Friday, June 1, 2007

The Origins and Evolution of the Modern Interfaith Movement

By Beth Katz, Director of Project Interfaith
(This is an excerpt from an article I wrote for the Summer 2007 issue of Creighton Magazine. A link to the entire article is below.)

The Second Vatican Council propelled the modern interfaith movement in the United States when it issued Nostra Aetate in 1965. This groundbreaking document transformed the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community by repudiating the centuries-old charge that all Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. The document also emphasizes the religious bond shared by Jews and Catholics, reaffirms the eternal covenant between G-d and the People of Israel, and dismisses church interest in trying to baptize Jews.[1] In addition to redefining the Church’s relationship with the Jewish community, Nostra Aetate affirms the Catholic Church’s relationship with the Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim communities and encourages Christians to enter into dialogue with members of these religious traditions: “Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life, acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, together with their social life and culture.”[2]

Nostra Aetate provided an unprecedented launching point for interreligious dialogue and debate. Its impact sent a ripple through religious communities around the world and caused some Protestant denominations to reexamine their relationships with other Christian denominations and with non-Christian religions. It also left many people- clergy, scholars, and laity- wondering just what it means to implement such a bold call.

Many of the interfaith initiatives that followed brought people from different faiths, often Christians and Jews together, often emphasizing the commonalities of the traditions sometimes as the expense of some very important differences. For example, a common practice in the 1970s and 1980s for fostering relations between Jews and Christians was to hold a Passover seder, a Jewish ritual meal through which the story of the exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt into freedom in Israel is retold and relived. Many Christians, in a desire to show solidarity with the Jewish community or to honor their “Jewish roots” began holding seders on their own and often times overlaid this sacred Jewish ritual with themes corresponding to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Ironically, this phenomena of “Christian seders” has in many cases strained Jewish-Christian relations, as many in the Jewish community view it as disrespectful of their tradition and smacking of supersessionism (meaning that it ends up reinforcing the view that Christians have replaced the Jews as G-d’s chosen people and to this effect Judaism is obsolete or incomplete).

In the 1990s, the interfaith movement in the United States continued to grow, spurred by the increasing plurality of religions present in this country. However, Jewish-Christian dialogues and encounters still dominated the movement. The September 11 terrorist attacks sparked a greater interest in Islam in this country and pointed to the need to work actively to include members from religions other than Judaism and Christianity in interfaith activities. Yet, the call for engagement originally issued through Nostra Aetate still poses a challenge for many clergy, scholars and laity forty years later. In the face of rising Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, and anti-immigrant attitudes in the United States, engaging people on issues of faith and religious diversity is needed as much now as ever.

To view the full article "Building an Interfaith World" by Project Interfaith founder and director Beth Katz, please go to:

[1] Anti-Defamation League (2005). Nostra Aetate: What is it? Available online at

[2] Second Vatican Council (1965). Nostra Aetate: Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. Available online at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you are interested in some new ideas on the interfaith movement and the Trinity, please check out my website at, and give me your thoughts on improving content and presentation.

My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic theology.

In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan Hindu conception of the Universe Absolute Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist apprehension of the Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept of the Holy Trinity.

The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the logic of world religions, as follows:

1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the first person of the Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known as Allah or Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other names; represented by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty messenger prophets), and others.

2. Christians and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person through a second person, i.e. the experiential Universe or "Universal” Absolute Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or Vishnu/Krishna; represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and savior of souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human consciousness, which we expect will be the "body of Christ" (Mahdi, Messiah, Kalki or Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.

3. Shaivite Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis of the first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality – unqualified Nirvana consciousness – associative Tao of All That Is – the absonite* Unconditioned Absolute Spirit “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected to be Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being – represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas, Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.

Other strains of religion seem to be psychological variations on the third person, or possibly combinations and permutations of the members of the Trinity – all just different personality perspectives on the Same God. Taken together, the world’s major religions give us at least two insights into the first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions of the second person, and at least three glimpses of the third.

* The ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither existential nor experiential, but their ultimate consummation; neither fully ideal nor totally real, but a middle path and grand synthesis of the superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.

** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit is a synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme, so it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit Synthesis of Source and Synthesis – the metaphysical Destiny Consummator of All That Is.

For more details, please see:

Samuel Stuart Maynes