I thought the best way to think about a dialogue was to write a dialogue about dialogue.
So here is a dialogue between George, who thinks dialogue is wonderful and Betty who is dubious.
George: Dialogue must be a good thing.
Betty: Why is that?
G: It helps two people who disagree to come together.
B: I think it can be a useful exercise to get people to understand one another and where they’re coming from. that can’t be a bad thing.
G: Its certainly better than two sides just hurling hatred and bigotry back and forth.
B: Agreed, but is just understanding the other person’s point of view enough? Are you suggesting that everyone’s point of view is equally valid just because it is their point of view?
G: I think dialogue is an excellent way for two people who disagree to make progress.
B: What exactly do you mean by “progress” George?
G: Well, moving forward to some sort of agreement.
B: I see. But what is there to agree about?
G: We would determine that as we go along.
B: Hang on. I think we should discuss our basic premise first.
G: What is a basic premise?
B: It’s the foundation of your belief system. If we don’t understand that, we’re just paddling around in a discussion of your opinion and my opinion.
G: Oh. OK. You mean we should discuss the foundation of our disagreement.
B: No. I mean we should discuss the foundation of everything….like is there such a thing as truth, and if there is how would you find it and how would you know that you’d found it.
G: Truth? Well, that is discovered as you dialogue, surely.
B: And stop calling me Shirley.
B: Very seriously. You see, I don’t think you discover the truth as you dialogue. I think the truth already exists, and that you can pretty much know it if you want to, and therefore maybe the point of dialogue for you and the point of dialogue for me are two different things.
G: So what is the foundation for this truth you’re talking about?
B: Well I believe there is such a thing as truth and that God has revealed it to human beings in two ways: natural revelation and special revelation.
B: Natural revelation is the stuff everybody can make sense of wherever they are and whoever they are just by observing the world around them.
G: Like sunlight and rain are good because they make things grow.
G: But that would be something called natural law.
B: Correct. Added to that is special revelation–where God reveals to human beings stuff they wouldn’t necessarily figure out themselves just by observing. These are other moral principles and theological truths about the world, humanity salvation etc.
B: Well, if I’m right and there is such a thing as revealed truth, then dialogue is not just a dialogue between you and me, but between you, me and the revealed truth.
G: But what if I disagree with what you call the revealed truth?
B: Then your argument isn’t really with me. Its with the one who revealed the truth.
G: So why dialogue?
B: Well, we might dialogue about the revealed truth and how we might learn more about it in order to believe it and submit to it.
G: But what if I don’t want to believe and submit to the “revealed truth” as you put it?
B: Good question. I would then wonder what the point of the dialogue is.
G: It is to wrestle with the reality that this dogmatic revealed truth you’re talking about is not quite so black and white as you like to think. There are many grey areas.
B: You wouldn’t have grey if there were no black and white.
G: But wouldn’t dialogue help you to see that things are not really that simple?
B: I think the truth is simple, but not easy.
G: But surely dialogue is in the Bible. Paul dialogued with people in Athens. Peter dialogued with the Pharisees. Jesus dialogued with people!
B: They preached. Its different. They believed there was a truth and that they had to proclaim it and explain it.
G: You’re going to reduce the whole thing to an outmoded concept like “Preaching the gospel!” What are you, some kind of fundamentalist?
B: But given our discussion, what would the point of dialogue be? If the point is for both of us to understand the revealed truth better, that would be okay, but I sense that is not your purpose. So what is your purpose?
G: To convince you that I’m right and you’re wrong.
B: That’s what I thought all along.
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