summing up my thoughts on dialogue and communion

Some themes I keep returning to on my blog are dialogue and communion.

Just today, in response to reading a post on an old friend’s blog, I wrote this:

Having grown up in a large and diverse family, I’ve given a bit of thought to how one might survive and maybe even thrive in the face of diverse and sometimes opposing points of view.

Proselytism is a dead end if we really respect the freedom of the other person. A mushy relativism is also a false response, I think, unless we’re satisfied with just being insulated from each other.

On my own blog I keep approaching the question from this point of view: what does it mean to have an authentic dialogue? I’ve had conversations with some who were up to the challenge (see here and here for examples), and with others who were not.

Of course, I’m approaching the question from a religious point of view, but maybe it will spark some ideas for you. I do believe that dialogue is a gift and responsibility, because we are entrusted to one another.

9 thoughts on “summing up my thoughts on dialogue and communion

  1. Clayton,Thank you for responding to my comment. I take your point about the difference between proselytizing and evangelizing, but it seems to be a subjective difference. To the extent that is true, then the person doing it will have to answer for his actions. But to the extent that a conversion takes place, an undisputed good has been obtained. Moreover, I don’t think your distinction makes any clearer what “freedom” has to do with proselytizing and/or evangelizing. The bottom line is that the Church has a mission to save souls. If your analogy about the argument with a pilot is right (and I think it is), then all of our dialogue has as its end conversion. Authentic dialogue, it would seem, is being honest about such an end. That does not mean that every conversation must have a “conversion disclaimer” at the beginning or end, but if someone inquires as to our motives, we would be obligated to answer honestly. As this past Sunday was World Mission Sunday, I had a chance to reflect a little on Mother Teresa, St. Damien (the topic of the homily I heard), and Bl. Juniperro Serra (I am in the middle of Geiger’s great 2 volume work). I think each one of them would tell you that his or her mission was the conversion and salvation of souls. Mother Teresa was not a nurse or a social worker, though she cared for the sick and the poor. St. Damien was not a doctor, though he comforted the lepers. And Father Serra was not a farmer, though he taught the natives to farm and raise livestock. In these acts, each one of them witnessed to the good news (as you put it), but the intent was always the glorification of God and the conversion of souls.

  2. I am truly puzzled by this:“Prosyletism is a dead end if we really respect the freedom of the other person.”Maybe I misundertand the word prosyletism, but to the extent it means convincing someone of the need to convert, it is not a dead end. How is it different from evangelization? And what does freedom have to do with it?“Authentic dialogue” should mean telling someone what you think, making sure they understand your position, and then listening to what they have to say and understanding what they say. What else is there? Beyond understanding what someone else is saying, how does a dialouge become “authentic”? Does it imply the desire to understand and be understood without trying to convince someone that your opinion is correct?Mike

  3. Clayton,

    This is an important discussion because the word has been largely co-opted by a boomer-inflected, can’t-we-all-get-along relativism. How many times have we sat in a room of religious varietals (hcfm and fuller) and heard the great silencer “dialogue” bandied about?

    In my experience, when the word dialogue is thrown out, it actually acts as the inverse…it acts to shut down point of view and build up a false sandbox-oriented Elysia…or something…

    I think it means, literally, to discourse with…I suppose it implies some kind of communion. However, if Plato is anykind of model, there is no guarenteed equality of pov…in fact, Socrates always has an assortment of straw men who either say “yes Socrates” like Ed McMahon, or they have lame counter arguments. Perhaps a better example of authentic dialogue would be Dostoyevsky novels…he ALWAYS argues both sides doggedly…


  4. Rick,

    Thanks for the link to the excellent article on Ignatius Insight. My favorite passage: “The world is not divided merely by intellect and its understandings of things. It is more fundamentally divided by will, by the thesis that, as Benedict XVI said, ‘we want unlimited possession of the world and of ourselves.’ To accomplish this latter ambition, we have to lie to ourselves about ourselves and about the coherence of the world. To protect our self-generated view of ourselves, we have to develop a theory that justifies what we do according to our own wills. This is why, however useful, dialogue runs up against our wills that enable us to choose another view of the world but the one that is.”

  5. Mike,

    I borrowed the illustration from Fr. Thomas Dubay. He’s written an excellent book called Authenticity: A Biblical Theology of Discernment, and given retreats on “Shared Vision.”

  6. Here’s a link to the book, and to some audio from Fr. Dubay.

    He distinguishes between a “complementary diversity” (healthy pluralism) and a “contradictory diversity” (unhealthy pluralism). Here’s a quote from Authenticity: “The body’s unity does not do away with the diversity of its members” (CCC 791). A viable diversity is rooted in a shared vision regarding essentials.

    The New Testament can flourish with its several christological and ecclesial emphases because it does possess one mind about core issues.


    All by way of saying that I think that dialogue ought to lead to a unity of heart and mind when essential matters are at stake… for example, the creed and what the Magisterium of the Church has declared.

  7. Mike,

    I would distinguish proselytizing from evangelizing.

    When someone proselytizes, they approach the enterprise of sharing the faith from the point-of-view of recruiting members into a club. But the Church is not a club, it is a communion. And the one to whom we reach out is not a recruit in the sense of someone we put in our feather cap as “one of my converts.” In short, you might say that prosyletism is a narcissistic spin on evangelization.

    To evangelize means to witness to the evangelion, the good news, of which we are first recipients, and then servants. And we share not in order to earn spiritual trophies for our own aggrandizement, but in order to pass along the good gift we have received, which is not our own but is always Christ’s. It’s a fundamentally different attitude, I think.

    I am no expert on such matters, but I think authentic dialogue is essentially what you have said… an effort to understand one another in an authentic way. No irenicism (false peace) or, alternatively, provincial grandstanding without listening to the other party. But I think it falls short of its ultimate goal if it remains just a matter of well-informed disagreement when it comes to essential matters. In essential matters, disagreement is a disaster, however civil and well-informed it may be.

    If I’m having a disagreement with the pilot of a 747 about how much fuel is left in the plane as we’re crossing the ocean, mutual understanding of our positions doesn’t carry the day. Either there is enough fuel or there isn’t… and who is correct is not a matter of indifference. In such a case, the dialogue needs to go somewhere, toward agreement, consensus, about the actual state of things, in order to pave the way for shared action in the service of what is true. In short, in this sort of situation, authentic dialogue would not be authentic if it were not directed toward a communion of mind and heart.

  8. Clayton,

    No problem…

    Can I “oddly enough” again?

    Check this out: “Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo di Segni, said he had refused to attend the ceremony because of the presence of one of the keynote speakers, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, a Jewish convert to Catholicism. ‘It’s not a protest, but an invitation to reflect on the meaning of dialogue’ between religions, Di Segni told The Associated Press. ‘If it means losing one’s identity and crossing over to the other side, then it’s not dialogue.’


    Apparently dialogue is only desirable if there is no need for it or if we don’t want it to go anywhere.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.