Published on: November 28, 2012
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  • Wayne Lusvardi

    To Dr. Berger’s comments might be added that often the state has an interest in such ecumenical religious proceedings. Leading up to the Council of Nicaea in 325 a.d. it is reported that in Eastern Roman Empire that in nearly all cities and villages the theological relationship of God and Christ was a hot topic of conservation much like modern day Americans discuss Presidential elections. Families reportedly divided on the issue and riots broke out in the streets. As Christians brawled over the divinity of Christ, pagans made jokes about them in theaters. No doubt something as contentious as this had an economic component as well as an ideational one. Probably the political economy of the time was at stake just as it is in American elections. However, this is not to reduce such conflicts to merely the economic dimension. The emperor Constantine intervened and called a council to arbitrate the dispute.

    The emperor summoned outlying Bishops. Constantine greeted the martyrs and presided over the proceedings. In the book “The Heretics: Heresy Through the Ages,” Walter Nigg states: “Even in those days genuine Christianity was rather with Anthony in the desert, not those with those who entered the emperor’s palace in silks and brocades.”

    Once the Council began all religious decorum broke loose and it deteriorated into a shouting match. This was because the concern wasn’t Christian understanding and dialogue but which faction – the God faction or the Christ faction – was going to gain power and position. This was in contrast to the spirit of the Apostle Paul’s admonition to “glorify Christ.” According to one account a bishop called the participants a bunch of blockheads, using modern slang. The Arians relied on strategy and the Athanasius adherents on verbal intimidation. A middle faction offered a compromise: “Christ was one in essence with the Father.” This was more Gnostic and non-Biblical in its origin. The dominant Christ faction added some put downs of Arianism and Constantine adopted it as most politicians would be prone to do. In legal lingo, the proverbial baby wasn’t cut in two but rather emanated from his Father’s genetics.

    Constantine banished all Bishops who refused to sign the Nicene Creed. It was a different era. Religious monopoly prevailed, not the pluralism of today. Can you imagine President Obama sticking his political neck out by intervening in a theological dispute today? Reportedly, not a single bishop would risk opposing s statement adopted by the Emperor. The Council condemned Arius however who did refuse to sign the declaration that was an attack on him. Arius was banished to exile, his writings confiscated and censored, But official repression spread Arian’s so-called heresy rather than squashed it. Arius was a popular songwriter of his day and that helped him re-ingratiate himself to the Emperor. Arius was eventually recalled by the Emperor in 330 a.d. and offered to rejoin the priesthood but Bishop Athanasius denied it. Arianism thrived with oppression and eventually the tables were turned and Arianism became ascendant and Athanasium was banished. However, Arius mysteriously and suddenly died by supposedly and probably fictitiously falling from a toilet into the sewer pit. The Anathasius faction rejoiced over Arius’s death. Arius’s resurrection from the sewer has apparently not yet materialized except in some modern day Episcopalians such as Rowan Williams and some academic theologians (see the papers compiled from the 1983 Patristics Conference “Arianism: Historical and Theological Reassessments” WIPF Publishers, 1985).

    The Council of Ephesus in 449 a.d. was even more tumultuous. Delegates clubbed one another until one side won. Fanatical bands of monks became the “brownshirts” of their day and mugged the Bishops from Rome. Leo the Great dubbed it “The Robber Council.” Bibles were used as missiles at ensuring conferences.

    Flashing forward to today, the conservative Gatestone Institute in New York, has condemned the proposal for an Islamic center in Vienna as “Saudi Propaganda” (see “Saudi Propaganda Center Opens in Vienna” on the Gatestone Institute website). Vienna was the site of the Islamic Siege of Vienna in 1529 and the Battle of Vienna in 1683. Saudi Arabia may not yet be religiously pluralistic but neither is King Abdullah dispatching a contingent of Arab troops to Vienna. I gather that what this may signal is that if religious pluralism can’t be tolerated inside the Saudi Kingdom that at least a satellite of pluralism can be established outside the Royal Kingdom on old battlegrounds. Nobody is throwing Bibles or Korans (yet). May Christ and Allah be praised.

