The "Dialogue Decalogue" was first published
in the Journal of Ecumenical Studies in 1983 and has been translated into more than a dozen languages. It is presented here in a slightly revised
version. While the "Dialogue Decalogue" was originally written primarily
to further interreligious dialogue it has recently been adapted to a variety
of other circumstances to help people of diverse ideologies and value systems
build bridges and find common ground.
The Dialogue Decalogue
Dialogue is 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 s/he can
change and grow. This very definition of dialogue embodies the first commandment
In the religious-ideological sphere in the past,
we came together to discuss with those differing with us, for example,
Catholics with Protestants, either to defeat an opponent, or to learn about
an opponent so as to deal more effectively with her or him, or at best
to negotiate with him or her. If we faced each other at all, it was in
confrontation--sometimes more openly polemically, sometimes more subtly
so, but always with the ultimate goal of defeating the other, because we
were convinced that we alone had the absolute truth.
But dialogue is not debate. In dialogue each partner
must listen to the other as openly and sympathetically as s/he can in an
attempt to understand the other's position as precisely and, as it were,
as much from within, as possible. Such an attitude automatically includes
the assumption that at any point we might find the partner's position so
persuasive that, if we would act with integrity, we would have to change,
and change can be disturbing.
We are here, of course, speaking of a specific
kind of dialogue, an interreligious, interideological dialogue. To have
such, it is not sufficient that the dialogue partners discuss a religious-ideological
subject, that is, the meaning of life and how to live accordingly. Rather,
they must come to the dialogue as persons somehow significantly identified
with a religious or ideological community. If I were neither a Christian
nor a Marxist, for example, I could not participate as a "partner" in Christian-Marxist
dialogue, though I might listen in, ask some questions for information,
and make some helpful comments.
It is obvious that interreligious, interideological
dialogue is something new under the sun. We could not conceive of it, let
alone do it in the past. How, then, can we effectively engage in this new
thing? The following are some basic ground rules, or "commandments," of
interreligious, interideological dialogue that must be observed if dialogue
is actually to take place. These are not theoretical rules, or commandments
given from "on high," but ones that have been learned from hard experience.
FIRST COMMANDMENT: The primary
purpose of dialogue is to learn, that is, to change and grow in the perception
and understanding of reality, and then to act accordingly. Minimally, the
very fact that I learn that my dialogue partner believes "this" rather
than "that" proportionally changes my attitude toward her; and a change
in my attitude is a significant change in me. We enter into dialogue so
that we can learn, change, and grow, not so we can force change on the
other, as one hopes to do in debate--a hope realized in inverse proportion
to the frequency and ferocity with which debate is entered into. On the
other hand, because in dialogue each partner comes with the intention of
learning and changing herself, one's partner in fact will also change.
Thus the goal of debate, and much more, is accomplished far more effectively
SECOND COMMANDMENT: Interreligious, interideological
dialogue must be a two-sided project--within each religious or ideological
community and between religious or ideological communities. Because of
the "corporate" nature of interreligious dialogue, and since the primary
goal of dialogue is that each partner learn and change himself, it is also
necessary that each participant enter into dialogue not only with his partner
across the faith line--the Lutheran with the Anglican, for example--but
also with his coreligionists, with his fellow Lutherans, to share with
them the fruits of the interreligious dialogue. Only thus can the whole
community eventually learn and change, moving toward an ever more perceptive
insight into reality.
THIRD COMMANDMENT: Each participant must
come to the dialogue with complete honesty and sincerity. It should be
made clear in what direction the major and minor thrusts of the tradition
move, what the future shifts might be, and, if necessary, where the participant
has difficulties with her own tradition. No false fronts have any place
Conversely--each participant must assume a similar
complete honesty and sincerity in the other partners. Not only will the
absence of sincerity prevent dialogue from happening, but the absence of
the assumption of the partner's sincerity will do so as well. In brief:
no trust, no dialogue.
