“The Greatness and Misery of Interreligious Dialogue”
R20 Address by Professor Alberto Melloni
(edited for publication)
It has become customary in the past two decades, at least, to use an argument concerning interfaith dialogue that peace is the “true” use of religion, and violence is the “abuse” of religion…. However, the historian must say that facts induce us to have a certain prudence around these claims. Because history is there to tell us that religious beliefs have an inherent power to feed violence or to foster peace….
There is a joke that I sometimes tell, which is that to hold conferences in which people declare that true lions are vegetarians is useless. Lions are not vegetarians, and the people of faith — human beings, for those who have read Augustine — are not vegetarians, but are dangerous. So to curb violence, you do not need to say that true lions are vegetarians. Instead, you have to take responsibility….
If interfaith dialogue is simply a place in which religious leaders parrot standard opinions ‘in their own words,’ it is destined to be a useless exercise. If theologies merely endorse the agendas of those who are most powerful in society, assimilating religious values with other [largely secular] values, this will ignite rebellion. If religious pluralism is nothing but a facile sermon on fraternity to be kindly preached, it will never become reality. If faiths only serve to provide motivational support for economic agendas that already lie at the heart of the G20, this will become an empty effort.
On the contrary, religious leaders must adopt penance and truth, conscious that the Almighty knows everything about each of them, knows everything about each of us here, knows our intentions. And what the historian knows is that the most powerful sermons, the most powerful prophets, are those who are fully conscious that He knows — knows the sincerity of the sincerest ones, knows the ideology of the ideological ones, knows the superficiality of the superficial ones, and knows the hope for peace and desire for unity that exists among the human family.
There is a sentence of Gregory the Great: “Divina eloquia cum legente crescent.” “The Word of God grows with the one who reads it.” And I hope that the R20 will be a place in which we can read again the truth that has been revealed to us, and that offers to us a chance to assume our responsibility.