Pope Benedict’s Christmas Address to the Roman Curia is making big headlines, many of which attack him and distort his message as it has to do with “gender identity” and how our identity is fundamental in that we Christians cannot deny our identity in Christ, nor can we deny nature and what it has to say about identity. Tim Graham and LifeSiteNews both have reports on the address and the backlash to it from “gay rights” activists. There is much to learn from what the Holy Father said, but as usual, I’m most interested in his instruction on identity, that pertains to what we may legitimately concede for purposes of interreligious dialogue and what we may not legitimately concede.
Two rules are generally regarded nowadays as fundamental for interreligious dialogue:
1. Dialogue does not aim at conversion, but at understanding. In this respect it differs from evangelization, from mission;
2. Accordingly, both parties to the dialogue remain consciously within their identity, which the dialogue does not place in question either for themselves or for the other.
These rules are correct, but in the way they are formulated here I still find them too superficial. True, dialogue does not aim at conversion, but at better mutual understanding – that is correct. But all the same, the search for knowledge and understanding always has to involve drawing closer to the truth. Both sides in this piece-by-piece approach to truth are therefore on the path that leads forward and towards greater commonality, brought about by the oneness of the truth. As far as preserving identity is concerned, it would be too little for the Christian, so to speak, to assert his identity in a such a way that he effectively blocks the path to truth. Then his Christianity would appear as something arbitrary, merely propositional. He would seem not to reckon with the possibility that religion has to do with truth. On the contrary, I would say that the Christian can afford to be supremely confident, yes, fundamentally certain that he can venture freely into the open sea of the truth, without having to fear for his Christian identity. To be sure, we do not possess the truth, the truth possesses us: Christ, who is the truth, has taken us by the hand, and we know that his hand is holding us securely on the path of our quest for knowledge. Being inwardly held by the hand of Christ makes us free and keeps us safe: free – because if we are held by him, we can enter openly and fearlessly into any dialogue; safe – because he does not let go of us, unless we cut ourselves off from him. At one with him, we stand in the light of truth.
“Preserving identity” in Christ is not optional. It is not “something arbitrary.” It is not “merely propositional.” We cannot deny our identity in Christ, even if we are doing so for the sake of dialogue.
On this precise point, I have been looking for specific instruction from the Vatican, and I was prepared to do whatever the Vatican advised on the matter, either way. As it stands, the Holy Father himself has now given his advice and I, for one, plan to follow it.
By the way, the image associated with this blog post is not actually of bananas. They are lemons. Truth is not negotiable.