FOURTH COMMANDMENT: In interreligious,
interideological dialogue we must not compare our ideals with our partner's
practice, but rather our ideals with our partner's ideals, our practice
with our partner's practice.
FIFTH COMMANDMENT: Each participant must
define himself. Only the Jew, for example, can define what it means to
be a Jew. The rest can only describe what it looks like from the outside.
Moreover, because dialogue is a dynamic medium, as each participant learns,
he will change and hence continually deepen, expand, and modify his self-definition
as a Jew--being careful to remain in constant dialogue with fellow Jews.
Thus it is mandatory that each dialogue partner define what it means to
be an authentic member of his own tradition.
Conversely--the one interpreted must be able to
recognize herself in the interpretation. This is the golden rule of interreligious
hermeneutics, as has been often reiterated by the "apostle of interreligious
dialogue," Raimundo Panikkar. For the sake of understanding, each dialogue
participant will naturally attempt to express for herself what she thinks
is the meaning of the partner's statement; the partner must be able to
recognize herself in that expression. The advocate of "a world theology,"
Wilfred Cantwell Smith, would add that the expression must also be verifiable
by critical observers who are not involved.
SIXTH COMMANDMENT: Each participant must
come to the dialogue with no hard-and-fast assumptions as to where the
points of disagreement are. Rather, each partner should not only listen
to the other partner with openness and sympathy but also attempt to agree
with the dialogue partner as far as is possible while still maintaining
integrity with his own tradition; where he absolutely can agree no further
without violating his own integrity, precisely there is the real point
of disagreement--which most often turns out to be different from the point
of disagreement that was falsely assumed ahead of time.
SEVENTH COMMANDMENT: Dialogue can take
place only between equals, or par cum pari as the Second Vatican
Council put it. Both must come to learn from each other. Therefore,
if, for example, the Muslim views Hinduism as inferior, or if the Hindu
views Islam as inferior, there will be no dialogue. If authentic interreligious,
interideological dialogue between Muslims and Hindus is to occur, then
both the Muslim and the Hindu must come mainly to learn from each other;
only then will it be "equal with equal," par cum pari. This rule
also indicates that there can be no such thing as a one-way dialogue. For
example, Jewish-Christian discussions begun in the 1960s were mainly only
prolegomena to inter- religious dialogue. Understandably and properly,
the Jews came to these exchanges only to teach Christians, although the
Christians came mainly to learn. But, if authentic interreligious dialogue
between Christians and Jews is to occur, then the Jews must also come mainly
to learn; only then will it too be par cum pari.
EIGHTH COMMANDMENT: Dialogue can take place
only on the basis of mutual trust. Although interreligious, interideological
dialogue must occur with some kind of "corporate" dimension, that is, the
participants must be involved as members of a religious or ideological
community--for instance, as Marxists or Taoists--it is also fundamentally
true that it is only persons who can enter into dialogue. But a dialogue
among persons can be built only on personal trust. Hence it is wise not
to tackle the most difficult problems in the beginning, but rather to approach
first those issues most likely to provide some common ground, thereby establishing
the basis of human trust. Then, gradually, as this personal trust deepens
and expands, the more thorny matters can be undertaken. Thus, as in learning
we move from the known to the unknown, so in dialogue we proceed from commonly
held matters--which, given our mutual ignorance resulting from centuries
of hostility, will take us quite some time to discover fully--to discuss
matters of disagreement.
NINTH COMMANDMENT: Persons entering into
interreligious, interideological dialogue must be at least minimally self-critical
of both themselves and their own religious or ideological traditions. A
lack of such self-criticism implies that one's own tradition already has
all the correct answers. Such an attitude makes dialogue not only unnecessary,
but even impossible, since we enter into dialogue primarily so we can learn--which
obviously is impossible if our tradition has never made a misstep, if it
has all the right answers. To be sure, in interreligious, interideological
dialogue one must stand within a religious or ideological tradition with
integrity and conviction, but such integrity and conviction must include,
not exclude, a healthy self-criticism. Without it there can be no dialogue--and,
indeed, no integrity.
