it’s much easier to demonise a faith as being different to yours.

If anything, the current world situation, IMO, has been exacerbated by a lack of interreligious contact to the point where one side is perfectly able to dehumanise the other. That’s not to say that’s the only reason the Middle East question is so fraught, but I think it’s a contributory factor.

:smack: My joke above does come off as being in bad taste - Sorry, Man!

[And I actually know Ramadan started today - just didn’t make the connect :(]

Dan Abarbanel

This a really excellent question. I think it deserves a thread by itself. If we look not just at religion, but also at other areas of belief (e.g., political beliefs), there’s a lot to chew on.

At the moment, I tend to think that 3 main factors are at work in forming peoples beliefs:

  1. Getting them early enough with at least part of the message;
  2. Hitting them as often and as loudly as possible;
  3. Somehow quelling their fears (usually by first racheting them up).
    It seems that when these factors are effectively put into play, people’s rational thought processes can be knocked out completely. Or they can be put in the service of arguning for something profoundly irrational (viz. creationism, crystals, UFOs).

The problem is, I recognize this to still be a highly superficial viewpoint. Essentially, all I’m saying is that marketing works. But what goes on in the mind to make it work?

The really interesting question, of course, is how do beliefs become so incredibly corrosive? Dunno.