Being human: risk or promise?

“What do you expect? He’s human!”

Isn’t it curious how more often than not we associate ‘being human’ with moral lapses or flawed character? Our human nature, one might conclude, places us at risk because it becomes an excuse for our failures and imperfections.

Theologically, this attitude is consistent with the doctrine of original sin. However, it is deficient inasmuch as it ignores the sublime potential with which the Incarnation has graced us. Instead of seeing our humanity as burdened by the risk of failure, we should regard it as sprouting with the promise of potential. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if in time the phrase “What do you expect, he’s human?” referred to someone who had done something extraordinary?!

I think the exhortation of recent popes that we engage in interreligious dialogue is a call for us to be more open to the extraordinary promise of our humanity.

What is the purpose of interreligious dialogue – now especially between Muslims and Christians – and why does the church insist on it? Where will it lead?

The purpose is abundantly clear in such Church documents as Lumen Gentium, Nostra Aetate, Ut Unum Sint and most recently The Joy of the Gospel, which proposes that interreligious dialogue, leads to deeper mutual understanding and appreciation, the promotion of social justice and moral welfare as well as peace and freedom. And, as a real eye-opener to many pre-Vatican II Catholics, there is the acknowledgment that eternal salvation is not necessarily limited to Christians.

As for the Muslim-Catholic relationship, we may differ significantly in theology but not so much in religion. In the former God is studied, in the latter God is worshipped.

But, where will such dialogue lead? This is where our take on human nature can be a bane or a boon. If we are all of a mind that says human nature presents us with the risk of failure interreligious dialogue will most likely go nowhere. If, however, we give credence to the belief that human nature is imbued with promising potential interreligious dialogue will in time more than likely bear fruit.

I am of the latter persuasion. We have to believe that God’s Spirit will lead all who are willing to be led to some kind of “harmonized diversity,” a phrase recently used by Pope Francis

Where, when and how are all tied up in mystery. Ah, mystery! What would the Advance of the Kingdom would be without you!

Dana Robinson is chair of the Board of Trustees of the National Catholic Community Foundation.

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