Friday, January 25, 2008

Wright and Albacete

I've been back over at, watching more interviews. Of possible interest to those who'd like a Catholic perspective on interreligious dialogue is Robert Wright's interview (clocking in at around 80 minutes) of Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, who speaks a language I recognize from my days at Catholic University. It's toward the end of the interview that Wright tries to pin Albacete down on the question of Jesus' uniqueness and normativity, and how the Catholic stance affects interreligious dialogue. You'll notice that Albacete's replies include the claim that, however "liberal" he might sound, he is saying nothing out of synch with Roman doctrine. Priests, at least in public, usually make such CYA* claims, though what they might or might not say in private is another matter.**

Albacete offers interesting advice to non-Catholics: "Be faithful to your atheism," he tells atheists. To a Jewish woman: "Be the best Jew you can be." I found this remarkably similar to the advice given by a Polish monk at Hwagye-sa; I think it was Oh-jin sunim who, back in 2000, responded to my question about what advice he'd give a Christian. Oh-jin sunim's answer was: "If you're a Christian, be a good Christian. Muslims should be good Muslims." Albacete bases his view on the idea that a person who authentically follows his desires, coupled with reason, will be led to what he calls "the Mystery." He never insists that non-Catholics are "in error"; at one point, he even laughingly remarks that most Buddhists and atheists can probably achieve salvation faster than he can. At the same time, Albacete makes clear that, as a faithful Catholic, he sees Jesus Christ as the ultimate manifestation of Godhood in the world: Jesus is not merely a teacher but the savior-- the savior-- of humankind.

I'm still digesting the Albacete interview. I invite you to watch it and to leave some comments here. The main thing I hope you get from the interview, especially if you're not Catholic, is that the Catholic view of other religions is more nuanced than the Church's detractors often make it out to be. Many Catholics still seem not to realize this, but as Albacete's remarks make perfectly clear, the Roman Church's official position has been inclusivistic for quite a while (Albacete doesn't say this, but the switch occurred at the Second Vatican Council, 1962-65). The idea that the Church still subscribes to extra ecclesiam, nulla salus (no salvation outside the Church) simply isn't true, at least at the doctrinal level. It may, however, be true among certain Catholics as a matter of practice.

Ah, yes, one last thing: Albacete says that truth and love are two sides of the same coin. This echoes an earlier exchange on this blog regarding mindfulness and compassion. Mindfulness leads automatically to compassion: it's the awareness of things as they are (i.e., truth, suchness), and that awareness channels us to behave in a compassionate way (and there's certainly an overlap between the concepts of love and compassion). While truth, love, mindfulness, and compassion probably shouldn't be lumped together and declared absolutely synonymous, it's worth noting that the thematic parallels between Albacete's formulation and what I take to be the Buddhist stance offer us a bridge across which constructive dialogue may occur.

I await your comments.

*Cover Your Ass.

**To be fair, some priests remain consistent in public and in private.


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