Printer Friendly

Humankind from the age of monologue to the age of global dialogue.

I. Background (1)

When one reads general history, one finds it often said that our time is very new, that it used to be such and such, but now it is different, that our time is, usually, the worst ever. Of course, if this were really true year after year, today we would be somewhere back at the pre-stone-age level. Occasionally, it has been claimed the present age is better than all the rest--but this is rare. Of course, there are certain times that are dramatically worse or better than what went before. One might think of the first half of the twentieth century as one of those times when things got dramatically worse: the Great World Depression sandwiched between two World Wars--and all these global disasters following upon the heels of the nineteenth century's "Century of Progress," when humankind proclaimed that something like the eschaton was in the immediate offing and then proceeded like a herd of lemmings heedlessly to race off the cliff into the abyss of what was the most hideously stupid war in human history, the so-called "Great War," that is, World War I, which concluded really only with World War II.

Nevertheless, humankind today at the beginning of the Third Millennium is truly at the cusp of a huge transition in human history at least as profound--and even much more fundamental, I would argue--than even the Axial Period of 800-200 B.C.E., when the broad human consciousness was created that has persisted throughout the whole world till almost today,. This massive paradigm shift, which toward the end of the twentieth century my friend Ewert Cousins perceived and named the "Second Axial Period," is beginning to be seen now as even more profound, for there is at its very foundation a 180-degree volte face, fundamentally reversing the basic orientation of all understanding. In short, humankind at the beginning of the Third Millennium is leaving behind the from-the-beginning "Age of Monologue" and inchoatively entering the "Age of Global Dialogue."

In human history things do not change as a light switch is flipped but do so gradually, most often so incrementally that the change is not discernible except at a distance of reflection of many years or even centuries. Hence, what we in Western languages usually refer to as "Modernity" has its antecedents in the transmission to Western Europe of the treasure trove of Aristotelian reason by Muslim philosophers--think Ibn Sin (980-1037) and Ibn Rushd (1126-98)--and peaking in the Catholic lovers of reason (Abelardus [1079-1142], Albertus Magnus [1193-1280], Thomas Aquinas [1225-74]), followed by the Renaissance of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and the simultaneous discovery by Westerners of the New World and the fact that the world is a globe. However, historians usually mark the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, die Auflarung, as the beginning of Modernity--in German, die Neuzeit. It is clearly with the eighteenth-century Aufklarung, as well as what German scholars call die Spat-Aufklarung, running through the first third of the nineteenth century, that we from the perspective of two centuries later can discern a major paradigm shift starting in the West and subsequently spreading over the entire globe.

The eighteenth century is also often called--and with justification--the "Age of Reason," which brought with it the proclamation of liberty and human rights. (2) It must be recalled, however, that even in its midst there arose the "Sturm und Drank' with its emphasis on the imagination, emotions, and a love of history, and that the Spat-Aufklarung also saw the launching of Romanticism with its stress on the dynamic, the evolutionary, and the development of "scientific history." Here, then, we have three of the core characteristics of Modernity: freedom, reason, and dynamism/sense of history. It is also here in the Spat-Aufklarung that we find the burgeoning roots of the fourth core characteristic of Modernity: dialogue.

II. The Cosmic Dance of Dialogue

We are generally familiar with the rise of freedom and with reason's being seen as at the heart of being human, along with a sense of history, evolution, and dynamism likewise being a constitutive part of our humanness. (3) However, dialogue has only more recently been seen by many as an essential part of Modernity. Hence, I would like to spell out in somewhat more detail what dialogue is and how it likewise lies not only at the base of our humanity but, indeed, even at the very foundation of the cosmos.

As we know, "dialogue" comes from the Greek dia-logos, usually explained as meaning "word" (logos) across, between, together (dia). This is accurate enough but not fully so. The Ur-meaning of logos is "thinking." Thus, we have in English (and German) the term "logic" and a myriad of words ending in logos, such as theology, geology, psychology, anthropology--all meaning the "study" of, the "thinking about," a particular subject. Hence, dialogue fundamentally means "thinking together."

