catapult magazine

catapult magazine


authentic dialogue between people of different faiths


Feb 13 2007
09:55 pm

Consider this an alternative way to revisit an old conversation that we all agreed to discontinue. Or perhaps think of this as a counterweight for other topics that specifically relate to one particular denomination (that we will not heretofore mention).

Here’s my question: Doesn’t our society’s emphasis on multicultural tolerance actually discourage real dialogue between people of different cultural backgrounds? In American politics, people seem happy to accept a surface-level or sound-bite description of another group and then blast their little straw man with their own arguments. This happens with Liberals vs. Conservatives and "Intellectuals" vs. "Fundamentalists". Though we are encouraged to seek understanding of other cultures, the opposite seems to happen. We get only a skewed or partial understanding, which is often just as false as complete obliviousness to the existence of others. The assumption in our culture is that we can reconcile all differences with other people merely by eliminating our ignorance.

Though seeking understanding is a loving gesture, we have to be honest about our limitations. Full understanding requires a total submission to the other’s viewpoint—a unity of self with the other’s self. I’m not sure this kind of total understanding constitutes a genuine dialogue between two. Wouldn’t it be better if we were honest about what is also unreconcileable…and then start the reconciling process from there?

Lately I’ve been wondering if the problem with Evangelicalism is not that it wants to persuade others that their way is the best way. This happens in all groups at all times. A problem arises, though, if persuading others of your case becomes the most important thing. Maybe Evangelicals…and Muslims…and Jews…Hindus…Roman Catholics…and Liberal Intellectuals are called by God in a Postmodern society to develop a method of dialogue that is real, genuine, loving. The entire Bible can easily be read as instruction on how to relate to God, ourselves and one another in the proper way.

So to try to focus my question—where did our society’s current idea of "understanding" come from? Isn’t it still a hold-over from Modernism’s view of the missionary task? If Modernism’s "burden" and post-modernism’s absolute tolerance is not a sustainable approach in a multicultural world, what should our model(s) be for good dialogue between people with seeming irreconcilable differences?