What today should form the basis of our attitudes toward the world religions? Instead of an indifferentism which finds everything equally valid: more indifference toward those orthodoxies that make themselves the full measure of salvation, or lack of salvation, for human beings and seek to establish the truth of their claims with instruments of power and force. Instead of a relativism which rejects all absolutes: more sensitivity to the relativity of every human arrangement of absolutes which hinders a productive coexistence among various religions; and more sensitivity to the relationality which allows us to see every religion within its own web of relationships. Instead of a syncretism where everything is melted into one: more commitment to a synthesis of points of opposition between religions, so that instead of war, hate, and dispute which still take their daily toll in blood and tears, peace
may reign among the religions.
In the face of religious impatience, we cannot ask for too much patience, religious freedom. There must be no betrayal of freedom for the sake of truth. But at the same time, there should be no betrayal of truth for the sake of freedom. The question of truth must not be trivialized and sacrificed to the utopia of a future world unity and one world religion. On the contrary, we are all challenged to think through anew, in an atmosphere of freedom, the whole question of truth. For freedom, other than arbitrariness, is not simply freedom from all obligations and bindings — that is purely negative. Rather, it is at the same time a positive freedom requiring new responsibility toward one’s fellow human beings, toward one’s self, and toward the Absolute. True freedom, therefore, is a freedom for truth.
One could proceed here with long and complicated discussions on the question of what truth is and take a position on the various contemporary theories about truth (correspondence, reflection, consensus, and coherence theories). Yet the question of true religion must remain very much in the foreground. As a presupposition for everything that follows concerning the lack of truth in religion, I offer this thesis as a starting point: The Christian possesses no monopoly on truth, and also no obligation to forego a confession of truth on the grounds of an arbitrary pluralism. Dialogue and witness do not exclude each other. A confession of truth includes the courage to sift out untruth and speak about it.
It would certainly be a gross prejudice to identify ahead of time the border between truth and untruth as identical to the border between one’s own and other religions. If we are serious, we must grant that the borders between truth and untruth run through each of our religions. So often we are both correct and in correct! Criticism of another position, therefore, is made responsibly only on the basis of a decisive self-criticism. Likewise, only thus is an integration of the values of the other possible. That means that within religions not everything is equally true and good. There are also elements in religious teachings, in beliefs and customs, in religious rites and practices, within institutions and authorities that are not true and not good. This applies to Christianity, as well as to all other religions.
Hans Küng, director of the Institute for Ecumenical Research at the University of Tubingen, is one of the Catholic world’s leading, and controversial, theologians. The author of such best-selling books as On Being a Christian and Does God Exist? His 1979 book Infallible? led the Vatican to declare that “Kung has departed from the integral truth of Catholic faith, and therefore can no longer be considered as a Catholic theologian nor function as such in a teaching role.” Küng was consequently forced to resign from his professorial chair of Catholic Theology at the University of Tubingen. In his forthcoming book, Christianity and World Religions (Doubleday), Küng explores the unity and diversity of religion.