Saturday, January 19, 2013

Less Yelling! More Listening!

In man’s present situation, the dialogue of religions is a necessary condition for peace in the world and it is therefore a duty for Christians as well as other religious communities. This dialogue of religions has various dimensions.

In the first place it is simply a dialogue of life, a dialogue of being together. This will not involve discussing the great themes of faith – whether God is Trinitarian or how the inspiration of the sacred Scriptures is to be understood, and so on. It is about the concrete problems of coexistence and shared responsibility for society, for the state, for humanity.

In the process, it is necessary to learn to accept the other in his otherness and the otherness of his thinking. To this end, the shared responsibility for justice and peace must become the guiding principle of the conversation. A dialogue about peace and justice is bound to move beyond the purely pragmatic to become an ethical struggle for the truth and for the human being: a dialogue concerning the values that come before everything.

In this way what began as a purely practical dialogue becomes a quest for the right way to live as a human being. Even if the fundamental choices themselves are not under discussion, the search for an answer to a specific question becomes a process in which, through listening to the other, both sides can obtain purification and enrichment. Thus this search can also mean taking common steps towards the one truth, even if the fundamental choices remain unaltered. If both sides set out from a hermeneutic of justice and peace, the fundamental difference will not disappear, but a deeper closeness will emerge nevertheless.

Address to Roman Curia, December 21, 2012

Reflection – So often, when we either try to enter into dialogue, or when we think about what dialogue means and how it is to be done, we can think it means papering over the differences between people and religions. To ‘dialogue’ means to put aside our different opinions and do… well, I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do, and what kind of conversation is supposed to happen if we shelve or paper over our differences.

Of course some people want to avoid conflict and find it deeply unpleasant to be in disagreement with their neighbour; others seek it out and revel in the combat.

Neither of these attitudes is quite right, I think. Going along to get along can too easily become a compromise of integrity; deliberately picking fights or living in a state of constant dudgeon is not the way of peace and love in the world.

The Pope has a good model of dialogue in this passage, I think. Everyone wants justice in the world; everyone wants peace. Even the terrorist with the plastic explosives wants peace, and believes earnestly that his act of violence will help usher in the Dar es Salaam, the Islamic parallel to our Christian ‘kingdom of God.’

Dialogue—any dialogue, anywhere, between any people—must start from a point of common agreement. There is no other basis to enter into conversation with another person. And so, every serious human being beholds the world in its fragmented broken reality, and every serious human being of good will desires to advance justice and peace in the world.

This is where all real dialogues can begin. But the Pope observes insightfully that we cannot talk for very long about justice and peace, about what is wrong in the world and how to remedy it, without touching upon the deep questions of life and humanity. Not only do these deep questions inform what ‘justice and peace’ mean, but the very task of serving justice and peace requires that we come to understand the other in his or her difference.

I need to know why that terrorist believes his act of violence is needed for justice and peace. I need to know why the Planned Parenthood worker truly believes she is serving the cause of justice for women. I need to hear and know the perspective of the trans-gendered individual, the communist, the anarchist, the atheist.
Dialogue is an urgent need in the world today—there is far too much talking past one another, far too much yelling of slogans, far too much retreating into polarized camps. But if that dialogue is to be real, to be honest, we must get over the fear of putting on the table our different world views; we must able to disagree openly and honestly without vitriol or violence. It is this kind of dialogue—fearless, honest, searching—that is a purifying, enlightening, enriching activity that can truly move us all forward into the kingdom of God, into a more just, more peaceful world.