The Diseased Imaginings of a Tainted Mind
During the Christianity and Interfaith Dialogue Module that I’m following as part of my course, we are studying Karl Rahner’s idea of being an “unnamed Christian”. This phrase is more commonly though of as the “Anonymous Christian”. This is the notion that so long as you are worshipping God as best you can in your particular religion, then you are an anonymous Christian. The idea behind this is that there is some truth to be found in other religions, but there is a fuller truth to be found in Christianity. What is, however, we remove the Christian arrogance from that notion, and tried looking at it a different way. Could you be an anonymous Muslim?
This notion posits Islam as the religion with all the answers, and uses the same argument to construct a notion that says that what Christians are seeking for is truly to be found in Islam, they just don’t know it yet.
In this pluralistic society, we do need to find a way of interacting with other religions, but is positing that each everyone is an unnamed member of everyone else’s religion really the way forward? The idea is meant to break down fear and the bias in the Christian religion towards other religions and enable a dialogue. It seems to fail, however, when you explore the notion coming from the other way. Would a Christian be happy to be thought of as an unnamed Muslim?
I was very surprised to find that my gut reaction to this was “Yes”, actually, I really would object to being thought of as an anonymous Muslim. Islam is not that different, on the face of it, from Christianity. I would have the same problem with the structure, and with some of the stances of fundamental Islam as I would have with fundamental Christians. It’s not the religion that I object to being suddenly made a member of, but rather the notion that my consent in the matter has nothing to do with it. The approach, not matter how careful you are, must at some point name some things good, and others “bad” or unacceptable. In the case at hand, for example, Islam would object to the Eucharist, as they don’t place Jesus as the Son of God. The Eucharist is not important for them, it doesn’t have the same cultural impact on their own personal history. Having never been a Muslim, It is difficult for me to say what would replace the feeling of connection that I have with Christianity. It’s what I’ve been brought up with, it’s what’s laid out around the cycle of my year, it works and threads it’s way through my life in ways that I would probably have to sit down and truly hunt for to see how prevalent my faith has made itself in my life. I would guess that the same is true for a Muslim, or indeed, anyone of faith.
So what step do we take next when it comes to interfaith dialogue? In this pluralistic society, we all have difficulty putting down our own religion in order to truly understand another. We often interpret aspects of the other religion in terms that we ourself are comfortable and familiar with. Generally, this is not a problem for dialogue. A Muslim and a Christian can quite happily sit and discuss the issues with each other, and can come to an understanding of why the other things X about Y topic. However, the next step is to in some way see the other religion as Valid. The Christian and Islamic impetus to evangelise will mean that theologically, the conversation cannot stop there. There must be a next stage, where we explore which one of us has the truth. This is rarely done in dialogue, and is often only done from inside the individual religions looking out.
A lot of the problem comes from how tightly you hold onto the notions of Salvation in your particular religion mind-set. If you hold onto the notion that Salvation comes only through Christ, then your not going to be able to find a meeting of the minds that allows Islam to have true salvific value. It gets even more complicated when your dealing with a religion (like Paganism), which doesn’t posit the notion of Salvation as being necessary, as there’s nothing to be Saved from. Your choices are your own, and you are considered capable of making a choice for one side or the other.
What then can we do to answer this question? To give true understanding and true value to all religions on an equal footing we would need to posit that each religion is in some way equally valid or equally capable of achieving the main aim of said religion. Most religions are internally complete, so if you are a person who thinks you are in need of Salvation, then perhaps Christianity is for you; if you are someone who thinks that the family is the best place for religious teaching, then perhaps Judaism is more your taste. This however means that we need to ensure a higher degree of religious knowledge given to everyone in order that they might make the correct decision about what is right for them.
What do we then do about End of Life Issues? For many the notion that they are going to see a loved one again is very important to them, especially on the death of said loved one. With all these religions at least the Main Abrahamic faiths say that they will end up in roughly the same place, but there is no love lost between Christianity and Islam about which one, and what type, of heaven is waiting for a person at the end of their life. Neither could see that a Muslim would be able to visit a Christian in their particular part of heaven/hell (mostly because they would consider that the other had gone to hell, and a true adherent of their religion had made it through the pearly gates). How do we then deal with this?
As far as I can see, the only real way forward is to create some form of theology that allows for many paths, and many Gods, with some form of Elysium Fields as a meeting place for loved ones before they are then moved on to their final resting place.
It’s either that or we re-introduce purgatory, and let God sort it out.