Christians have the truth. So should we bother talking with other faiths?
Twelve years to the day since the 7/7 bombings in London, I find myself moved by pictures of interfaith delegations visiting the multiple sites of that horror to remember the dead and salute the emergency services.
In this summer of tragedy across the UK, time and again I've been blown away by the genuine sense of solidarity and fraternity between Christians, Muslims and those of other faiths too – let alone the atheists and agnostics.
The bravery of the imam who prevented further bloodshed at Finsbury Park. The Sikhs and Jews who rallied to provide food and clothes for the Grenfell Tower victims. The mosques in my own neighbourhood who've shown friendship and solidarity.
In such an environment, we rightly echo the words of the late Jo Cox MP, murdered by a fascist terrorist on the streets of Yorkshire a year ago. 'We have more in common than that which divides us,' she said. Keeping this in mind in this year of cataclysmic events has kept hope alive that tomorrow may be a better day and that we can find ways to live together in peace.
When we laud our commonality and shared goals, we do an important thing – we recognise the primacy of our humanity. Abrahamic religions would describe this as being 'made in the image of God'. It was a revolutionary concept, given to the world by the Judeo Christian worldview.
The limits, though, are obvious. We, as Christians, believe different things from Muslims, Hindus and every other world faith on offer. If, 'more in common' becomes 'there's no discernable difference' then we've probably not been paying enough attention to our own faith – and those of our friends and neighbours.
There are fundamental and irreconcilable differences between what different religions say the problem with the world is and what must be done to put it right. In fact, some faiths and worldviews would reject the idea that there is a problem to be solved at all – salvation being a truth not universally acknowledged.
Jesus was either divine (the Christian view) or he wasn't (the Muslim view). That our Muslim friends venerate Jesus as a prophet is a thing to celebrate and find common ground over. But the two faiths view the person of Jesus of Nazareth differently, and there's no point glossing over it.
Similarly, many Western Christians are beginning to rediscover the contemplative, meditative tradition. Mindfulness, silence and centring prayer are all becoming popular – and we as a Church have Buddhists to thank for some of this rise in popularity.
The London Buddhist Centre, which I walk past each week on my way to church, offers meditation classes which many of my friends and peers are getting interested in. It's great that we share this heritage. Fundamentally though, the metaphysical claims of Christianity are different from those of Buddhism.
These two examples, and the many others we could come up with demonstrate the need for confidence in our own beliefs to take us to the next level of engagement with our neighbours. Rather than pretending we're all the same, let's carefully and constructively explore our differences, learn from each other and sharpen our own beliefs, and more importantly, our practices.
CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein were familiar with the worlds of Classical, Norse and British folk mythology. Rather than dismissing these pagan tales as meaningless or even dangerous, two of the last century's greatest Christian figures were enchanted. Tolkein impressed on Lewis the idea of the 'true myth' – that Christianity made sense of the longings and yearnings contained in pagan myths.
We might do well to demonstrate a similar approach to our friends and neighbours of other faiths today. We have much to learn from the practices of other faiths. Jesus himself frequently observed how those outside the confines of Second Temple Judaism were actually an example for the people of God. He lauded real figures such as the Roman centurion and fictitious ones such as the Good Samaritan. These were exemplars of true religion.
If we can confidently hold on to our historic faith and still be open to learning from those outside it, we'll not only learn much, but we stand a much better chance of achieving genuine cohesion in our communities.