THE ROLE OF RELIGIOUS DIALOGUE IN NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
A PAPER PRESENTED AT THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENC ON
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AT THE UNIVERSITE NATIONALEDU
BENIN ABOMEY-CALAVI, COTONOU, REPUBLIC OF BENIN;
NOVEMBER 25 - 26, 2009.
REV. FR. DR. BENJAMIN C. UDEH. - Senior Lecturer: Nwafor Oriztj College Os Education Nsugbe Anambra, State, Nigeria.
People willingly decide to destroy other people’s lives and property including themselves, all in the name of religion. When some fanatical Muslims hear that something is being done or said against their religiousbelief, they become violent rather than resorting to dialogue. In the eastern part of Nigeria, many Christians who belong to various denominations often hate themselves and are always at Towers drawn. A rational approach to this issue shows that dialogue could have solved these problems. In ecclesiastical matters, religious dialogue has ratified more serious cases in the past. Reflecting over the situation, one becomes convinced that religious dialogue is very necessary in the development and growth of every nation. The indubitable fact here is that any nation who employs dialogue in their problems will hardly engage in battle, but will continue to develop and grow from strength to strength.
When ever one listens to the radio or looks at the television, what comes to view is religious crises and things destroyed during the struggle, one begins to wonder when this kind of life will stop. But as years go by, the crisis continues to scarlet. What comes to mind is that if only these violent religious rioters will be patient and employ religious dialogue, if only they can be tolerant, lives and property will not be destroyed. Many cities built over a long peaceful period of time are destroyed in a twinkling of an eye. The writer therefore concluded that religious dialogue is incontestably necessary for the development of any nation.
What is Dialogue?
According to Neilson (1937), Dialogue is “a colloquy between two or more persons: conversation” (p.719). It means the gathering of persons, communities or groups of individuals to discuss with sincere spirit and transparent honesty about matters or events with the aim of achieving either a greater grasp of truth or more human relationship. Ekpunobi (2001) citing Swidler defined dialogue as “a conversation on a common subject between two or more persons with differing views, the primary purpose of which is for each participant to learn from the other so that she/lie can change and grow” (p. 75-76). What it means therefore is that in a meaningful dialogue, both parties are enriched with new ideas and authentic information about some aspects of the reality of life.
Types of Dialogue
There are many types of dialogue. These include:
Internal dialogue where there are some conflicting ideas in a particular religious denomination. This conflict may arise from doctrinal understanding or of interpretation of divine revelations or theological truths. For instance, within the Catholic Church, the dialogue between the charismatic movement and the church authorities, the dialogue between the church and some agitators on the marriage of priests etc.
In the Anglican church, the dialogue between their church authorities and the Evangelical fellowship of Anglican communion (EFAC), the dialogue on women ordination and the dialogue on gay marriage etc. All these are examples of internal dialogue with particular denominations.
Another type of dialogue is the dialogue within Christian denominations. It is a collaborative dialogue in social matters inspired by religious motives, such as in the study and execution of development projects and in initiatives to foster justice and peace. According to Okeke (1996) “the missionaries were the first to feel deeply’ the tragedy of the division among Christians. They realized the scandal of the division among Christians as they tried to proclaim the same Christ in the cacophony of their divided voices” (p.66). He pointed out that it was in Edinburgh 1910 that missionaries’ societies sent official delegate to an international missionary conference. “For the first time official delegates from missionary societies were able to meet and engage in sincere discussion of common problems in the missionary field” (p. 66). This dialogical approach gave birth to meaningful ecumenism which eventually produced the World Council of Churches (WCC). This ecumenical body “World Council of Churches” has brought tremendous development to Christendom.
There is the oilier type of dialogue which Arinze (1990) referred to as the “dialogue of theological colloquium”. It is the dialogue “between experts in which information on one’s religious beliefs and practices is exchanged” (p.29).
There is also the dialogue of life in which people of different religious persuasions live together and enrich one another through faithful practice of the of their various religions (Arinze 1990, p. 29).
