The other major challenge I noticed rested in engaging and incorporating atheists into an interfaith dialogue. There are many reasons why this is so challenging, particularly because of the core differences between atheists and theists both in structure and substance of belief. In the event last week, it was certainly a challenge to incorporate the atheist belief as the focus of the event was based on the premise of there being some form of salvation. However, this challenge too can be surmounted through an emphasis on the normative. While the belief in the transcendent may not unify all people in dialogue, a search for truth can bridge these differences. Now, one may claim that such dialogue based on normative claims could descend into merely an interfaith debate, though this need not be the case. Certainly disagreements will arise and there will be a tension between different beliefs, as is always the case in a truthful dialogue. However, these tensions don’t have to be expressed through simple opposition to the other. Instead tension can be transformed into a process which leads to greater understanding and respect of the other as well as a greater pursuit for the truth. This creative tension, as I call it, takes the energy and passion that would drive us apart and transforms that into a passion for something greater. In understanding and conversing with other faiths, we can come to know better our own faith and reach further towards what the ultimate truth is.
And this dialogue can be strengthened through a focus on specific issues that people of different faith and non-faith traditions agree or disagree upon. And this is why engaging in community service is such an important tool for interfaith dialogue. In finding a common ground in service, we can go on to explore the significance of this for our faith and seek what truths can be learned from this. Similarly, when we discuss divisive issues (and there are plenty of those these days), we can work through these differences with that creative tension that directs the passions for our beliefs towards a passion for ultimate knowledge and understanding. Interfaith dialogue is not about ignoring or apologizing for our differences, but rather, it engages those differences in the pursuit of something greater.