TENTH COMMANDMENT: Each participant eventually
must attempt to experience the partner's religion or ideology "from within";
for a religion or ideology is not merely something of the head, but also
of the spirit, heart, and "whole being," individual and communal. John
Dunne here speaks of "passing over" into another's religious or ideological
experience and then coming back enlightened, broadened, and deepened. As
Raimundo Panikkar notes, "To know what a religion says, we must understand
what it says, but for this we must somehow believe in what it says": for
example, "A Christian will never fully understand Hinduism if he is not,
in one way or another, converted to Hinduism. Nor will a Hindu ever fully
understand Christianity unless he, in one way or another, becomes Christian."
Interreligious, interideological dialogue operates
in three areas: the practical, where we collaborate to help humanity; the
depth or "spiritual" dimension where we attempt to experience the partner's
religion or ideology "from within"; the cognitive, where we seek understanding
and truth. Interreligious, interideological dialogue also has three phases.
In the first phase we unlearn misinformation about each other and begin
to know each other as we truly are. In phase two we begin to discern values
in the partner's tradition and wish to appropriate them into our own tradition.
For example, in the Buddhist-Christian dialogue Christians might learn
a greater appreciation of the meditative tradition, and Buddhists might
learn a greater appreciation of the prophetic, social justice tradition--both
values traditionally strongly, though not exclusively, associated with
the other's community. If we are serious, persistent, and sensitive enough
in the dialogue, we may at times enter into phase three. Here we together
begin to explore new areas of reality, of meaning, and of truth, of which
neither of us had even been aware before. We are brought face to face with
this new, as-yet-unknown-to-us dimension of reality only because of questions,
insights, probings produced in the dialogue. We may thus dare to say that
patiently pursued dialogue can become an instrument of new "re-velation,"
a further "un-veiling" of reality--on which we must then act.
There is something radically different about phase
one on the one hand and phases two and three on the other. In the latter
we do not simply add on quantitatively another "truth" or value from the
partner's tradition. Instead, as we assimilate it within our own religious
self-understanding, it will proportionately transform our self-understanding.
Since our dialogue partner will be in a similar position, we will then
be able to witness authentically to those elements of deep value in our
own tradition that our partner's tradition may well be able to assimilate
with self-transforming profit. All this of course will have to be done
with complete integrity on each side, each partner remaining authentically
true to the vital core of his/her own religious tradition. However, in
significant ways that vital core will be perceived and experienced differently
under the influence of the dialogue, but, if the dialogue is carried on
with both integrity and openness, the result will be that, for example,
the Jew will be authentically Jewish and the Christian will be authentically
Christian, not despite the fact that Judaism and/or Christianity have been
profoundly "Buddhized," but because of it. And the same is true of a Judaized
and/or Christianized Buddhism. There can be no talk of a syncretism here,
for syncretism means amalgamating various elements of different religions
into some kind of a (con)fused whole without concern for the integrity
of the religions involved--which is not the case with authentic dialogue.
- The Second Vatican Council (also known as Vatican
II), the largest council in the history of the Church, with some 3000 participants
drawn from all over the world, was called by Pope John XXIII to promote
"peace and unity of all humankind," and was in session from 1962-1965.
It opened up the Catholic Church to the modern world and radically changed
the traditional official attitudes toward non-Catholic Christianity, non-Christian
religions, and Catholics who called for freedom of thought and conscience.
Self-segregation, condemnation, and proselytizing gave way to constructive
dialogue with the secular world and other denominations or religions. (Note
by Ingrid Shafer)
Last revised 7 March 2010 by Ingrid
HTML version Copyright © Ingrid
H. Shafer 1997-2010