List of wishes

December is a month when many people are thinking about wishes. Children might write letters to Santa Claus with their wishes for Christmas and adults might think about what they wish for the new year.

The following is my personal list of seven wishes for the interfaith work in 2018.

  1. No religious violence anymore.

No person should suffer from violence and religions should in no way support people suffering. Politics, society, religious leaders and every believer all over the world should do everything possible to support the peaceful streams in the different religions.

  1. More dialogue

The dialogue that is happening here in Scotland is very good, but there can always be more. And in other places in the world there is less or no dialogue between different religions.

  1. More young people in dialogue

When I visit local interfaith groups this is the wish I hear most often. 2018 will be the official “year of young people” in Scotland. For Interfaith Scotland the work with young people will be one of the most important parts of its work this year, for example by organising a national youth conference in St Andrews in April. Even the UK Interfaith Network is putting much effort in the work with young people (I can tell you more about this another time).

  1. More funding for interfaith work

As everything successful interfaith work depends on funding. Not everything can be done by volunteers and staff needs to be paid, as well as travel expanses and food at events. So hopefully governments as well as private funders and donators will increase the amount of money they give for interfaith work.

  1. More publicity for successful interfaith dialogue

The media seems to talk about religion mainly if there are things going wrong. I would like to see a greater awareness of the benefits of interfaith work in local, national and international media.

  1. More “professional” interfaith work

In Scotland I can experience the benefits of a very good organised interfaith work, run by special interfaith charities like Interfaith Scotland, Interfaith Glasgow, Edinburgh Interfaith Association and the UK Interfaith Network. I wish that many more countries would organize (and fund!) interfaith work in a similar way – not least my homecountry Germany.

  1. More “theological” dialogue

Something popping up in my blog articles from time to time. From my point of view an interfaith dialogue is only complete, if the theological questions are included. That doesn’t mean every single dialogue event needs to deal with those questions. There is definitely a huge benefit in “just” bringing people together and letting them learn more about each other – but from my personal theological point of view the different religions can (and must) also learn from each other in theological questions, but there seem to be very little opportunities for this kind of dialogue.

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How can I be sure that fundamentalists are wrong?

Sometimes people ask me: “What was the most important thing you learned when you studied theology?” My answer to this question is: “I learned not to settle with easy answers.” Some people are surprised when they hear this, because they think church ministers or theologians should be very convinced of everything in the bible and of all the complicated dogmatic believes theology constructed in the last 2.000 years. That’s not the case (at least in the way I understand being a theologian). If someone tells me true believers must do/believe “x” I ask why “x” and not “y” and how can you be sure “z” is wrong? This attitude works very well in a post-enlightenment liberal surrounding where most dialogue partners share the same attitude (and scepticism) towards easy answers. But this attitude can be very challenging in dialogue with more conservative/traditional (in a general meaning) believers or people who just don’t share my sceptical attitude. In my opinion this is not only a personal problem for me but a general problem for people involved in interfaith dialogue how I experience it.

One of the first things representatives of different faith backgrounds do, when they come together for dialogue is to condemn fundamentalism (and its violent outbursts against other faith communities). I can completely understand this attitude because I don’t share a lot of opinions and values of the fundamentalists and to condemn fundamentalism can be the basis for a very fruitful dialogue. But how can we sure that the fundamentalists of the different faith traditions – be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Baha’i, Sikhs or another faith – aren’t the ones who are right? How can we be sure that religious plurality and diversity are better than a world with only one religion (which would be in this case the only true one)? Sometimes I have the feeling people involved in interfaith dialogue are take it too easy when they ignore this question.

I definitely like the results of the ongoing dialogue and there are great things happening, when people of different traditions share their thoughts and feelings in local interfaith groups or during events at Scottish Interfaith Week and these things can’t be appreciated enough. They are really wonderful and very important!

Anyway I’m not sure, if we can ignore the question after religious truth, because I don’t want to make the same mistake the religious fundamentalists of all the faith traditions make (from my point of view). They give answers, that are “too easy”, in a way that they are completely convinced to know what gods will is. They know how god and humankind are and how they should be and they have clear rules what believers are allowed to do and what not. In a way I can be jealous of them, because they seem to have much more certainty in their believe, than me.

I personally am convinced that faith and believe can’t be understood by humans in totality. From my point of view only god can understand god – if we could understand god, we humans would be greater than god, and I’m sure that we are not. Because of that I believe that the “easy answers” of the fundamentalists are wrong and that religious violence is wrong. But I’m also convinced that I won’t never be completely certain, that my way is the true one and the more conservative/traditional or the fundamentalists are wrong. Because of that – I believe – we should be very careful in condemning people. It’s a very narrow way but I think it is important that we don’t condemn the fundamentalist people as individual human beings and say “they are no Christians/Jews/Muslims/Buddhists/Hindus/Baha’i/Sikhs/…”, because we can’t be sure that we understand god and the world better than them. But it must be possible to condemn their actions towards people who don’t share their believe/faith, when it results in any form of violence – be it in Syria, Myanmar, Nigeria, the United States, Sri Lanka, Germany, Scotland or any other place in the world. But as long as they stay peaceful, we should not exclude fundamentalist Christians/Muslims/Jews/Bah’i/Sikh/Hindus/Buddhists/… from our dialogue, because there might be as much truth in their faith and believe as in our own.