However, this pattern that is so central to humanity is but a higher reflection of a core part of the entire cosmos, starting at its very foundation and rising to humanity and--many religions, including Christianity, would say--even to its Source and Goal, Ultimate Reality, which they claim is essentially dialogic in a triune fashion.

Dialogue--understood in the broadest manner as the mutually beneficial interaction of differing components--is at the very heart of the cosmos, of which we humans are the highest expression: from the basic interaction of matter and energy (in Einstein's unforgettable formula, E=M[C.sup.2]; energy equals mass times the square of the speed of light), to the creative interaction of protons and electrons in every atom, to the vital symbiosis of body and spirit in every human, through the creative dialogue between woman and man, to the dynamic relationship between individual and society. Thus, the very essence of our humanity is dialogical, and a fulfilled human life is the highest expression of the "cosmic dance of dialogue."

In the early millennia of the history of humanity, as we spread outward from our starting point in central Africa, the forces of divergence were dominant. However, because we live on a globe, in our frenetic divergence we eventually began to encounter each other more and more frequently. Now, the forces of stunning convergence are becoming increasingly dominant. In the past, during the Age of Divergence, we could live in isolation from and ignore each other. Now, in the Age of Convergence, we are forced to live in one world, which is increasingly a global village. We cannot ignore the Other, the different. Too often in the past we have tried to make over the Other into a likeness of ourselves, often by violence, but this is the very opposite of dialogue. This egocentric arrogance is in fundamental opposition to the cosmic dance of dialogue. It is not creative but destructive. Hence, we humans today have a stark choice: dialogue, or death. (4)

III. Dialogues of the Head, Hands, and Heart in Holistic Harmony of the Holy Human

Because we humans are self-reflecting/self-correcting beings, we are capable of self-transforming dialogue. There are for us four main dimensions to dialogue, corresponding to the structure of our humanness: dialogue of the head, dialogue of the hands, dialogue of the heart, dialogue of holiness:

1. The Cognitive or Intellectual: Seeking the Truth--Dialogue of the Head: In the dialogue of the head we mentally reach out to the Other to learn from those who think differently from us. We try to understand how they see the world and why they act as they do. The world is far too complicated for any of us to understand alone; we can increasingly understand reality only with the help of the Other in dialogue. This is vital, because how we understand the world determines how we act in the world.

2. The Illative or Ethical: Seeking the Good--Dialogue of the Hands: In the dialogue of the hands we join together with others to work to make the world a better place in which we all must live together. Since we can no longer live separately in this one world, we must work jointly to make it not just a house, but a home for all of us to live in. Stated otherwise, we join hands with the Other to heal the world. The world within us and all around us is always in need of healing (Hebrew: tikkun olam, "healing the world"), and our deepest wounds can be healed only together with the Other, only in dialogue.

3. The Affective or Aesthetic: Seeking the Beautiful, the Spiritual--Dialogue of the Heart: In the dialogue of the heart we open ourselves to receive the beauty of the Other, because we humans are body and bodily-spiritual expression in all the arts to our multifarious responses to life: joy, sorrow, gratitude, anger, and, most of all, love. We try to express our inner feelings, which grasp reality in far deeper and higher ways than we are able to put into rational concepts and words; hence, we create poetry, music, dance, painting, architecture--the expressions of the heart. The world delights in beauty, and so it is here that we find the easiest encounter with the Other, the simplest door to dialogue. Through the beauty of the Other we most easily enter into the Other. Here, too, is where the depth, spiritual, mystical dimension of the human spirit is given full rein. As the seventeenth-century mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal said, "Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait point" (The heart has its reasons, which reason knows not.))

4. Holiness: Seeking the One--Dialogue of the Holy: We humans cannot live a divided life. If we are even to survive, let alone flourish, we must "get it all together." We must not only dance the dialogues of the head, hands, and heart but must also bring our various parts together in harmony (a fourth "h") to live a holistic (a fifth "h") life, which is what religions mean when they say that we should be holy (a sixth "h"--from the Greek "holos," to be whole). (6) Hence, we are authentically human (a seventh "h") only when our manifold elements are in dialogue within each other and we are in dialogue with the others around us. We must dance together the cosmic dance of dialogue of the head, hands, and heart, holistically, (7) in harmony within the holy human.

