For many centuries, the Christians and the Non Christians have held contentious perceptions towards each other. While the Non Christians perceived the Christians as religious fundamentalists who were headed for nowhere with their religious beliefs, the Christians on the other hand viewed the Non Christians as the sinners who were headed for hell and there was no way to redeem their souls unless they subscribed to Christianity. To the Christians, anybody who became an adherent follower of any religion apart from the Christian faith had no hope, especially in life after death. The difference in what they believed went on for a long time, to the point of becoming a genesis of hatred and violence between the two groups. Two theologians discuss the trends that the relationship between the two factions has followed in history.
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Paul F. knitter approaches this issue from the confrontational perspective toward that place of dialogue. He argues that throughout the centuries since the beginning of Christianity, there has existed hostility with the Christians perceiving other religious groups as enemies that should not have any part in their activities and therefore their lives. His approach elicits the kind of association between the Christians and the non-Christians. He therefore defines this relationship as a relationship that was characterized more by monologue rather than dialogue. Yet, as he reiterates in his article, this has changed and the modern times has forced a dialogue to be initiated between the two factions in order for this world to be made a better place and for any peace to exist. In his arguments, the coexistence of cultures on the face of the earth is depended on the harmony among religious groups. However, this harmony can only be solicited for through dialogue. Yet for the global community to move together in unison there must be dialogue.
J.A. DiNoia on the other hand approaches this issue from the pluralist perspective whereby there are arguments that every religion on the face of the earth has an aim of attaining salvation and that is the reason each is devoted to his/her religion. The pluralists’ arguments rely on the fact that salvation is a state of becoming faithful to the founder of a particular religious movement. Therefore, there arises the question of whether Jesus is the only way that a person can use to get saved. J.A. DiNoia contents that salvation is exclusively a Christian phenomena that tries to describe what should be sought after by every human being over everything else in life. The arguments laid out by this theologian seek to disprove the pluralist arguments that every religious founder is a savior in a way, and to assert that one can interact with a person from another religious background freely without staining his faith.
Therefore, the above theologians use different cases to defend the position they have taken towards the whole issue of Christianity and non-Christianity. To begin with, Paul F. knitter mentions that the current models of relating between the Christians and ‘them’ cannot be able support dialogue between these two factions. He continues to mentions some of the weaknesses of the current models and then goes ahead to propose the model that can be able to promote dialogue and peaceful coexistence between the two groups. One of the weaknesses of the current model is the replacement model whereby Christians can only relate to non-Christians on the basis of receive Christ and forsake your ways or perish. While such a model is open to dialogue, it closes out the possibility of one learning from the other faction and in this case the Christian. Fulfillment, mutuality and the acceptance model are also mentioned as some of the models that have been used to tackle the contentious subject that exists between the Christians and the non-Christians. However, it should be noted that while these models have been seen as a way of promoting dialogue between these two, the models does not champion for openness and commitment in the dialogue.
Therefore, Paul F. knitter proposes there are other theological perspectives that can be categorized into two i.e. theology that supports openness and does not endanger commitment, and theology that supports commitment and yet does not put at risk openness. These theological principals have models under them that have varying perspectives yet remain in a position of maintaining openness and commitment. Under the theological perspective that supports openness and still does not endanger commitment, he talks about models such as confessional, kenotic, sacramental and kingdom centered. On the other hand, reconciliatory falls under the theological standing that maintains commitment without making openness to be vulnerable in the sight of dialogue.
J.A. DiNoia support the arguments that he has presented by proposing that the separation line between the Christians and the non-Christians can be ironed out if at all the Christians understand that they can have a strong faith in Christ and affirm that he is the only savior and yet love and respect people who does not share the same beliefs background with them. His views are inclined towards the fact that one can still interact with other people who are not of his faith and even affirm what his faith states without intimidating or being intimidated by the other person. For example, he provides an example on an interaction with a Buddhist. In this example, he asserts that when one interact with a Buddhist, and the Buddhist states what one will miss if he does follow Buddha, then unless one wants to become a follower of Buddha, such comments should not shake the heart of this person at all.
There are strengths and weaknesses that stems from the two arguments as presented by knitter and DiNoia. First, Knitter’s arguments have strengths in that dialogue is one of the unique phenomena that is able to break the barrier between different groups that are at loggerheads with each other. For example, when two people fight, dialogue is used to identify the problem that they have towards each other. Conversely, dialogue is the one that can be used to help them find solutions to their problems. However, the weakness that is evident in these models of dialogue is that, whenever a dialogue is to take place, there must be some point of compromise. People cannot come together and agree to erase their differences unless both of them are willing to compromise on what they believe in. In this particular, to Christians, it is evident that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation and this cannot not be compromised to entertain other ideas that states otherwise. To non-Christians, such a position is like pronouncing a judgment on them, and therefore, they cannot at any point in time agree to have a dialogue over such issues.
The proposals by DiNoia on the other hand have a strong point in that mutual respect among different communities can easily be attained if one is confident in the faith he profess and therefore is not threatened by other religious beliefs. As he states, a Christian can have relations who are non-Christians and be in a positions to live along each other without much difficulty. However, the biggest weakness with this argument is that the two factions, i.e. the Christians and the non-Christians have always worked towards having the support of each other due to the fact that each believes in himself that he is on the right track and that the other one should join him. Therefore, each pulls from his side, making coexistence to be a rare factor between them.
The two theologians therefore, while discussing the issue of Christians and non-Christians therefore uses different approach tactics as they make their proposals on what should be done to minimize the gap that exist between them. Whereas they have a quest to help breach the gap between the two factions, there proposals are marred by cracks that still make it difficult to deal with the issue of unity between Christians and non-Christians. While both proposals that are made by the two proposals are geared towards a democratic discussion, this is yet to be achieved as the ultimate results in the real world.
Despite the schemes provided by these theologians may not be viable in the real world, the arguments by DiNoia remains to be a strong argument that if supported the gap between the Christians and the non-Christians can be reduced by a big margin. His argument on the importance of understanding one’s beliefs and the willingness to respect the beliefs of the other part can go a long way in helping to develop new friendship that leads to a mutual coexistence between Christians and non-Christians.
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