I have usually argued in favour of interfaith dialogue – but with the proviso that the dialogue should also include the non-religious. What is the point of discussing issues like human rights, terrorism, etc., without including representatives of all ethical beliefs?
In fact, interfaith dialogue which specifically excludes the non-relgious could have dangerous consequences.
This possibility is raised by the appeal of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia for “a dialogue among monotheistic religions.” He sees this dialogue as having the purpose “… to come up with ways to safeguard humanity.”
This sounds all well and good – until you discover what he wants to safeguard humanity from: “the disintegration of the family and the rise of atheism in the world – a frightening phenomenon that all religions must confront and vanquish.”
According to the King this “is an unacceptable behavior to all religions, to the Koran, the Torah and the Bible. We ask God to save humanity. There is a lack of ethics, loyalty and sincerity for our religions and humanity.”
“Disintegration of the family” are codewords in some religious traditions for the extension of human rights to women.
So we have an appeal for interfaith dialogue with the express purpose of removing the human rights of women and the non-religious – or preventing establishment of these and similar rights in many countries.
Religious leaders rush to support intolerance
Abdullah said he has support of his country’s top clerics to pursue this dialogue. It is also likely to get a positive response from international Christianity which will see some possible advantages for their own agenda. The Vatican is currently negotiating for permission to build its first Church in Saudi Arabia.
Abdullah’s appeal has been welcomed by the US President, Israel’s Chief Rabbi (Yona Metzger), the head of inter-religious relations at the American Jewish Committee and a former chief rabbi of Ireland (Rabbi David Rosen), and the Chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (Michael Cromartie).
All these people seem quite happy to sacrifice true human rights for the sake of “interfaith dialogue.” Perhaps there is something like oil involved here.
Interfaith dialogue in New Zealand
Closer to home I have expressed concern about the exclusive nature of interfaith activities in New Zealand (see Beyond Tolerance – Toward Understanding and Respect). The issue of exclusion of non-religious ethical beliefs from interfaith activity in New Zealand has frequently been raised. While organisers of these activities generally persist with a non-inclusive approach, there is evidence that some participants are concerned. For example the statement from the Inaugural Aotearoa New Zealand National Youth Interfaith Forum 2008 states: “It is crucial to engage in interfaith dialogue with secular society “ & “‘Interfaith’ may also be considered as ‘inter-worldview'”.
This is a sensible approach. But I suspect some “interfaith” participants in New Zealand would prefer to dialogue with King Abdullah and perhaps would agree with his assessment that human rights for atheists and women threaten humanity.
So tolerance is ganging up on atheists?
This is tolerance?
Saudi King wants monotheisms to unite to defeat atheism
Religious leaders welcome Saudi king’s proposal for interfaith dialogue, but some want details
Bridge for Sale: Saudi king calls for interfaith dialogue
Freedom of expression and offence – religious or otherwise
Beyond Tolerance – Toward Understanding and Respect
Secular alternatives to religious communities
Atheism and religious diversity I: Diversity in New Zealand
Atheism and religious diversity II: A personal perspective
Atheism and religious diversity III: Conflict between science and religion
Atheism and religious diversity IV: Values, morality and spirituality
Human rights for the non-religious