Does God want religious diversity? Abu Dhabi text raises questions

Abu Dhabi

That many religions exist in the world is a fact, but what that plurality communicates to believers about God is a question that theologians are still discussing.

Pope Francis and Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar, a leading authority for many Sunni Muslims, stepped into the debate Feb. 4 when they signed a document on “human fraternity” and improving Christian-Muslim relations.

“The pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, sex, race and language are willed by God in his wisdom, through which he created human beings,” the document said.

The document goes on to insist on the basic human right to freedom of religion, appealing to both Christians and Muslims not only to tolerate the religious faith of the other, but to recognize the other’s faith as something “willed by God in his wisdom.”

In other words, the message seems to be, if God “wants” religious diversity, who are human beings to be intolerant of it?

But can God really “want” a variety of religions? And is that what the statement Pope Francis signed really says?

In a post on the document, Father John Zuhlsdorf, a blogger, tried to explain things by saying that God has an “active or positive will” of what he desires and makes happen, and “a ‘permissive will’ by which he allows that things will take place that are not in accord with the order he established.”

In that case, God tolerates other religions.

Something more

But Pope Francis and Sheik el-Tayeb seemed to assert something more and to demand of their faithful an attitude that goes beyond being tolerant of religious pluralism.

Speaking to reporters flying back to Rome with him Feb. 5, the pope said, “I want to restate this clearly: From the Catholic point of view, the document does not deviate one millimeter from Vatican II.”

Nostra Aetate, the council document on the church’s relationship with other religions, affirmed:

“The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men.”

Proclaiming the church’s “esteem” for Muslims, the council noted that “they adore the one God” and strive to submit to his will.

“Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, his virgin mother; at times they even call on her with devotion.”

The Vatican II document does not say that everything in all religions comes from God, but one cannot deny that God created human beings with a desire to seek and find him, and the world’s religions contain at least elements of what is necessary to move toward God. Continue reading

News category: Analysis and Comment.

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