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Ecumenist predicts hard times for religious dialogue

The defining religious question of our time is not atheism, secularism or the problem of evil, but the problem of violence which arises when a religion self-righteously asserts its authority, according to an Irish ecumenist visiting Australia.

The Catholic Weekly has reported the comments of Professor John D'Arcy May of the Irish School of Ecumenics, who was in Sydney recently to deliver the annual Polding Lecture at St John's College within Sydney University.

"It is hard for any believing Christian, even the most sophisticated theologians, to see how traditional Christian doctrines can be upheld in their integrity if they are to be accommodated to those of other faiths in a framework of secular pluralism," he said.

"Plurality is something one can live with, even be enriched by, when it takes the form of multiculturalism; but pluralism is itself a doctrine in the eyes of many religious people it is ultimately incompatible with their faith commitment."

He said Muslims and those in dialogue with them "will know what I am talking about", for, although they enjoy the advantages of pluralism wherever it exists, Muslims are even more emphatic than many Christians in rejecting it as a doctrine from the perspective of their faith.

"Theologians are beginning to realise that there is a fatal flaw in such unilateral and unequivocal assertions of the 'unicity and universality' of one's own beliefs which has nothing to do with enlightenment liberalism or secular pluralism but lies at the heart of the confessional structure of religious belief," he said.

This "structural peculiarity" had been explained as a "built-in assumption that the faith we confess is 'better than', intrinsically superior to yours".

Catholic Weekly