Pope Benedict and Other Religions

The attitude of Nostra Aetate toward other religions was that they were human quests toward the transcendent. A similar approach was contained in Rav Soloveitchiks’ u-Bekashtem meSham.

This new document by Pope Benedict, acknowledges that Muslims “adore the one God,” a phrase crafted to avoid acknowledging their prophecy and revelation. He also acknowledges that they use “countless Biblical figures, symbols, and themes” without acknowledging any revelation on their part.. On Eastern religions, he acknowledges a Catholic respect for them, as well as an acknowledgment of their concern for the transcendental, family, and ethics. Pope Benedict sets these ideas amidst a vision of our age as one of globalization and the need for religion to work toward universal fraternity, especially since every faith has some form of the love of God and neighbor.

The new point in this apostolic epistle is the following line in which he says that one can recognize in Eastern religions admirable religious traits. “ in Buddhism, respect for life, contemplation, silence, simplicity; in Hinduism, the sense of the sacred, sacrifice and fasting; and again, in Confucianism, family and social values.” The Hindus immediately applauded this statement that moved them from a human quest for transcendence to having religious wisdom, in which there are things that westerners can both learn from, admire, and emulate in Indian religions. The ability to meditate, have silent retreat, and even the desire for sacrifice are recognized as positive methods. The value is not just the existential human quest, but also the conclusions reached and the methods developed.

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein at the 2009 Har Etzion dinner gave a discourse for over an hour on the Bhagavad Gita (I assume it was somewhat of a regression but he mentions the work in several of his essays.) Rav Lichtenstein mainly focused on the karma yoga aspects (not the bhakti or jnana). Don’t worry about right action without worry for results, that the ben Torah should have equinimity toward life and the need for self-control , discipline, and freedom from attachment. He could have quoted Bahye’s Hovot Halevavot or Reshit Hokhmah, yet his source text of choice was a theistic reading of the Bhagavad Gita.

“To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction”(2.47)
“Fixed in yoga, do thy work, O Winner of wealth (Arjuna), abandoning attachment, with an even mind in success and failure, for evenness of mind is called yoga”(2.48)
“With the body, with the mind, with the intellect, even merely with the senses, the Yogis perform action toward self-purification, having abandoned attachment. He who is disciplined in Yoga, having abandoned the fruit of action, attains steady peace.

Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits and other Rabbis used to appreciate the theism of the work and quote it in their works. And Rav Aharon used to mention often the closeness in approach of Judaism to Confucianism as religions of duty, tradition, and maintaining the social order. (if anyone has a printed source for that, let me know)

The question now is can we develop an appreciation for wisdom among the other religions similar to what was implicit in Rav Lichtenstein? Several of the commenters on this blog, in the yoga discussions, alternate between allowing in Buddhist ideas along with the meditation without dealing with the fact that Jewish theology differs from Buddhism, and then flip to stating that everything was already in Chabad or Abraham ben Maimon. Can we learn from Pope Benedict to acknowledge that they have a virtuous practice of contemplation and silence, not found in Judaism. We can acknowledge it in Jewish terms as “wisdom among the gentiles” but then say it needs a Jewish theological understanding? To say that: accepting Jewish revelation allows one to take anything from Eastern thought as kosher Judaism that way one uses an Indian recipe for shabbat, a bit disingenuous. Acknowledge that there is a wisdom there. But also then watch where one has picked up a different theology.

What else can we learn from this recent Vatican document about approaching other religions? (for the tyros, dont confuse a unilateral theology of other relgion with dialogue.)

Judaism is already treated as sharing revelation and covenant with Christians, a common Judeo-Christian heritage, so it is elsewhere in the document. Rav Soloveitchik arguing against a theological Judeo-Christian heritage, only a cultural commonality, as well as the fact that Judaism is not linked to any other faith community. Michael Wyschogrod advocates a theological commonality with Christianity similar to Pope Benedict. Do Jews think we should privilege Christianity over other religions? As time moves on- will we treat all religions equally or will we be closer to one more than other? Islam? Hinduism?

The Word Of God And Interreligious Dialogue (Selections)

Nowadays the quickened pace of globalization makes it possible for people of different cultures and religions to be in closer contact. This represents a providential opportunity for demonstrating how authentic religiosity can foster relationships of universal fraternity. Today, in our frequently secularized societies, it is very important that the religions be capable of fostering a mentality that sees Almighty God as the foundation of all good, the inexhaustible source of the moral life, and the bulwark of a profound sense of universal brotherhood.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, for example, one finds a moving witness to God’s love for all peoples: in the covenant with Noah he joins them in one great embrace symbolized by the “bow in the clouds” (Gen 9:13,14,16) and, according to the words of the prophets, he desires to gather them into a single universal family (cf. Is 2:2ff; 42:6; 66:18-21; Jer 4:2; Ps 47). Evidence of a close connection between a relationship with God and the ethics of love for everyone is found in many great religious traditions.