In some ways, the aesthetic/spiritual ("dialogue of the heart") area would seem the most attractive, especially to those with a more interior, mystical, psychological bent. Moreover, it promises a great degree of commonality: The mystics appear to all meet together on a high level of unity with the Ultimate Reality, no matter how it is described, including even in the more philosophical systems, such as Neoplatonism. For instance, the greatest of the Muslim sufis, Jewish kabbalists, Hindu bhaktas, Christian mystics, Buddhist bodhisattvas, and Platonist philosophers all seem to be at one in their striving for an experience of unity with the One, which in the West is called God, Theos.

At times the image is projected of God as being the peak of the mountain that all humans are climbing by way of different paths. Each one has a different way (hodos in Christian Greek, halachah in Jewish Hebrew, shar'ia in Muslim Arabic, marga in Hindu Sanskrit, tao in Chinese Taoism and Confucianism, to in Japanese Shinto) to reach Theos--Brahman, Shang-Ti--but all are centered on the one goal. Consequently, such an interpretation of religion or ideology can be called "theocentric."

Attractive as is theocentrism, one must be cautious not to wave the varying understandings of God aside as if they were without importance; they can make a significant difference in human self-understanding and, hence, how we behave toward ourselves, each other, the world around us, and the Ultimate Source. Moreover, a theocentric approach has the disadvantage of excluding nontheists from the dialogue. This would exclude not only atheistic humanists, but also nontheistic Theravada Buddhists, who do not deny the existence of God but, rather, understand Ultimate Reality in a nontheistic, nonpersonal manner (theism posits a "personal" God). One alternative way to include these partners in the dialogue, even in this area of "spirituality," is to speak of the search for ultimate meaning in life, for "salvation" (recall: salus in Latin, meaning a salutary, whole, [w]holy life; similarly, soteria in Greek), however it is understood, as what all humans have in common in the "spiritual" area, theists and nontheists. As a result, we can speak of a "soteriocentrism."

In the ethical, the active area (dialogue of the hands), dialogue has to take place in a fundamental way on the underlying principles for action that motivate each tradition. Once again, many similarities will be found but also differences, which will prove significant in determining the several communities' differing stands on various issues of personal and social ethics. It is only by carefully and sensitively locating those underlying principles for ethical decision-making (this is what a Global Ethic is--a separate lecture for another time) that later misunderstandings and unwarranted frustrations in specific ethical issues can be avoided. Specific ethical matters, such as sexual ethics, social ethics, ecological ethics, or medical ethics, can then become the focus of interreligious, interideological dialogue--and ultimately joint action where it has been found congruent with each tradition's principles and warranted in the concrete circumstances.

It is, however, the cognitive (dialogue of the head) area that is the most central and at the same time the most challenging. When we speak of dialogue, most often we mean this dialogue of the head, seeking the truth by way of dialogue. In brief, in this central area, dialogue means that "I want to talk with you who think differently from me so that I can learn." This is a radical shift from the default position of saying that "I want to talk with you who think differently from me so that I can teach you the truth that I already have and you obviously do not--otherwise you would think like me." Until recently, we all talked only with persons who either thought as we did--or who should! We engaged in monologue, not dialogue. Increasingly today, however, we want to talk with those who think differently from us so we can learn. We increasingly engage in dialogue. How did this incredible shift occur?

IV. Why Dialogue Arose

One can, of course, point to recent developments that have contributed to the rise of dialogue--for example, growth in mass education, communications, travel, the world economy, and the threat of global destruction. Nevertheless, a major underlying cause is a paradigm shift in the West in how we perceive and describe the world. A paradigm is simply the model, the cluster of assumptions, on whose basis phenomena are perceived and explained; for example, in the geocentric paradigm for explaining the movements of the planets, a shift to another paradigm--as to the heliocentric--will have a major impact. Such a paradigm shift has occurred and is still occurring in the Western understanding of truth-statements, which has made dialogue not only possible but even necessary.