  • Robert F

    You forgot to mention that it was the same emperor Constantine who first banished Arius and then banished Athanasius, in fact officially promulgating Arianism for many years before Athanasius and his view were reestablished. So much for the constancy of the state, or its interest in pure doctrine.

  • John Barker

    Where I live “New Age” churches, meditation fellowships, and other unorthodox assemblies of spiritualist and mystical leanings attract many young people who often find in their seeking a benevolent, atmospheric presence who defies name and definition.

  • R.C.

    Um, I was under the impression that the Eastern position with respect to the filioque was not accepted instead of the Western view, but that it was rather held that a particular interpretation of the Western view which was held by some Westerners and (in an attitude of suspicion) by all Easterners was held to be (as the Easterners had rightly pointed out) incorrect, but that this particular interpretation had never been intended by those promulgating the Western view, and addressed a question the West had been silent on.

    In that case the reality would not be that the West said to the East, “You were right, we were wrong” but rather, “You were right, and we always agreed with you, except for some folks among us to whom we failed to adequately clarify the matter, who as a consequence adopted a misunderstanding, which you rightly criticized.”

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  • mannning

    If, as you stated, the Vienna Mosque is to be a “satellite of pluralism”, rather than a strict focal point for Islamic worship and promulgation of the Islamic faith, is there any serious written confirmation of this intent, with specifics about the operation of the mosque to include infidels?

  • Darrell Powell

    The Gnostics will have fun with this one.

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    Reply to Manning

    The following can be found online. Since posting links and the name of the source website is not good protocol, I will leave judgment up to you as to whether the Islamic Center will promote pluralism or propaganda.

    The King Abdullah Center — which will host seminars, conferences, dialogues and other events bringing together people of different backgrounds and faiths — will have a governing body composed of 12 representatives from the world’s five largest religions.
    The governing board of directors is to be staffed by two Muslims (Sunni and Shiite), three Christians (Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox), a Buddhist, a Hindu and a Jew. The organization will also have a consulting body with 100 representatives from the five world religions plus other faiths as well as academics and members of civil society.
    The Vatican said in a statement that it had accepted an invitation to participate in the center as a “founding observer” and it sent a high-level delegation to attend the inauguration ceremony.
    Rabbi David Rosen, the Jewish member of the King Abdullah Center’s board of directors, said in an interview that the project presents a unique opportunity. “This is the first multifaith initiative from a Muslim source, and not just any source, but from the very hardcore heartland of Islam,” said Rosen, International Director of Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee (AJC). “It is an essential stage in King Abdullah’s efforts to change Saudi Arabia itself.”
    The Austrian Initiative of Liberal Muslims (ILMÖ) said “this dubious Wahhabist center in Vienna” will “only serve Saudi Arabia’s political and religious interests abroad, under the guise of dialogue” and that its sole aim was to make Riyadh “respectable.”
    In case there was any doubt, the official Saudi Press Agency confirmed that dialogue is not a two-way street. The most important goal of dialogue, the agency says, is “to introduce Islam” and to “correct the erroneous slanders raised against Islam.”

