Dialogue is not enough. Even if it is rigorous, even if it is necessary to give time to knowing, trusting, and respecting each other, even if we should take on ourselves the widest possible responsibility to report back, it is only one stage or one aspect of the encounter among the various religious traditions. In Western societies, it is urgent that we commit ourselves to joint action.
In dialogue, we soon realize that we hold a great number of convictions and values in common. We understand very quickly that we are facing the same difficulties and challenges. But we very rarely move outside these circles of reflection. Together we say “God,” awareness, spirituality, responsibility, ethics, solidarity, but we live and experience, each one on one’s own, the problems of education, transmission of spirituality, individualism, consumerism, and moral bankruptcy. In philosophical terms, we could say that we know one another in words but not in action. Our experience of fifteen years of joint action in South America, Africa, and Asia has convinced us not only that this path is necessary but that it is the only way to eventually change minds and build mutual respect and trust.
In the West, there are many shared challenges, first among them being education. How can we pass on to our children the sense of the divine, for the monotheistic faiths, or of spiritual practice for Buddhism, for example? In a society that pushes people to own, how are we to form individuals whose awareness of being illumines and guides their mastery of possession? Again, how are we to explain morality and boundaries, to pass on principles of life that do not confuse liberty with carelessness and that consider neither fashion nor quantity of possessions as the measure of goodness? All the religious and spiritual traditions are experiencing these difficulties, but we still see few examples of shared commitment to proposing alternatives. And there is so much to do—working together, as parents and as citizens, so that schools will provide more and more courses on the religions; suggesting ways of providing educational modules outside the school structures to teach the general population about the religions— their fundamental beliefs, particular topics, and social realities. Such modules need to be thought out together, not only by inviting a partner from the other religion to come to give a course as part of a program we have put together for and by ourselves. By way of example, the Interreligious Platform in Geneva has launched an interesting “school of religions,” and there is the Center for Muslim-Christian Studies, in Copenhagen, which, under the leadership of Lissi Rasmussen, is scored a first in Europe in establishing a real partnership within an institution promoting and practicing dialogue.
Acts of solidarity take place from within each religious family, but the examples of shared initiatives are rare. People sometimes invite others, but do not act in collaboration. One of the best testimonies that a religious or spiritual tradition can give of itself lies in acts of solidarity between its adherents and others. To defend the dignity of the latter, to fight so that our societies do not produce indignity, to work together to support marginalized and neglected people, will certainly help us know one another better but it will, above all, make known the essential message that shines at the heart of our traditions: never neglect your brother in humanity and learn to love him, or at least to serve him.
More broadly, we have to act together so that the body of values that forms the basis of our ethics is not relegated to such a private and secluded sphere that it becomes inoperative and socially dead. Our philosophies of life must continue to inspire our civil commitment, with all due respect to the supporters of a postmodernism whose aim seems to be to deny any legitimacy to all reference to a universal ethic. We need to find together a civil role, inspired by our convictions, in which we will work to demand that the rights of all be respected, that discriminations be outlawed, that dignity be protected, and that economic efficiency cease to be the measure of what is right. Differentiating between public and private space does not mean that women and men of faith, or women and men of conscience, have to shrink to the point of disappearance and fear to express themselves publicly in the name of what they believe. When a society has gone so far as to disqualify, in public debate, faith and what it inspires, the odds are that its system is founded only on materialism and ruled only by materialist logic—the self-centered accumulation of goods and profit.
We must dare to express our faith, its demands, and its ethics, to involve ourselves as citizens in order to make known our human concerns, our care for justice and dignity, our moral standards, our fears as consumers and televiewers, our hopes as mothers and fathers—to commit ourselves to do the best possible, together, to reform what might be. All our religious traditions have a social message that invites us to work together on a practical level. We are still far from this. In spite of thousands of dialogue circles and meetings, we still seem to know one another very little and to be very lacking in trust. Perhaps we must reconsider our methods and formulate a mutual demand: to behave in such a way that our actions, as much as possible, mirror our words, and then to act together.