Dialogue

February 15, 2006

Dialogue. For some it is a dirty word and is of no usefulness. For others it holds the potential for a better society by bringing people together. Both perspectives have been expressed recently.

Stanley Fish penned a New York Times editorial taking the stance against dialogue: Our Faith in Letting It All Hang Out. Here are a few of his comments in reaction to the controversy surrounding the Muhammad cartoons:


The first tenet of the liberal religion is that everything (at least in the realm of expression and ideas) is to be permitted, but nothing is to be taken seriously.

... This is why calls for "dialogue," issued so frequently of late by the pundits with an unbearable smugness — you can just see them thinking, "What's wrong with these people?" — are unlikely to fall on receptive ears. The belief in the therapeutic and redemptive force of dialogue depends on the assumption (central to liberalism's theology) that, after all, no idea is worth fighting over to the death and that we can always reach a position of accommodation if only we will sit down and talk it out.

But a firm adherent of a comprehensive religion doesn't want dialogue about his beliefs; he wants those beliefs to prevail. Dialogue is not a tenet in his creed, and invoking it is unlikely to do anything but further persuade him that you have missed the point — as, indeed, you are pledged to do, so long as liberalism is the name of your faith.
On the other end of the spectrum is Krista Tippett, host of the public radio program Speaking of Faith. She explained in recent Houston Chronicle article her hopes that by discussing religion and making it personal these issues will become less divisive. She explained:

"The more we can put human voices and stories to our religious claims, the better we will be able to stay in conversation. ... the task of being Christian and moral on this issue is about more than the policies one advocates. It's also about how we treat each other, even when we disagree."

Additionally, an Ethics Daily article explains that Shanta Premawardhana, a Baptist minister and associate general secretary of the National Council of Churches for interfaith relations, has called for a “dialogue of civilizations.” He explained, “Such a dialogue will encourage participants to a common table at which we can educate each other about those parts of our faith and life that are most holy and significant. … It will also provide the opportunity for people of different faiths to come together on values that unite us."


While Fish is correct in noting that a foundation in most religions is that there are a few basic beliefs which cannot be compromised. However, this does not mean then that we should discount dialogue completely. Just because we agree to sit down and talk reasonably with each other does not mean we will have to let go of our beliefs. Dialogue is not about compromising one's beliefs but being willing to honestly listen and learn about others' beliefs. We need more Christians like Tippett and Premawardhana who attempt to bring us together for dialogue.

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