What’s new in interfaith? In some ways, not much.
Last time I checked, there’s still more than one faith and we still live in a world where people practice more than one faith.
But much has changed; the American notion of “common ground” has undergone a tectonic plate shift over the past 20 years and we need to approach these shifts in constructive ways.
Let me highlight three shifts:
Shift 1: I call it the “similarity/difference shift.”
A key theme in interfaith relations in the 20th century was seeking similarities. This concept is built on the notion that there are universal ideas within the foundational stories across time and culture, we could even call these the “divine impulses,” and it is these common ideas that account for the similarities in concepts and morals in all religions.
This is a reason why some claim that “all religions are the same,” that they are just the same concepts and the same ethics but from different eras and different civilizations. Yes, there are major differences conceptually between, say, being a Catholic and being a Hindu, but there are many similar claims. It’s a reason that you can find a variation of the “Golden Rule” across religions.
For the 20th century, when world religions were quickly interacting in the modern world, this sort of universal thinking was helpful and a necessary corrective for a great deal of misunderstandings and prejudice. You don’t have to look too deep into Protestant Christian history to find negative statements about Jews or look too far for examples of Catholics being negatively referred to as “Papists.”
In 1960, right here in Houston, John F. Kennedy would have to convince clergy that the Vatican would not be running the United States if he were president. There are many other more recent examples you can think of when the need to find similarities in our religions to build community and create lines of communication has been absolutely necessary.