Dialogue between Christians and Muslims

Among the various religions the Church also looks with respect to Muslims, who adore the one God.They look to Abraham and worship God above all through prayer, almsgiving and fasting. We acknowledge that the Islamic tradition includes countless biblical figures, symbols and themes.
Dialogue with other religions

Frequently we note a consonance with values expressed also in their religious books, such as, in Buddhism, respect for life, contemplation, silence, simplicity; in Hinduism, the sense of the sacred, sacrifice and fasting; and again, in Confucianism, family and social values. We are also gratified to find in other religious experiences a genuine concern for the transcendence of God, acknowledged as Creator, as well as respect for life, marriage and the family, and a strong sense of solidarity.

Men expect from the various religions answers to the unsolved riddles of the human condition, which today, even as in former times, deeply stir the hearts of men: What is man? What is the meaning, the aim of our life? What is moral good, what sin? Whence suffering and what purpose does it serve? Which is the road to true happiness? What are death, judgment and retribution after death? What, finally, is that ultimate inexpressible mystery which encompasses our existence: whence do we come, and where are we going?

2. From ancient times down to the present, there is found among various peoples a certain perception of that hidden power which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human history; at times some indeed have come to the recognition of a Supreme Being, or even of a Father. This perception and recognition penetrates their lives with a profound religious sense.

Religions, however, that are bound up with an advanced culture have struggled to answer the same questions by means of more refined concepts and a more developed language. Thus in Hinduism, men contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry. They seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust. Again, Buddhism, in its various forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, may be able either to acquire the state of perfect liberation, or attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination.

6 responses to “Pope Benedict and Other Religions

  1. I think Judaism is not a world religion in the way Catholicism and Islam are world religions. Looking at the document “Dialogue and Proclamation” here are some significant differences. 1)Evangelization in the sense of bringing “the Good News into all areas of humanity, and through its impact, to transform that humanity from within, making it new” “ is not a mission of Judaism. With the possible exception of Lubavitch we do not feel any need to preach to the people of the world. 2)Even in the context of dialogue, other than taking up an attitude of respect and friendship, Judaism does not feel an obligation either to give witness to its own convictions or to explore the respective religious convictions of other faiths. It might be permissible, but why would Judaism say it is obligatory other than for reasons that are dependent on the special local conditions and circumstances. The Ramban did not welcome, but reluctantly agreed to a disputation. 3) the Jewish people unlike the church have no interest in missionary activity for the purpose of conversion. (The recent statement by the Conservative Movement that we ought to welcome those non Jews who married Jews while encouraging conversion, is either an exception or a sign that 3) is no loner obvious. 4) We have a moral, though not necessarily a religious obligation, “ to stand up for human rights, proclaim the demands of justice, and denounce injustice not only when their own members are victimized, but independently of the religious allegiance of the victims. There is need also to join together in trying to solve the great problems facing society and the world, as well as in education for justice and peace.” But this obligation has significant exceptions, in particular where there is great danger in such proclamations. I do not feel any obligation to personally create a democracy in China, precisely because Judaism has not taken literally taken responsibility for the entire world. Our obligations in a democracy that is broadly just are far different from those we might have in a failed gangster state.

    This world of dialogue has not been a part of my life , and Judaism may have changed while I was dreaming about other topics. If it has, perhaps someone can cite the relevant prooftexts .

    • I think Chief Rabbi Sacks would affirm a Catholic vision for 1, 2, 4. He would definably consider 4 as religious not just ethical.

  2. Part of the challenge may also be how to acknowledge the distinct contribution other religions make while still making use of the those teachings found within Jewish sources. We need a system a that allows us to appreaciate the distinct contribution of Hovot Halevavot or Reshit Hokhmah alongside the Bhagavad Gita. While some obviously prefer to pretend that everything can found within a Jewish source, the tendency to minimize the spiritual theological contributions of Judaism may be no less dangerous. This is a trap that Rav Lichtenstein often falls in to as you point out in your article “Judaism in Culture” . We need to find a way to recognize the way in which these ideas have been discussed in other cultures and then trace there development within Judaism. If we focus too much on the religious culture of others we risk ignoring or at least minimizing our own.

  3. Do you have a transcript of Rav ahron’s lecture?

  4. Any Idea where I can obtain it?

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