I found inspiration recently, in of all things, The Edicts of Ashoka, ancient inscriptions written by Emperor Ashoka of India in the third century before the common era. They represent some of the oldest examples we have of what today we might call interfaith dialogue. For the most part, Emperor Ashoka is waxing eloquent on a newly arrived faith tradition called “Buddhism.” However, he also spends some time speaking about other religious traditions. Here’s some of what he wrote:
“The beloved of the gods… [he referred to himself in the third person that way] values this – that there should be growth in the essentials of all religions. Growth in essentials can be done in different ways, but all of them have as their root restraint in speech, that is, not praising one’s own religion, or condemning the religion of others without good cause… it is better to honor other religions for this reason. By so doing, one’s own religion benefits, and so do other religions, while doing otherwise harms one’s own religion and the religions of others… The beloved of the gods… desires that all should be well-learned in the good doctrines of other religions… And the fruit of this is that one’s own religion grows…”
With these words, Emperor Ashoka provides one of our first references to religious pluralism, suggesting a relationship beyond peaceful coexistence, towards finding essential wisdom in traditions not one’s own, and perhaps finding an underlying truth common to all traditions. Whatever his precise intention, the relationship between diverse faith traditions and their various truth claims has remained an important issue throughout our history.
Acts 4:8-13/Psalm 23/1 Peter 5:1-4/Matthew16:13-19
Today we celebrate the Confession of St. Peter. They’re at Caesarea Philippi, a beautiful, rugged place of streams and waterfalls north of the Galilee in the Golan Heights, an area of Syria now controlled by Israel. The splendid Roman city is gone; the many temples and shrines to pagan gods built into the face of a great rock cliff are gone—a couple of small niches remain. It was perhaps directly facing these shrines with their statues that Jesus may have said something like, “That is Pan and that is Aphrodite. But who do you say that I am?” “You are the Anointed, the Messiah, the Christ; the Son of the living God.” You are Son of the living God, not a god carved in stone—says Peter. The shrines and temples were built on the face of the rock cliff; the church would be built on the faith of a human “rock”, that is, Petros, Peter—as Simon came to be known.