For a humanist approach to interreligious dialogue

For a humanist approach to interreligious dialogue

“I discover myself one day in the world and I recognize only one right:
that of demanding human behavior from the other. » Frantz Fanon

Events and scientific publications on interreligious dialogue continue to multiply. The need for mutual knowledge for a peaceful coexistence between peoples and individuals of different cultures and beliefs is increasingly palpable, thus giving all their importance to the demonstrations calling for dialogue.

The starting points for interreligious dialogue may diverge. The divinity of Jesus, the prophecy of Muhammad, the difference between halaqa Hebrew Law, Canon Law and Islamic Sharia are just a few classic examples from which interreligious dialogue is often conducted.

However, relevant as these points may seem, groups not belonging to the three monotheistic religions are often forgotten in interreligious dialogue. Indeed, an atheist who gives no place to God runs the risk of being weary of cycles of debates on the divinity of Jesus or on the difference between the sharia and the halaqa. Also the militants of the interreligious dialogue must carry out their reflections starting from other more unifying bases and which would not exclude anyone, including the most convinced atheist or the animist most attached to his tradition.

It is to contribute to the broadening of the conceptual field of interreligious dialogue that we propose to reflect, in the following lines, on the way in which humanism could be a new starting point for a new dialogue.

Why humanism?

Because interreligious dialogue aims to create links between people of different religions, having a humanist approach to said dialogue is a way of including all the children of the earth, including those who do not believe in the existence of God. . If there is one point on which everyone, believer or not, could find themselves, it is the following: “the end of all human activity should be the happiness of man”.

And these are the very bases of humanism. Thus, trying to reflect on the way in which religious texts, or any other text, think of man and his dignity, his glory and perhaps his happiness, is today and more than ever a necessity for the very survival of human kingdom.

A thousand and one ways to be humanist

We will be told that humanism, in certain cases, can be used as an ideology aimed at excluding God from the world by placing man at the center of all concerns. To this objection, we will reply that there are a thousand and one ways of being humanist. On the other hand, whatever the vision that one could have of humanism, the happiness of man and the prevention of his dignity must be the guiding threads. Below, we propose to approach two ways of thinking about humanism which could serve as bases for a humanistic approach to interreligious dialogue.

anthropocentric humanism

One of the ways of thinking about humanism is that described as anthropocentric. Having an anthropocentric approach would amount, if we refer to the Big Robert, to consider “man, humanity as the central (essential or final) element of the universe”. Thus humanism here qualified as anthropocentric will consist in thinking of man by man and for man without any reference to any divine transcendence. It is of this humanism that Sartre spoke who saw that existence preceded existence. essence in its famous Existentialism is a humanism. The basis of his thought could be summed up as follows: “man is nothing other than what he does [1]», and that “even if God existed, it wouldn’t change anything”[2].This humanism, although able to respect all believers, can be atheistic or agnostic. In a humanist approach to interreligious dialogue, this way of thinking about man, by a non-believer, could be supported by another vision of humanism animated by faith.

Theocentric humanism

The second humanism is the so-called theocentric. The latter consists in thinking man through man in the light of God. It will not be a question of excluding God nor of deifying man, but quite simply of thinking of man starting from the gift of the spirit and of the word offered to him by God. In this regard, the book of Genesis reveals the following when narrating the process of the creation of the Universe: “Then God said: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness […] God created man in his own image, he created him in the picture of godhe created male and female”[3].

About Adam, Genesis says: “This is the book of the posterity of Adam. When God created man, he made him likeness of god »[4]. Doesn’t the seventh beatitude say that those who will spread peace will be called “sons of God”? As regards the Koranic discourse, a passage, quite close to the story of the Old Testament, affirms that by wanting to create Adam , God said to the angels: When I have fashioned it and breathed My spirit into it, then bow down to it.” [5]. From Mali, Tierno Bokar Tal comments on the verse saying that this “implies that each descendant of Adam is the depositary of a parcel of the Spirit of God after which he asked the following question: “how then dare we despise a vessel which contains a particle of the Spirit of God?” » [6]

This same idea is carried by the old Fulani mythology according to which “synthesis of all the elements of the universe, the superiors as well as the inferiors, receptacle par excellence of the Supreme Force at the same time as the confluence of all existing forces, good or bad, Neddo, the primordial Man, inherited a parcel of divine creative power, the gift of the Spirit of the Word” [7]. Also, having a humanist approach to interreligious dialogue would amount to rethinking man, not without God as Sartre would say, but as a receptacle of the creative breath, heir to the logos primordial, holder of the gift of speech and as the only one in existence to have been created in the image of God. So even though the way the believer thinks of man may differ from the way the atheist might think of him, they will both agree that the dignity and nobility of man should never be sacrificed.

This nobility was sung by the Koranic God: “Yes, We have ennobled the sons of Adam, We have transported them in the earth as in the sea and We provide them with good things, therefore, We have privileged them over many of our creatures”[8].

For the happiness of man, from living together to doing together

What to do with the achievements of a humanist approach to interreligious dialogue? To answer this question, let us recall one of the points already raised and on which believers and non-believers could agree: human happiness must be the end of all human activity. Whether this purpose is in pursuit of God’s satisfaction or not matters little.

From there, the achievements of interreligious dialogue in its humanist approach must accompany the transition from living together to doing together so that human dignity is forever preserved. It will no longer be a matter of being satisfied with passive and peaceful cohabitation. Active coexistence must be the rule of the game.

To do this, those aspiring to a humanist approach to dialogue must agree on concrete actions that can unite everyone. Blood donations, solidarity actions for orphans and the most disadvantaged are just a few examples. Locking oneself into theological debates without planning actions to preserve human dignity is the trap to avoid in an interreligious dialogue based on a humanist approach.

In this sense, we believe that the ecological crisis could be the pretext for a good active concretization of the achievements of the dialogue. As we have pointed out elsewhere, “in a time of pollution, global warming, faced with the urgency of an energy transition and a radical change in our mode of consumption, speculating on legal and theological questions is not the most pressing thing. Constantly shutting oneself up in religious reason can, in certain cases, contribute to cosmic disorder which will spare no living being if nothing is done.[9].

May humanism be the basis of a good interreligious dialogue that can lead to actions of collaboration so that the happiness of man is not, for any reason, sacrificed.


[1] Jean paul Sartre, Existentialism is a humanism, Gallimard, 1996, p.30.
[2] Ibid., p.77.
[3] Genesis 1:26-27.
[4] Genesis 5:1.
[5] Koran, 38/72.
[6] Amadou Hampate Ba, Life and teaching of Tierno Bokar: The Sage of Bandiagara, Threshold, 1980, p.148.
[7] Amadou Hampate Ba, Fulani initiation tales, Stock, 1994, p. 20.
[8] Koran, 17/70.
[9] Seydi Diamil Niane, I, a Muslim, do not have to justify myself, Paris, Eyrolles, 2017, p.117.