New Religious Movements: Do we include them in Interfaith relations?

My job sometimes involves diplomatic difficulties. Like what to do when the Universal Peace Federation of Victoria wants to nominate you for a Peace Ambassador Award. The UPF is better known as the Unification Church or even more colloquially as “the Moonies” (after their founder, the Korean Rev. Sun Myung Moon). Yes, they are the ones to whom Archbishop Malingo has so infamously attached himself.

Now, you might just as well say “Don’t touch them with a barge pole–they’re a sect”. And I might well agree with you. The Second Vatican Council, in Nostra Aetate, said that one should enter into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions “with prudence and charity”–the emphasis in this case being “with prudence”.

Perhaps one of the stickiest points is that an invitation to be involved in the UPF’s otherwise praiseworthy agenda of world peace and harmony is an invitation to be involved in their religious agenda of world spiritual unification. I rather sympathise with world spiritual unification, but through communion with the One Triune God in the One Church of the One Saviour, Jesus Christ, not through the program of the Unification Movement. Archbishop Malingo’s downfall was that he saw the goals of the Movement as worthy of his endorsement and discovered (too late) that one could not endorse their goals without endorsing the religious agenda behind it.

Catholics do not enter into collaboration with any other religious groups with the goal of getting them to participate in our religious agenda. We are definitely wary of any invitation that might try to involve us in the religious agenda of other groups. One difficulty in engaging with the Unification Movement in any activity designed to promote unity and harmony among religious believers is that such activities do form such a core part of the religious agenda of the Movement. We are invited to “transcend” our limited religious understandings and embrace a higher truth in love.

Aside from this, there remains the basic question of how the Catholic Church is to engage with the new religious movements like the Moonies, the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Scientologists (yes, I have them visit from time to time too), etc. It seems to me antithetical to Nostra Aetate to simply dismiss them as “sects”, containing nothing but falsehood. After all, Christianity was once viewed as a sect–as was Islam and Buddhism in their turn. It also seems rather elitist to say that we should only deal with the ancient world religions. Afterall, for some reason (which I can’t quite fathom–unless it is ideological) the Bah’ai faith has been embraced in the “interfaith network”, even though it is no more ancient than the Latter Day Saints.

Or do we reject these new movements as “religions” in their own right just because they are (usually and rather obviously) Christian heresies? In a parallel case, even quite open and moderate Muslims will draw the line at interacting with Bah’ais, which they regard as a Muslim heresy rather than a separate religion.

Or, in the end, do we avoid these guys because 1) there aren’t enough of them (yet) to make it worth while compared to the other (bigger) guys? or 2) because taking them seriously might just be a little bit embarrasing?

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8 Responses to New Religious Movements: Do we include them in Interfaith relations?

  1. Peter says:

    Or, in the end, do we avoid these guys because … taking them seriously might just be a little bit embarrasing?

    More embarrasing than, say, holding a joint “eucharist” with Uniting or Anglican clergy and congregations? More embarassing than glossing over profound differences in foundational ethical beliefs in the name of unity?

    No David, I’d say that charitable interpretation and interaction with misguided brethren, even where this may be missunderstood at our expense, is an exersize of love.

    If the risk is purely one of ’embarassment’ and not scandle, then we can bear the personal cost of a genuine attempt to be charitable. If the cost is scandle or watering down the faith, then we can’t.

  2. Christine says:

    I am reminded of John Paul’s message for World Day for Peace 2001:

    Dialogue leads to a recognition of diversity and opens the mind to the mutual acceptance and genuine collaboration demanded by the human family’s basic vocation to unity. As such, dialogue is a privileged means for building the civilization of love and peace that my revered predecessor Paul VI indicated as the ideal to inspire cultural, social, political and economic life in our time. The different religions too can and ought to contribute decisively to this process. My many encounters with representatives of other religions—I recall especially the meeting in Assisi in 1986 and in Saint Peter’s Square in 1999—have made me more confident that mutual openness between the followers of the various religions can greatly serve the cause of peace and the common good of the human family.

    The human family’s basic vocation to unity?

    Jesus said he came not to bring peace but a sword. There is no mention in JPII’s message about the necessity of Jesus Christ, before whom every knee shall bow.

    I was and still am very troubled by the whole Assisi event and JPII’s overoptimistic humanism.

  3. Past Elder says:

    Where’s the problem? One new religious movement — post conciliar Catholicism — encountering others!

    As to Assisi, there is your future.

  4. Christine says:

    As to Assisi, there is your future.

    I don’t think that’s going to happen, but if for some unfathomable reason it did, the SSPX will still be there :) :)

  5. Christine says:

    And let me hasten to add that I was only kidding in my reference to the SSPX. I have no desire to go back to those days.

    Here’s a wonderful post I found on another blogspot:

    in my own experience of the Catholic Church in the U.S. (which is quite wide), that factionalism has diminished dramatically over the past 3 decades.

    The heart of Catholicism is coming to know Jesus Christ through the holy sacraments and experiencing the indwelling of the Most Blessed Trinity in one’s soul. That’s it.

    Doctrinal orthodoxy, sound liturgy, and acknowledgment of the moral law are all essential preconditions to that experience –but they are not enough. I have a deep mistrust of anyone who speaks as though such things are sufficient, or ends in themselves. But honestly, I find fewer and fewer such people every year.

    Personal repentance, self-denial, frequent confession, daily Mass, silent prayer at home or in front of the Blessed Sacrament: THAT’s real Catholicism. And in my experience, there are many times more Catholics who do those things today (all the while holding to doctrinal, moral and liturgical orthodoxy, but not constantly shouting about it) than there are people who whine about “the liberals” or the hierarchy or the latest liturgical abuse.

    The latter group, fast dwindling in numbers, thanks be to God, have no real grasp of the Catholic Faith, regardless of their intellectual capacities. The principal place to struggle is always within one’s self. Although the obligation of charity will sometimes compel us to speak against or act to correct errors within the Church or the larger society, Catholics are called at baptism first of all to personal holiness, not to engage in political struggle within the Church or otherwise.

    I couldn’t agree more.

  6. Past Elder says:

    Hmm, and I was taught that the Council moved us beyond the “me and God” myopia of the past, recognising that we encounter God in community who is himself a community, and in outreach and service to the larger human family.

    Tweak the argument and it’s the our differences don’t really matter since we’re all Christians thing.

    Sounds like Rome is still a little confused on the sanctification/justification thing.

    Not much different than I remember, post Council: Catholicism is pretty much whatever you want it to be.

  7. Christine says:

    Hmm, and I was taught that the Council moved us beyond the “me and God” myopia of the past, recognising that we encounter God in community who is himself a community, and in outreach and service to the larger human family.

    Utterly absurd, Terry. Even Jesus withdrew from the crowds to pray.

    The Church still teaches that the preeminent presence of Christ is in the Eucharist, which exits for the nourishment of those who have been baptized into the life, death and resurrection of the Lord. Your constant swipes at the “communal” aspect of Catholicism are becoming redundant.

    We are sent forth to bear Christ to the world after hearing the Word and receiving His life in Holy Communion, which is meant to help us grow in the Christian life. There’s nothing myopic about that.

    I don’t know anything about lone wolf Christianity.

  8. Past Elder says:

    Hey, those are not my opinions, it’s stuff I was taught in sermons, er, homilies, er, well whatever since there’s no dissemination of information in the “liturgy”, at Mass in Catholic Churches and from the podia of Catholic theology courses in Catholic institutions. Es steht im Buch.

    And they said the cafeteria was closed. Choose your Catholicism. Ultimately all that holds the whole thing to-gether is a faith in itself.

    Out here.

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