Buddhism is a missionary religion that, nonetheless, does not have as a core aim the conversion of all. Multiplicity of faiths is valued and buddhists have on occasion been instrumental in defending other faiths when they were threatened. As the Dalai lama asserts, the diversity of faith communities is fitting to the diversity of human personalities and cultures.
Religions are human artefacts. Even if some believe that their religion reflects the intention of their god, the work of putting that intention into effect has been human work. Actual religions are therefore never perfected and in all religions we see evolution over time. Exposure to dialogue with, critique by and competition or co-operation with other faith communities is often a significant element in this evolution. Religions influence and change one another. There is an ecology of faith communities.
What is needed is a sense of the value of that ecology and of the creativity and inspiration that it potentially and sometimes actually yields.
Notions of impermeability and exclusiveness or the more rigid forms of dogmatism are likely to confine a religious group to a niche position or to a short history. On the other hand, these notions do have a useful function sometimes ensuring seriousness of practice. Religion challenges people. Devotees may only stay the course if they feel held by a powerful cohesive force.
We cannot, therefore, just assume that all will be well if we all espouse the values of liberalism.
If religion cultivates awareness of universal love, then this should manifest in amity with others unconditionally, and especially with others who are supposedly similarly aware.
Inter-faith dialogue may serve a number of functions:
- resolving community tensions
- curiosity satisfaction
- intuition of a meta-religious perspective
This last is a natural product or by-product. Faced with difference, people are bound to wonder about syntheses. This is a slightly different concept from the idea that "they are all fundamentally the same". It rests rather upon the idea that they are all incomplete coupled with an intuition that were they ever to be completed they would arrive at the same place.