In dialogue with those who question dialogue

Interreligious dialogue is a lot like dating. They’re pleasant enough experiences that seem self-justifying for everyone in favor of them, but their goals are extremely vague. Dating differs from courting in that courtship has a definite goal while dating doesn’t, and ecumentical dialogue differs from evangelization in the same way. Said another way, courting and evangelization are finite activities that end either in failure or success, dating and dialogue are open-ended (i.e. infinite) while still not being quite done for their own sake. The kids talk about dating to “get to know people” but they don’t stop once they get to know them; they see it as somehow a mark of maturity but they still see it as a stage one needs to transition out of. Ecumentical dialogue has similar vagaries: we see it as distinctively enlightened while we would still see it as a failure if it merely continued forever.

What can we make of all this? I don’t think it’s mere muddle-headedness, but I do think that both dating and dialogue need to be, well, in dialogue with those who bear unpleasant truths that daters and dialoguers easily forget, but these wet-blanket-people who remind them cannot have everything their way. Those who dialogue need to be in dialogue with those who question dialogue.

The dialoger 

On the one hand, we must know the religious other as a self. From within our own traditions the religious other can become a caricature who loses his dignity and humanity though our categorizing him. On the other hand, dialogue is open to the same criticism in reverse – in our interaction with the common humanity of the religious other we can lose sight of the peculiar horror of error.

Dialogue is a corrective tool that itself is in need of being corrected by its opposite. We can’t lose sight of common humanity and the universal desire for happiness and the good, while we also can’t lose sight of how this appreciation of common humanity carries the danger of blinding us to how actual human dignity* can be lost even in those who are otherwise pleasant, polite, profound, better than us, etc.

*The dignity we have in potency, by being ordered to or having a vocation to beatitude can’t be lost, though it is also need not be actualized.

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