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If You Love The Truth, Embrace Dialogue

If You Love The Truth, Embrace Dialogue December 23, 2011

Catholic missionaries have long understood the need to respect the traditions of the peoples they visited. They knew that one had to look for the truth in their religious beliefs, realizing of course, that such truth is likely to be mixed with error and needs to be complemented by the revealed truths of the Christian faith. Nonetheless, in trying to teach others, they also had to be taught, they also had much to learn, and, if they did their work right, they felt like they gained much in the process. To convert someone, the best approach is to build them up – not to show animosity toward them. More importantly, one needed to do more than say “this is the truth, and you don’t believe it, therefore you are wrong.” One needed to demonstrate the truth and this often meant showing how aspects of that truth were already believed and how those aspects pointed to the truths they did not.

Matteo Ricci, in his work, The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven, written in Chinese for those interested in what he had to say, expressed this point – not just by the way he engaged the Chinese tradition but in showing how the different rival Chinese beliefs did not know how to engage each other and come to concord. The Catholic faith complemented the other Chinese traditions because it showed how one could come to a universal faith which would bring together rival traditions into concordance.

Talking to a Chinese scholar (Confucian), Ricci writes, “It is better to refute [the teachings of Buddhists and Taoists] than to hate [the men who hold these opinions]; and it is better still to use clear reasoning than to refute them merely with many words; for the Taoists and Buddhists are all produced by our great Father, the Lord and Heaven, and we are therefore all brothers.”[1]

In engaging others, one must remember they are our brothers and sisters; whatever errors they have, those errors should not lead us to hate them. We don’t hate someone in our family just because they believe something wrong. Or, as Ricci points out, if they go mad and “fall to the ground,” what are we to do – hate them or pity them?[2]  We must understand this when we engage people of other faiths (such as Muslims).  We must not hate them. We must love them as brothers and sisters under God. We must not be like Cain and deny our responsibility toward them, but rather, we must be like the Good Samaritan and help them even if they wish us ill. The Christian way must be the way of love. We can discuss with them why we believe as we believe, but we must also be willing to listen to them and learn from them their own beliefs. We must not make up beliefs for them to demonize them, for in doing so, we show we don’t follow Christ in the path of love, but the devil in the path of strife. Is there any wonder that if we demonize them they will ignore us? They will find no reason to trust us as they see our representation of their beliefs are wrong (especially if they catch animosity beneath our misrepresentation).

Ricci points out, further, this animosity is what caused the different Chinese schools to never properly communicate with each other and learn from each other the way of the truth:

I have read a great number of Confucian books and have noticed that they never cease to express animosity toward Buddhism and Taoism. They are condemned as being barbarian, and the rejection of them is described as attacks on heresy; nevertheless, I have never seen anyone expose their errors with any overriding principle. The result has been that if one says the other is wrong, the other says his opponent is wrong, and so they have attacked one another, neither part being willing to yield, for one thousand five hundred years;  and they are still unable to reconcile their differences.[3]

Have we not seen the result of this in the West as well? The ecumenical movement, embraced by the Catholic Church, as well as interfaith dialogue, which also has been embraced by the Catholic Church, has come to recognize the need for positive engagement instead of animosity. We have seen better relations between Christians and with non-Christian religions because of this. It is a long and hard lesson for us to learn, and indeed, many do not want to learn it – they just want to point fingers and others, denounce them as heretics and barbarians, and leave it at that. [4]

Abandoning such animosity and working together can lead to the promotion of the true good. “If they were able to argue with each other in a rational manner they would naturally be able to distinguish between truth and falsehood; and the three schools would be able to return to the one and only correct Way.”[5]

Would this not also work with politics? If people were willing to put aside their dogmatic approach to the parties and actually engage each other, the correct way could emerge from such dialogue. The art of compromise is not about ignoring the good or the truth, but in finding it, in embracing it through the unity behind rival ideas; it is to see the truth neglected in one’s own tradition by seeing it in another. When dogmatic politicians are unwilling to dialogue, or when fundamentalist religious adherents are unwilling to dialogue, what they are doing is dismissing the fullness of truth – they claim they are promoting it, but they are unwilling to discern the truth in the other and so show no real love for the truth. This is why dialogue is important. It helps bring the truth together as it belongs. Truth does not contradict truth, and wherever truth is found, it must be accepted; fear of dialogue, hate for dialogue, can only be hate for the truth. Is this not easily discerned by the animosity shown by those who speak out against such dialogue and compromise?

Ricci shows us, from a different time and place, the problems we face today, both as Catholics in engaging world religions (like Islam), and as political entities in political states being divided by partisan politics. Such partisanship, such animosity gets us nowhere. Only the path of love, one which embraces the other and engages them as family, allows for the truth to prevail. If we say we love the truth, let us therefore love one another; in that way we can let the truth we claim to love prevail.


[1] Matteo Ricci, S.J., The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven. Trans. Douglas Lancashire and Peter Hu Kuo-chen, S.J. (St Louis, Missouri: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1985), 101.

[2] Ibid., 101.

[3] Ibid., 101.

[4] We see this in the political sphere as well. Indeed, there is something religious about politics and the parties have divided themselves almost on doctrinal lines. Each party might have aspects of the truth, but they have neglect so much of it, that no one party contains it in entirety.

[5] Ibid., 101.


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