Interfaith dialogue assumes the authenticity of the participants. Religion offers shape and direction to human life, it does not confuse and dehumanize. Satanism and its modern variants in perverted religion are not invited to the table. Real religion is a repeated encounter between a person and reality, it is always individual. Even the Judaic religion with the theme of the Chosen People only appears to contradict that; but it starts with one man’s disobedience, and goes on to another man’s obedience in the teeth of everything good in him, which Some Greater One sought to test by demanding the sacrifice of his son.
That doesn’t speak well of God but there it is. God had a reason that the man at the moment could not comprehend but obey God he did and it took an angel’s hand to stop him. It is still happening to every parent who loses her child with no angel around. Real religion cannot start as universal dogma; that is ideology with which men of faith have nothing to do because it denies the personal encounter and sustaining root of faith. It is only the personal we can be sure of; only of our thinking, right or wrong, that we can be certain.
That is why Santayana was never a man of faith. He was drawn to the Church by its ritual as others are to the political power of religion.
Faith starts in one person, and then another, without answers to fundamental questions: Why is there something rather than nothing? Was it made or was it always there; and how is that possible? Common sense puts the burden of proof on the negative because there is something and we don’t know why. Why am I here and what am I to do? In short the mystery of reality. To get over these hurdles he must look for natural answers; it is all he can do at first; but finding none adequate, if he is honest, he won’t be satisfied with unanswered questions. He may or may not take a leap of faith—from nothing to something. At best a guess. And that is what marks true religion, be it one of the great or primitive ones. And while it is brave to insist that if nothing suffices, then nothing will do; really, haven’t you decided to stop at the edge of the precipice until the question is rendered moot by your extinction.
Every great religion starts with that encounter: Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam; the last three arising from the same book, the same genitive impulse of fearful wonder. Even Buddhism, with its unique resignation to an ineffable reality that may be just ignorance, does not foreclose transcending it by good deeds. Because at the root of all real religions is that encounter between a person and whatever he thinks is out there or inside him—and that’s true of everyone else.
And that is how, when he has found a religious answer, he should regard his fellow man of the same or another faith or none at all—as one like himself: a person filled with a fearful wonder whom he must treat as he would himself; for there but for his God’s grace goes he. He must join Cromwell, that man of militant faith who yet enjoined his Parliament to “Consider in the bowels of Christ that ye may be wrong” after all. Even Jacob wrestled with the angel. Doubt dogs the man of faith.
Real religion is faith married to doubt until death does them part, when, finally, we shall see the answer, if any, not as through a glass darkly but face to face. The unmistakable sign of religious fakery is certainty and intolerance. I agree with the author that the fastest way for everyone to appreciate the likeness of the human condition is found in friendship. Like Mary Magdalene turning at the unexpected sound of her name and saying, “Teacher,” so must we, at a strange voice calling our name, turn and without yet seeing from whom it came, answer, “Friend.”