Inter-Religious Dialogue between challenges and realities

Chief Rabbi of Brussels. Permanent representative of the Conference of European Rabbis at the European Union.

By way of introduction, let me quote this verse from Genesis1 :

“And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.” 

What does Cain say to Abel? The text tells us nothing about their dialogue. Maybe they didn’t say anything to each other. And this is precisely the drama of humankind. This silence harbours the source of all wars. Lack of communication is the primary source of every conflict. As long as the warring parties can engage in talks around a table, and even if this dialogue is a difficult one, arms are silent. As soon as dialogue ceases, arms do the talking.

Is there a way to remedy this situation?

 We must talk. Engage in dialogue.

What makes up a true dialogue that can lead to mutual understanding?

Entering into dialogue with the other means to get to know and recognize him, to acknowledge his full responsibility and to welcome him as a completion of ourselves rather than seeing in him as an opponent, a competitor or an enemy. In such circumstances, dialogue becomes a shared richness without any of the parties having to renounce his own identity or heritage. There can be no doubt that fanaticism in all its forms can be applied -in the name of God- into religion, nation, creed, land, ethnicity and language as well as inthe name of social and cultural belonging it can be characterized as the enemy of dialogue.

Thus, what kills religions is fanaticism, and it is therefore important to distinguish between a fanatic and a religious person.

The believer wants to serve God whereas the fanatic puts God at his own service.

The believer worships God whereas the fanatic only worships himself under the delusion of worshiping God.

The believer listens to God’s word whereas the fanatic alters it.

The believer raises to God’s level and to that of divine love whereas the fanatic lowers God down to his own level. Fanaticism is a world of simultaneous rejection of both God and man.

It is therefore our duty to bring down the barriers that separate men so that they can meet and discuss, unite and appreciate each other. This knowledges implies accepting the divergences that lead each of us to his own way. We must admit the Other as he is, not as we wish he were. This is what Emmanuel Levinas calls « the Epiphany of the Other ».

Dialogue and commitment

What must we do so that this dialogue will bear fruit?

This dialogue should not be the preserve of an elite. It must reach the masses and touch them. It is the only efficient way for all of us to confront the threat of hate -as expressed, for example, through racism and antisemitism- that so many human groups are facing. 

This dialogue must be built on lifelong education, and on a correct understanding of other peoples’ religion. As clerics, it is our duty to build bridges between different creeds and principles. Through our words, through our acts, we must bring together and not exclude; we must show love -and not hate-; we must foster fraternity between people. Unity in diversity – this must be the aim of the dialogue. This is the only way that can lead to a renewed solidarity, as our roots should be transformed to  common roots. We can all identify with Abraham’s faith. Our religions, our ethics, our ways of life are established on a fundamental tenet : the love of our neighbour.  

But what do we notice nowadays? An extremely preoccupying rise of racism and antisemitism through the development of far-right movements that are established throughout Europe. This problem is also not confined to a specific European region. No, it concerns Europe as a whole.

We must fight together and more efficiently social injustice and prejudice, we must promote a more humanitarian and generous world, because our various religions demand that we practice community building, respect the autonomy of the individual and personal responsibility, protect the weak, condemn all forms of racism and proclaim the primacy of man who is an image of God.

A pictural masterpiece

The word ‘shalom’ -which means peace- is derived from the verb ‘lehashlim’, which means ‘to mutually complement’.

According  to our sages, true peace can only be found in mutual complementarity. True peace means reaching out towards the other so as to live in harmony.

A pictorial masterpiece consisting of just one colour represents nothing. What makes a picture beautiful is the harmony of the colours that constitute it. Each of us must see himself as the sketch of a giant painting. Every one of us must start creating the most beautiful work of art, the painting in front of which the eyes of all mankind converge, the very painting where all colours and all nuances are to be found and exist in harmony.

A long road lies ahead of us. But as it is said in the Sayings of the Fathers: « It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it. »

Chief Rabbi of Brussels. Permanent representative of the Conference of European Rabbis at the European Union.