The following article appeared in the Catholic Digest in February 2000. It was reprinted from The Dallas Morning News.
One Religion as Good as Another? No,
says, Cardinal Francis Arinze, but God did
give us religious freedom
Is there more than one way to heaven? Does respect for other religions mean that one is as good as another?
has traveled the world since then, meeting everyone from Anglicans to
Zoroastrians, winning friends if not necessarily converts. His style
is frank and nonbureaucratic; many who met him in Dallas saw both confidence
and humility, along with repeated flashes of humor. Portions
of the discussion have been recorded, and excerpts are reprinted here.
We begin with California Episcopal Bishop William Swing, who is trying
to form a sort of United Nations for religions, seeking the cardinal's
views on conversion and proselytizing.
ARINZE: The word (proselytizing) at one time was used in a good sense ... but
gradually I think it gained a connotation which is no longer acceptable. (That
is) when it means to try to win another person over to my faith by methods
that are unworthy of the human person, or by methods that are unjust,
which is the same, or methods that exploit the difficulties of another
-- like, "If you join my religion I'll give you a scholarship in
the university. I'll give you rice to eat." In one country in Africa,
"If you join our religion we'll give you relief supplies; if you
do not, you starve and die." And it still happens.
I, for instance, would want everybody to be a Catholic -- everybody
-- I can only propose it. I should not try to impose it. If everybody
wants to become a Catholic, very good. The pope will close the department
where I am working (audience laughter). But is that about to happen?
There's no sign of it. So once you allow for human freedom, you must
allow people to have 2 religions, or 3, or 4, or 200, not because you
want a supermarket of religions but because the human person has freedom.
B. Tyson, professor emeritus of religious studies at Southern Methodist
University: There are certain elements within Christianity which would
say Jews are rejected of God because of the rejection of Jesus, because
of the belief of their participation in the death of Jesus. I know there
have been some dialogues between Jews and Christians in which Christians
have been forced to change -- forced by persuasion to change their views
on that subject simply by listening to the impact of that view on some
Arinze: Christians were compelled not to change their faith but to get a clearer
understanding of their faith. By discussing with Jews and reflecting,
they realized they had not understood very well their own tradition. St.
Paul the Apostle, though a great theologian, didn't condemn slavery
as such. But now we realize that slavery should be condemned. It was
not so clear at that time. Even in the Catholic Church we do not hold
that we have the clearest idea on every point. We can grow in our understanding.
people meet in interreligious dialogue, the end isn't to convince the
other person to cross over to my religion. If that is the end, it is
not interreligious dialogue. It is a debate, or an argument, friendly
or otherwise. On
the other hand, we hold that people who meet in the interreligious discussion
and reflection should be open to conversion in another sense -- conversion
to God; in the sense of openness to God; that is, the action of God
in us. After all, religion is not what we achieve in our Catholic belief;
it is merely what God works in us if only we will allow God to do so.
Tyson: It seems to me that one of the barriers to interreligious dialogue,
at least on the Christian side, is the kind of exclusivistic claim that,
in fact, if you don't believe in Jesus Christ, you will not be in the
right with God.
Arinze: "Nostra Aetate" (a document from the Second Vatican Council)
says that God's grant of salvation includes not only Christians, but
Jews, Muslims, Hindus and people of good will. That is, a person can
be saved, can attain salvation, but on the condition that the person
is open to God's action.
Ashley, news director at a Dallas radio station: So was Jesus wrong
when He said He was the way, the truth and the life?
a person were to push what you said a little further and say, if you're
not a Christian, you're not going to heaven, we'd regard that person
as a fundamentalist
and theologically wrong. It
is quite another matter to say that one religion is as good as another.
That is, it doesn't matter to what religion you belong. Religion is
not put together that way: You change the rules and change the goalposts
if you can't score. No, no, no. (But we do) believe that every religion
has elements that are true and noble and good. How
will it work out? I can't tell you. But we know that Christ, who says, "I am the way, the truth and the light," died on the Cross
Ashley: So you can still get to heaven without accepting Jesus?
Arinze: Expressly, yes. (He laughs with audience.)
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