There is the dialogue with non Christians, like, dialogue with the Muslims, dialogue with African Traditional Religions, the dialogue with Buddlists and dialogue with all people of good Will.
All these kinds of religious dialogue are different kinds of conversational approaches towards the resolution of conflicts or of awakening the consciousness of people over sources of common good. Dialogue is not quarrel but a sober and heart to heart discussion over an event or situation.
The Contribution of Religion to Civil Unrest
One indubitable fact about man is that man is naturally a religious being. The different ways through which man expresses his consciousness and awareness of the supernatural and the Supreme Being responsible for his existence is an act of religion. According to Udeh (2001) the different aspects of African culture have been influenced by religion in such way that religion has shaped the social life, political, organization and economic activities of the people (p.47-48). As a result, religious inclination in man is so strong that many people have preferred to die rather than go contrary to it. For instance, some Muslim religious groups believe that killing an unbeliever will give them a better place in heaven. And that if one is killed in religious war, such a person will go to heaven straight. This kind of religious conviction has contributed a lot to the frequent massacre of innocent souls by fanatics in northern part of Nigeria and many other countries worldwide.
Again some Sabbath churches and some Pentecostal groups enjoin their adherents to alienate themselves from both family and community meetings under the guise that it contradicts their religious tenets. This kind of alienation most often Creates very serious problem between the group or person concerned and the entireCommunity.
Furthermore, Ekpunobi (2001) noted that “the Rwanda genocide was mainly between the Hutu majority and the Tustsi minority. The religious split in the country (75% Christian, 25% indigenous) appears to not have been asignificant factor.
In Indonesia, a Muslim country, recently a Roman Catholic country was forcibly annexed by Indonesia 20% of the population died by murder, Starvation or disease. After voting for independence, many Christians were exterminated or exiled by the Indonesian army and army funded militias in a carefully planned programme (p.77 -79).
Round the whole world today, many countries have been tom into pieces by religious wars. There are cases of wars between Muslims and Christian, between Christians and indigenous religious and between one religion and another. In Nigeria, there were open conflicts which led to the lose of lives and property as Christians challenge the enshrining of sharia into Nigeria constitution. Even among Christians, there are many places where there are serious crisis between the Catholics and the Protestants, between Pentecostals and other religious affiliates. All these problems could have been prevented through religious dialogue.
Factors Necessary for Meaningful Religious Dialogue
For a meaningful religious dialogue to take place, there should be a cooperative effort from the participating religions or denominations. The Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintergratio (1964) stated “that (religious) dialogue should be between competent experts from different churches and communities, here, each explain the teaching of his communion in greater depth and brings out its distinctive features (p.90). Every effort should be made by the participants to avoid prejudice or to think that ecumenical dialogue is geared towards conversion. To this effect, in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Africa, Pope John Paul II affirmed that in religious dialogue, “openness to dialogue is the Christians attitude inside the community as well as with other believers and with men and women of Goodwill” (EIA, no 65). Consequently, there must be a change of heart to accommodate this openness of heart. Provocative words, statement, assertions, rash judgments and actions which do not represent any group or individual well must be avoided.
Ecumenical dialogue will be conducted between the participants as between equals. Everything that has been said about the nature, aim and bases of this dialogue, notably concerning reciprocity and mutual commitment, provides a basis for this attitude of equality (Decree on Ecumensim Unitatis Redintegratio 1964 no 4). This document also emphasized that “on a practical level, equality between the participants in dialogue implies equality of standard in sacred and secular learning and equality in the level of responsibility.
Furthermore, the Document Reflections and Suggestions Concerning Ecumenical Dialogue (1970), states that, to be genuine and fruitful, all dialogue requires that both the directors and the participants should possess a certain degree of ability. Competence in the theological field cannot be the only requirement. There is need for practical skills in all subjects whether professional, technical, apostolic or spiritual (no 4). This is because, it is very dangerous to dialogue with a person or group who have little or no knowledge of the subject matter. Such dialogue may end fiercely as the ignorant party may not be able to reason with the other party, rather, they may feel that they are being ridiculed.