Whereas the understanding of truth in the West was largely absolute, static, monologic, or exclusive up to the nineteenth century, it has subsequently become deabsolutized, dynamic, and dialogic--in a word, relational. This relatively "new" view of truth came about in at least six different but closely related ways. Until the nineteenth century in Europe, truth, that is, a statement about reality, was conceived in an absolute, static, exclusivistic either-or manner. It was believed that if a statement were true at one time, it was always true--and not only in the sense of statements about empirical facts but also in the sense of statements about the meaning of things. Such is a classicist or absolutist view of truth. Remember, the word "absolute" means "un-limited."

1. Historicism: Then, in the nineteenth century, scholars came to perceive all statements about the truth of something as being partially products of their historical circumstances; only by placing truth-statements in their historical Sitz ira Leben could they be understood properly: A text could be understood only in context. Therefore, all statements about the meaning of things were seen to be deabsolutized in terms of time, that is, limited by time. Such is a historical view of truth.

2. Intentionality: Later, it was noted that we ask questions so as to obtain knowledge, truth, according to which we want to live. This is a praxis or intentional view of truth; that is, a statement has to be understood in relationship to the action-oriented intention of the thinker who poses the question that is being answered--and is thereby further limited.

3. Sociology of knowledge: Just as statements of truth were seen by some thinkers to be historically deabsolutized in time (text can be understood only in historical context), so too, starting with the twentieth century, scholars such as Karl Mannheim developed what he called the "Sociology of Knowledge," which points out that every statement about the meaning of something is perspectival, for all reality is perceived, and spoken of, from the cultural, class, sexual, and so forth perspective of the perceiver. Such is a perspectival view of truth--thereby once more limiting a "truth, a statement about reality."

4. Limitations of language: A number of thinkers--especially Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)--uncovered the limitations of human language: Every description of reality is necessarily only partial, for, although reality can be seen from a limitless number of perspectives, human language can express things from only one perspective at once. This partial and limited quality of all language is necessarily greatly intensified when one attempts to speak of the Transcendent, which, by definition, "goes-beyond." Such is a language-limited view of truth.

5. Hermeneutics: The contemporary discipline of hermeneutics--led by Bernard Lonergan (1904-84), (8) Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002), (9) and Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005) (10)--stresses that all knowledge is interpreted knowledge. This means that in all knowledge I come to know something; the object comes into me in a certain way, namely, through the lens that I use to perceive it. As Thomas Aquinas wrote, "Cognita sunt in cognoscente secundum modum cognoscentis" (11) (Things known are in the knower according to the mode of the knower.). Such is an interpretative view of truth.

6. Dialogue: A further development of this basic insight is that I learn not by being merely passively open or receptive to, but by being in dialogue with, extramental reality. Reality can "speak" to me only with the language that I give it; the "answers" that I receive from reality will always be in the language, the thought categories, of the questions I put to it. If and when the answers I receive are sometimes confused and unsatisfying, then I probably need to learn to speak a more appropriate language when I put questions to reality. For example, if I ask, "How heavy is green?" of course I will receive a nonsense answer. Or, if I ask questions about living things in mechanical categories, I will receive confusing and unsatisfying answers. I will likewise receive confusing and unsatisfying answers to questions about human sexuality if I use categories that are solely physical-biological. (Witness the absurdity of the answer that birth control is forbidden by the natural law--the question falsely assumes that the nature of humanity is merely physical-biological.) Such an understanding of truth is both necessarily limited and a dialogic understanding.

