Before becoming a minister who works with refugees and immigrants in need, I did ministry on campus for several years. My job was to interact with students, explore their faith issues with them, and organize religious dialogue groups where people from various faiths met, shared, and discussed their faith. I connected students looking for churches with one and encouraged churches to reach out to students. It was a rewarding but tough ministry because of the skepticism I encountered. The intellectual environment of the university where I ministered did not welcome religious faiths as worthy partners for dialogue. But I was grateful because hanging out with the students gave me a lot of exposure to various cultures, mindsets, and cross-cultural conflicts.
Some students asked difficult questions that neither I nor any theologian or scientist to that end had proven answers. I remember one day a student asked me about the connection between morality and religion and tried to ground his opinion in Immanuel Kant’s teachings. Other times I saw mixed couples that had to do some soul-searching together because their religious commitments conflicted. For all this and for a wonderful, intellectual environment, I will always be grateful to what God has put on my plate.
But one thing I noticed in my countless interactions with students stood out: almost all of them spoke based on what they knew about God. They had cultural, religious, philosophical, and some theological knowledge. They openly discussed matters of God and faith. Yet none of them ever took into account what we humans didn’t know about God or how much we humans still don’t know about God and how that unknowing should be accounted for in our discussions. None showed the awareness that our meager knowledge of God is less than a speck compared to the infinity and unsearchable depths of the Creator. They simply ignored the limitedness of our knowledge about God and did not often incorporate it into their discussions. Instead they preferred to share knowledge and insist on their view if the accounts of the same event or concept from several faiths contradicted each other.
After thinking about how the teachings and doctrines of various religions divided them, I concluded that despite what they share (especially the Abrahamic faiths), a positive knowledge (what we believe we know about God) is not the best ground for interreligious dialogue or solidarity between faiths. Instead a negative or apophatic theology can work as a ground of dialogue between religions. Apophatic theology is a way of learning about God by claiming or exploring what God is not. It implies that human knowledge about God is limited. Mysticisms of all the Abrahamic faiths extensively use negative theology. Not only that, we have ancient Greek theological thought that explored these matters in depth through platonic ideas.
In a nutshell, the diverse religions of the world are unified not because they share some similar ideas about God or seek the same God but because of what and how much they don’t know about God or the ultimate reality they explore. Since God is infinite and cannot be fully or essentially grasped by humans, what these faiths do not know about God is infinitely more expansive and deeper than what they do know and argue about the Creator. These faiths or their various sects are potentially more unified in the recognition of the limitedness of their knowledge about God than in their explicit claims about the divine. Their own self-professed limitedness (or learned ignorance, to use Nicolas of Cusa’s term a bit differently) to reveal God outweighs their explicit claims about God. That truth, elaborated upon by various schools of negative theology within each religion, is what unifies these faiths.
That said, I will conclude this short post by saying that if you liked this article then please share it on social media. As they say, sharing is caring. Also, check another article linked below.