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What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?

So asked Tertullian, the second century Christian author from Carthage in North Africa. It is the watchword for those who are suspicious of attempts to mix religion and philosophy. Or, rather, it is the standard riposte to those who would intrude philosophy into religion. More precisely still, it asserts the claim that only believers have the right to comment on their faith.

You might find yourself nodding in agreement because how can one comment on that of which one has no personal experience? But, when it comes to religion, how high are we to set the bar? Is it enough to be a nominal Christian - or Muslim or Hindu - to comment on your faith? What if you are a "fundamentalist" - should that exclude you or send you to the top of the list?

If we draw the lines tightly around the right to comment on matters of faith and belief, we risk denying freedom of speech (which cuts both ways) and we remove the right to comment of religion generally and other faiths in particular. This does not augur well for public discourse, because how can I understand - let alone love - my neighbour if I am not allowed to enquire into the deeper aspects of their life, like matters of spirituality?

The answer might lie in the invigorating waters of "respectful dialogue", where adherents of different faiths and none gather with the intention of learning from one another about the topics which affect us all: meaning of life, what happens when we die, grace, sin, justice, good stewardship. When engagement is as much about listening as it is about speaking, amazing things happen. Not only to we learn about others by glimpsing what the world looks like from their perspective but we glean insights about ourselves that can only come from the perspective of sympathetic "others".



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