  • Gary Novak

    Berger’s discussion of dialogue between religious traditions mentions a number of the obstacles that hinder it: a (missionary) will to change the other, hidden (or not so hidden) political agendas, a pedantic or bureaucratic elevation of the letter over the spirit. Martin Buber gave a short address in 1953 (“Genuine Dialogue and the Possibilities of Peace”) in which he likewise noted the difficulties of genuine dialogue during the Cold War. “The debates between statesmen which the radio conveys to us no longer have anything in common with a human conversation . . .. Even the congresses and conferences which convene in the name of mutual understanding lack the substance which alone can elevate the deliberations to genuine talk: candour and directness in address and answer.”
    Buber’s explanation of the futility of this “dialogue” still seems relevant: “The fact that it is so difficult for present-day man to pray (note well: not to hold it to be true that there is a God, but to address Him) and the fact that it is so difficult for him to carry on a genuine talk with his fellow-men are elements of a single set of facts. This lack of trust in Being, this incapacity for unreserved intercourse with the other, points to an innermost sickness of the sense of existence.” Many more people are able to “believe in God” than to say I-Thou. And if one cannot talk to God, how could one presume to adjust, update, negotiate, or interpret the Right Answers revealed once and for all in inerrant Scriptures? To negotiate God’s non-negotiable truths would seem to be to place one’s own salvation in jeopardy. No wonder dialogue between religious traditions has such a poor track record! (Of course, secularists who chuckle at fanatical defenders of the faith feel the jaws of hell open before them when they accidentally utter a politically incorrect truth.)
    Buber’s “religion” is centered in dialogue. (“By ‘religion’ Buber meant the tendency of every organized religion throughout history to promote and sanction a dualism that obscures the face of God and leaves our ordinary lives unhallowed and unhallowable.” – Maurice Friedman, “Martin Buber: The Life of Dialogue.”) It requires no great sacrifice for Buberians to engage in interfaith dialogue, because genuine dialogue always involves risk. Holy insecurity on the narrow ridge IS the life of dialogue.
    In the chapter “Between Jerusalem and Benares” in “The Heretical Imperative,” Berger writes that “to enter into interreligious contestation is to be prepared to change one’s own view of reality” (p. 152). Berger’s inductive approach to religion makes it a perpetual work-in-progress. He is prepared to change his view of reality in contestation with other religions, because his own religion is a product of contestation between tradition and experience. For both Buber and Berger, interreligious contestation is a continuation of what they are already doing. It’s risky, but hey, that’s what they do.

  • mannning

    Thanks for the information, Wayne Lusvardi. My opinion would lean heavily for Islamic propaganda towards the pluralists, rather than the other way around.

    Why, may I ask, is posting a link to a source poor protocol? It is done all the time elsewhere.

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  • Elliott Abrams

    Is it not possible that the boom in inter-faith dialogue reflects the sense among the faithful that they are increasingly surrounded by hostile and sometimes aggressive secularist, anti-religious forces (including governments)? As to the Saudi inter-faith dialogue, why not suspend that until the Saudis allow one single church to be built in their country.

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  • Larry Snider

    In 2008 I put together the Delaware Valley Interfaith Delegation to Israel/Palestine in partnership with Leah Green and her Compassionate Listening Project; http://www.compassionatelistening.org/ The true beauty of our group of Muslim, Christian and Jewish clergy and lay leaders was that we agreed to learn and utilize Compassionate Listening as a vehicle to better hear and understand both the people we agreed with and those we never would, (as we listened to politicians, peacemakers, religious and community leaders and victims). We also agreed to return home and share all we hear with multiple audiences, which became more than 150 presentations. As importantly, we really took two trips one to educate ourselves on the Middle East conflict and a second to better understand and work with each other. Today we’ve formed the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace and hold regular programs inviting the public to participate in facilitated Interfaith Conversations at different houses of worship among our other educational programs. For more information you are welcome to write to Larry Snider, President at [email protected].

  • garry Umphress

    Before different religious communities can understand or collaborate one another logic dictates that each should before engaging should examine and understand that each of the three Monotheistic religions have foundational issues in their texts.

    The Hebrew alphabet has been altered and modernized since it’s original was first recorded. The Koran was later printed in part from this morphed alphabet. The Christian Bibles were also published from the morphed Hebrew alphabet.

    All three while recording their version were under a form of political influence, either at the origin or later across time as the alphabet continued to morph.

    After all- “Kings do what Kings do.” Pluralism and propaganda serves only man and his kingdoms.

    Until the three blind (monotheistic) tribes can accuratly visualize the three sides of the elephant in the room, it is an exercise of futility( Monotheisitc academia aerobics)

    No matter how many greatly facilitated dialogues take place, the idealogical camps of the three blind tribes will continue to war for religious freedom as the nations rage.

  • Seth Kaplan

    Is there any dialogue between religious groups to find common ground in the fight against secularism? I don’t see this mentioned in any of your categories, but can easily imagine it being of great interest to people of faith no matter what particular religion they subscribe to.

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