For a religious dialogue to be fruitful and meaningful, the participating parties must be patient, listen and be able to understand any participant that is speaking.
It is also necessary to note that humility and prudence must be allowed to reign during the dialogical interaction. Hence, the reflections and suggestions concerning ecumenical dialogue issued by the Secretariat for the Promotion of The Unity of Christians (1970) asserted in the document Unitatis Redintergratio, that “the comparing of ideas whereby the participants try to bring to light the points of divergence, similarity and convergence in the ideas expounded, it requires on both sides a resolve to be frank in expounding the truth and a resolve to welcome the truth one listens to” (U.R. no 5).
Role of Religious Dialogue in National Development
Many countries today are battling with terrorist attacks which stem from religions intolerance. There are stories of suicide bombers who sacrifice their lives for their religious convictions. Many communities in our contemporary society are experiencing serious civil unrest caused by religious differences in the society. Even in the villages and families, there are troubles and fighting accruing form religious differences. Hence, Ekpunobi (2001) queried, how sad it is when members of the same family no longer speak to one another, avoid looking at one another, avoid meeting! How sad it is where Muslims and Christians, who are part of the one human family, ignore one another, no longer exchange greetings or, even worse, quarrel with one another! And yet, how beautiful it is to live in peace with one another, to speak of our joys and sorrows, our fears and hopes! How can we not see in the dialogue between Muslims and Christians, a sign of hope for the present and for the future? (p.75). this dialogue between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria has brought about a lot of development both in the political and economic life of the people. The above sad situations can be solved through round table dialogue. Though, religion can put division among the family members or in a community, ecumenism which is the brain child of religious dialogue can help immensely in such environment. Through dialogue, they will realize that there are many things they need as a body for the common good. Religious dialogue can reunite them and awaken their consciousness to their needs of things like schools, hospitals, market etc.
Udeh (2006) observed that at the beginning of the dialogue between Christianity and African traditional religion in Igboland,” Rev. Fr. Lutz once went to the king of Onitsha and said ‘we come to live near you, to open a school to teach your children and your good people... ’
Hater, Fr. Lutz gathered around them a group of converts made up of freed men and slaves, adult and children, some of whom were taken under the care of mission and given shelter. These groups formed the nucleus of pupils of Fr. Lutz’s school at Onitsha and it becomes the first catholic school in Igboland” (P. 93).
Summarily, Ibe (1998) clearly discussed the fruitful result of the dialogue between Christianity and the traditional people of Maguzawa land. He declared, “It is pertinent to know that the Maguzawa are a group of people who belong to the I-Tausa kingdom. They avoided Islam by fleeing to the rural area. They are found in Kano, Kastina, Zamfara, Jigawa and Kaduna states. In these Muslim dominated states, the Maguzawa are a minority who are sweltering in the heat of oppression (p. 11). He then observed that for over fifty years of its advent in Maguzawa land, the church has concerned itself with the mission of the spiritual development of the Maguzawa people and has considered the physical needs of the people as secondary (p. 16). Presently Christianity has turn toward the physical development of the people. This is the fruit of religious dialogue.
A man once told his children that “most wars which led to the loss of life and property were brought to an end with round table dialogue. Effort should therefore be made to avoid the loss of lives and property. So once there is problem, dialogue should be used to avoid the escalation of that problem.
On the religious plans, dialogue should be guided by the spirit who reveals the truth about God, and will lead you into all the truth (Jn. 16:13). It demands an openness to the activities of the spirit in each person, each group or religion, and hence a readiness to accept the depth of the religious experience of others and to collaborate with them for the good of religion and for the common good of the people.
Finally, everybody who is guided by the spirit of truth should always accept religious dialogue as an authentic means of approaching religious crisis. It brings development and progress in the society rather than violence and destruction.
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