Christian Attitudes towards "the other"
In discussing the Christian attitudes towards other religions, the following statement by Indian Jesuit theologican Micheal Amaladoss might help in situading the stages through which the Church has evolved in its own theology of religion : “Twenty years ago, I studied Hindu religion and culture so that I could present Christ to the Hindus in a way more adapted to their mentality. Later, I tried to discover the ‘unknown Christ of Hinduism’ so that I may make the Hindu recognise the Christ I preached to them as their own, but further fulfilling their deeper aspirations. Today, I dialogue with my Hindu brothers and sisters looking forward to mutural enrichment and collaboration in the building of a new humanity” (Vidyajyoti, 1985)
1. Ecclesiocentric Model : Exclusivism
This is the theological perspective with which Christians viewed other religions throughout most of Christian history. It maintains the 3rd. century Cyprianien dictum, which as later adopted by the Council of florence, of extra ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the Church, no salvation). Christians of this mindset regard all other religions as not having the power to bring peoples to salvation, despite the good whih may be contained in them. Salvation is only possible for those who explicitly belong to the Catholic faith.
This model is overly ecclesiocentric as it believes that the Church is necessary for one’s salvation. It excludes all other means of salvation. Like the early Amaladoss, the dialogue with the other religions is motivated by the desire to present Chirst to “the other,” since without Christ, who resides in the Church, the poor souls would be damned to eternal hallfire.
2. Christocentric Model : Inclusivism
This theological perspective gained currency in the 1960s, especially through the insights of Karl Rahner, and was adopted by the Second Vatican Council as the official teachings of the Church. Beginning with the conviction that God wills salvation for all, it posits that this universal salvific will can only be real if it is embodied in the various religions. Thus, if we are to be sarious about our belief in God’s desire to save all persons, we have to be serious about viewing the religions as the vehicles of that saving grace.
Thus, this theological perspective allows for the other religions to mediate salvation for their respective adherents. However, it is still Jesus Christ who is the means of the salvation. In other words, salvation through other religions is ultimately mediated indirectly through Christ, and the people, unknown to them, are actually “anonymous Christians.” The other religions, therefore, are a “preparation for the Gospel” or stepping stones to the garden of Gospel truth,effected only through Christ.
This model is Christocentric since it is Christ who brings about the ultimate fulfilment of the other religions. The other religions are appreciated for the fact that they will be eventually fulfilled and included in Christianity. Like the mid-years’ Amaladoss, dialogue is engaged in to enable “the other” to recognise that it is really the Christ of Christianity who is operating and saving them in and through their religions.
3. Theocentric Model : Mystical Pluralism
This model regards the Christocentric model as patronising, for the latter recognises the beauty of the other religions only to include and consume it. The latter’s position of Christ as the one and final revelation, the norm for salvation, is essentially derived from what the Bible or the Christian tradition informs. But is that enough? Do other religions not have a say in this?
The Theocentric model, therefore, taking into consideration the data from the different religions, emphasises that it is God who saves. All religions, including Christianity, are but paths to God. The religions and their saviour figures are therefore means and ways to God, who is the only Absolute. The religions are different, even as there may be similar features amongst them. But, ultimately they are as different as, for example, languages are different. It is, therefore, a pluralist model which appreciates differences aross the religions. No one religion can claim superiority over the others. Persons of other reliogns are saved through their own religious faith just as Christians are saved through their own Christian faith.
This model Theocentric since it posits that all peoples are ultimately by God who occupies the centre of the salvific universe. It also stresses a more mystical approach to religion, for at the core of all authentic religious experience is an experience of a Mysterion, an indefinabla, ineffable mystery, beyond description. Thus, the Theocentric model is a mystical pluralism. The participation in dialogue, like the later-years’ Amaladoss, is for mutural enrichment, where both parties gain more into insights of this Ultimate Mystery called God.
4. Soteriocentric Model : Ethical Pluralism
This is not another new or different model, but merely a variation of the Theocentric model. It is both a response to criticisms of theocentrism and an effort to provide it with a more practical and relevant basis.
One of the staunchest criticisms of theocentrism is that to clam that God is the centre of religious discourse is, in a sense, an act of imperialism. Furthermore, if there is the claim that there is only one God who is absolute, the question which it begs is “whose God?” Scholars of religion are today discovering that when one plunges beneath surface similarities between religions, one finds greater dissimilarities in the deeper experiencing of this God, the Absolute, the Ultimate Mystery. This is further compounded when one dialogues with religions which expressly denies the existence of God or an Ultimate at its centre.
Another criticism levelled at the Theocentric model comes from Christians struggling with issues of justice and peace. In proposing one God or Mystery within all religions which can be grasped through meditation or reflection, the Theocentric model tends to neglect the suffering and injustice in the world. Theocentrists tend to be overly academic and mystical, with little regard for realities at frassroots.
The Soteriocentric model, therefore, proposes that the core of religious experience is the issue of suffering. The one thing common which cuts across all religions is that suffering is undesirable and that religions have a message of salvation or human liberation in the light of these sufferings. Moreover, it is the liberation of these sufferings which will usher in the Reign or Kingdom of God. Hence, this model is also sometimes referred to as Regnocentrism (Reign-centred). The criterion by qhich the religions ought to be judged, therefore, is the degree to which they actually contribute to the liberation of peoples from the sufferings of the here and now. In specifically Christian parlance this means that all religions are destined to be visible signs of the presence in the world of the Reign of God; all can and ought to contribute on different counts to the growth of God’s Reign among persons and peoples. The Soteriocentric model, therefore, is concerned with concrete actions and is thus described as ethical pluralism. Like the later years’ Amaladoss, engaging in dialogue with “the other” is aimed at seeing how we can better collaborate with one another in the building of a new humanity.
Missionary Activity in a Theocentric-Soteriocentric
Approach to Dialogue
DIALOGUE?, Resource manual for CATHOLICS IN ASIA, 2001, p.135-136.
Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs
Federation of Asian bishop’s conferences
Editor Edmund Chia, FSC