We are living in an age of information – the age of the knowledge explosion. Today, everyone wants to know more and more about everything, including religion. The result is that, today, on the subject of religion, people are far better informed than ever before.
At the same time, we are living in a world of differences – of multi-religious, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic societies. To remove the differences people fight amongst themselves not realizing that differences cannot be removed. A reformer has rightly said that nature abhors uniformity. This means that ‘difference’ is a part of nature and it exists in every aspect of life including religion. What we need to do is simply learn the ‘art of difference management’ rather than the art of difference elimination. For, who has the power to remove differences?
How do we manage differences? In ancient times, people used to take a confrontational course whenever differences arose. They knew only one way to settle disputes, and that was war. But democracy put an end to this way of settling matters and introduced the culture of peace.
We should also understand that difference is not a curse, but rather a blessing. History shows that difference of opinion leads to dialogue, and dialogue results in intellectual development, which is a boon for everyone concerned. Difference of opinion also leads to high thinking, which is the sole key to all kinds of human progress.
In the realm of religion, today, differences are managed only through meaningful and positive ‘inter-faith dialogue’ between people of world religions. The aim of dialogue being to seek peaceful solutions to controversial matters, in spite of differences. There may be differences in religion and culture, but there is absolutely no difference or discrimination made between people in terms of respect and honour.
The principle of dialogue is that the parties should present their viewpoints supported by arguments, while remaining ever ready for give and take — a pre- requisite of a successful dialogue — rather than insist on all demands being unconditionally met.