One blessing of our culture is that when people want to discuss a religious topic they no longer confine themselves to their own denomination. A Linguapax conference on religion and language held in Tokyo in October 2007 featured speakers representing Judaism, Islam and several Christian denominations; the Tokyo Unitarian Fellowship invites speakers of all religious stripes; Gene Reeves’ Buddhist discussion group unites scholars of different denominations, who learn as much about each other’s backgrounds as about the topics chosen for discussion; in another corner of Tokyo a group of Jews, Catholics and Lutherans have a sense of mutual recognition as they discuss such themes as “the laity” or “Father Abraham.”
This year’s Japan Mission Journal has made a small contribution to weaving the web of such interreligious awareness. The heterogeneity of the articles shows that religious interactions are as multifarious and unpredictable as human interactions in general. Even within the Christian mission to Asia there has been a variety of paradigms, as Robert Lee shows, making the concern of Francis Xavier with the “salvation of non-Christians” (see C. M. Barrionuevo) seem remote. Yet even within a narrow paradigm the witness of martyrdom has an irreducible authority (as S. Kawamura reminds us). Conversely, within the Buddhist mission to the West the activities embarked on are as varied as the needs to be met (as K. Mullen and K. T. Sato show), yet all express the healing impact of the Buddhist teaching.
There are universal platforms that bring people of different religious together – the heart (R. Kearney) and Nature (F. Sottocornola). Does doctrine provide such a platform, as Catherine Cornille suggests? Only if the doctrine is set in the context of the living process of its historical gestation. Doctrine is a skeletal structure, a skillful means at the service of lived faith. An over-zealous insistence on its claims, such as Claude Geffré deplores, can cramp the vibrant expression of faith in the accents of real cultures, as in the inculturated liturgy of Vietnam (P. C. Phan) and effectively thwart the emergence of “Asian perspectives on Christianity” (E. Chia) that resist the imposition of European outlooks. Christians in Asia may recognize variations of familiar themes in unfamiliar places – sacramental and prophetic aspects in shamanism (D. A. Kister), notions of Heaven in Buddhism or Confucianism (S. Kim). Interreligious encounter also goes on in quiet corners of the culture, such as the poetry analyzed by Brother Anthony. To shun these wells of insight would be to risk leaving our Westernized language high and dry.
Amid this endless variety, Christian hope apprehends a forward movement and a divine purpose. Paul VI, on Christmas Eve, 1975, spoke of this in prophetic tones: “I see the religions of the earth gathered around this crib of Bethlehem, and as I say this my voice trembles, not with uncertainty, but with joy – la mia voce trema, non d’incertezza, ma di gioia!”
Editorial, The Japan Mission Journal 61:4, Winter 2007.