What’s The Use of Dialogue?

What’s The Use of Dialogue? June 21, 2014

The Bishops who spoke at the Catholic Media Conference emphasized the need for dialogue in the media. Archbishop Kurtz coined a phrase, “dialogue not diatribe” In his keynote he said,

I believe that the Catholic press will be called over the next decade to influence the new digital frontier by carving out a place for dialogue. This may well be your greatest challenge and deepest contribution to the new evangelization. Let’s call this a movement from diatribe to dialogue.

Merriam-Webster first gives the archaic usage for the word, “diatribe” – calling it “prolonged discourse” – coming from the Greek tribein meaning to rub and dia, meaning through.  Diatribe means to rub through or, in my words, to wear out … to weary.  The second usage says it clearly: a diatribe is “a bitter and abusive speech or piece of writing.”  Sadly digital discourse, in part I suspect because it fosters anonymity and a penchant for the impulsive, is full of diatribe…Moving from diatribe to dialogue and spanning the growing impersonal distance among users will take the best minds and hearts.  It will take creativity and surely serene confidence and serene courage and calm.  But it needs to be done, and it needs to be done with a true love of Jesus and His people in and through the Church.  I believe you will be the leaders.   Together we must seek a path for interaction and dialogue.  I believe that is what Pope Francis calls us to do in his “culture of encounter.” Read his whole keynote here.

Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications  gave the closing address. He also stressed the need for respectful dialogue rather than negativity.

Deacon Kandra reports on Archbishop Celli’s closing address:

In this context, the Pope stresses the significance of dialogue. Dialogue is only possible where there is a fundamental attitude of openness to the other, a willingness to listen to his or her deepest questions and to respectfully share with them our own hopes and joys. Together with other people of good will, we will attempt to understand the fullness of what it means to be a human person and how we can create a society where all are valued.  When meeting with Brazil’s Bishops last year, Pope Francis noted: “In many places, generally speaking, due to the economic humanism that has been imposed in the world, the culture of exclusion, of rejection, is spreading. There is no place for the elderly or for the unwanted child; there is no time for that poor person in the street. At times, it seems that for some people, human relations are regulated by two modern “dogmas”: efficiency and pragmatism. … Have the courage to go against the tide of this culture of efficiency, this culture of waste. Encountering and welcoming everyone, solidarity – a word that is being hidden by this culture, as if it were a bad word – solidarity and fraternity: these are what make our society truly human.”

Too often in social media, the tone of the debates can be very critical or very negative. Here Pope Francis stresses a positive approach, in saying: “We need to resolve our differences through forms of dialogue which help us grow in understanding and mutual respect.  A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive.  Media can help us greatly in this, especially nowadays, when the networks of human communication have made unprecedented advances.

The sentiments of Pope Francis in this regard echo the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who in his message for WCD 2103  “Social Networks: portals of truth and faith; new spaces for evangelization.”, had emphasized that: “ The social media thus need the commitment of all who are conscious of the value of dialogue, reasoned debate and logical argumentation…‘Given the reality of cultural diversity, people need not only to accept the existence of the culture of others, but also to aspire to be enriched by it and to offer to it whatever they possess that is good, true and beautiful’.  This quotation is itself an elaboration of the profound insight that Benedict had expressed in 2010 Lisbon when meeting with the world of culture: “The Church, in her adherence to the eternal character of truth, is in the process of learning how to live with respect for other “truths” and for the truth of others. Through this respect, open to dialogue, new doors can be opened to the transmission of truth”.

OK. That all sounds very nicy and schmoozy, and I agree that we need to keep the conversations courteous, charitable and on topic. Absolutely. Let’s steer clear of the ugliness and be civilized. No argument there.

There are, however, a couple of problems with this emphasis on dialogue: One practical and one theoretical.

The practical problem is that you need two to tango.

Both sides not only have to agree that dialogue is their aim, but (and even more difficult) they have to share a basic grounding in the possibility of reasoning, the possibility that such a thing as objective truth exists and that the dialogue is an attempt to find that truth. Sadly, too many do not have the tools for logical discourse, listening and working through an argument.

Unfortunately, in many of the hot button issues facing our society such things as facts, logic and evidence don’t enter into the conversation. Arguments–what arguments there are–rely on sentimentality, utilitarianism and political correctness. The discussions are flaming examples of that formidable wrestling tag team–ignorance and arrogance.

When the discussion is about religion one side or both get entrenched and demonize the other party. Believers who are weak in their faith strengthen their convictions by scapegoating and blaming the opposing side. How do you dialogue with a Jihadist clutching a severed head a scimitar who is eyeing your neck?

Dialogue is therefore impossible –not just because people are being ornery and nasty, but because those in the discussion often do not believe that such a thing as truth exists or they are convinced that they already have the whole truth. Then all that remains is two people shouting out their own opinion to the other person. At that point not only is dialogue impossible, but conversation is impossible.

The second problem is theoretical. Whenever I hear people say, “We need respectful dialogue” I’m afraid I hear the subtext: “There is really no such thing as truth, so what we must do is listen to one another, nod, rub our chins, give each other a hug and say, ‘You say po-TAY-to and I say po-TAH-to.’ So now let’s all get together and give peace a chance!”

I’m sure this is not what all the proponents of dialogue mean, but some do.

No doubt within the whole Body of Christ there are some who are called to dialogue patiently and who believe that “Dialogue is only possible where there is a fundamental attitude of openness to the other, a willingness to listen to his or her deepest questions and to respectfully share with them our own hopes and joys.” I’m sure they really do believe that  “Together with other people of good will, we will attempt to understand the fullness of what it means to be a human person and how we can create a society where all are valued.”

More power to them, but is that really what the gospel is about? Isn’t there more to it?

Maybe I’m missing something, and I expect I am taking a quote out of context, but I was under the impression that the Christian gospel was about preaching the good news that Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God had died to redeem humanity and was risen to overcome sin and death…or is it all about “understanding the fullness of what it means to be human and how we can create a society where all are valued?”

While this is no doubt part of proclaiming the gospel, we mustn’t forget that within the context of dialogue preaching a clear and uncompromising gospel message is the ultimate goal.

What’s the use of dialogue? It’s there in Archbishop Celli’s Benedict quote: The Church, in her adherence to the eternal character of truth, is in the process of learning how to live with respect for other “truths” and for the truth of others. Through this respect, open to dialogue, new doors can be opened to the transmission of truth”.

Dialogue opens the door for evangelization.

Evangelization is the other side of dialogue and Mgr Pope has a great post here explaining the strengths and signs of a positive, joyful and good evangelist. Brandon Vogt and the team at Strange Notions, the folks at Catholic Answers and St Paul’s Street Evangelization are other good examples of open, friendly dialogue working hand in hand with apologetics and evangelization.

 

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