In brief, our understanding of truth and reality has been undergoing a radical shift. The new paradigm that is being born understands all statements about reality, especially about the meaning of things, to be historical, praxial or intentional, perspectival, language-limited or partial, interpretive, and dialogic. Our understanding of truth statements, in short, has become "deabsolutized"--it has become "relational"; that is, all statements about reality are now seen to be related to the historical context, praxis intentionality, perspective, etc. of the speaker, and in that sense no longer "absolute," unlimited. Therefore, if my perception and description of the world are true only in a limited sense--that is, only as seen from my place in the world--if I wish to expand my grasp of reality, I need to learn from others what they know of reality that they can perceive from their place in the world, which I cannot see from mine. That, however, can happen only through dialogue.

V. "Nobody Knows Everything about Anything!" (12)

Consequently, now in the dawning "Age of Global Dialogue" we humans are increasingly aware that we cannot know everything about anything. This is true for the physical sciences. No one would claim to know everything about biology or physics, for example. No one would claim to know everything about the human sciences, sociology or anthropology or--good heavens, economics--for each of these disciplines is endlessly complicated. To repeat: "Nobody knows everything about anything!"

However, when it comes to the most comprehensive, the most complicated, discipline of all--theology or religion, which attempts to provide an explanation of not just part of reality as the various physical, social, and human sciences do, but of the totality of reality--billions of us still claim that we know all there is to know and that whoever thinks otherwise is simply mistaken. But, if it is true that we always can only know partially in any limited study of reality, as in the physical, social, or human sciences, surely it is all the more true of religion, which is an "explanation of the ultimate meaning of life, and how to live accordingly, based on some notion and experience of the Transcendent." (13) We must then be even more modest in our claims of knowing better in this most comprehensive field of knowledge, religion, "the ultimate meaning of life."

Because of the work of the great thinkers mentioned here--Lonergan, Gadamer, and Ricoeur--we now also realize that no knowledge can ever be completely objective, for we the knowers are an integral part of the process of knowing. In brief, all knowledge is interpreted knowledge. Even in its simplest form, whether I claim that the Bible is God's truth, or the Qur'an, or the Gita, or, indeed, the interpretation of the pope or Martin Luther, it is I who affirm that it is so. But, if neither I nor anyone else can know everything about anything, including most of all the most complicated claim to truth, religion, how do I proceed to search for an ever fuller grasp of reality, of truth? The clear answer is dialogue.

In dialogue I talk with you primarily so that I can learn what I cannot perceive from my place in the world, with my personal lenses of knowing. Through your eyes I see what I cannot see from my side of the globe, and vice versa. Hence, dialogue is not just a way to gain more information but a whole new way of thinking. We are painfully leaving behind the "Age of Monologue" and are, with squinting eyes, entering into the "Age of Global Dialogue."

VI. The Virtue, the Way of Deep-Dialogue/Critical-Thinking/ Competitive-Cooperation

After the fall of Communism in 1990, dialogue was suddenly catapulted from relative obscurity to prominence, and consequently the term tended to be overextended. In order to make clear that I was speaking about dialogue as a deep, life-transforming enterprise, I started to use the term "deep-dialogue." About the same time I also became convinced that critical-thinking must accompany deep-dialogue, and, subsequent to those two, competitive-cooperation must carry transformed relational thought into relational action.

If our actions are to be compatible with critical-thinking and deep-dialogue, they must strive toward being competitive-cooperative. Let me explain this last seemingly contradictory double term. The way we understand the world determines the way we act in the world. Action completes the circle of perception-thought-decision-action. We first perceive, then try to understand, in light of which we make a decision, and finally act, putting our perceptions, understanding, and decisions into concrete behavioral form. If we have begun to engage the world in a deeply dialogical manner and have critically analyzed/synthesized our perceptions and thoughts, we will want to make decisions on their bases and carry out our actions in the world in an analogously dialogic/critical manner. I am suggesting that the most appropriate way to describe such action is "competitive-cooperation."

The core of being human is freedom and its corresponding responsibility. This has always been the case since the emergence of homo sapiens sapiens perhaps 70,000 years ago in central Africa, even though this core did not begin to be de facto widespread and recognized until around 200 years ago with the Enlightenment. Our core human freedom/responsibility flows from our humanly developed rational intellect, which allows us to "abstract" (Latin: ab, "from" and tractus, "pulled," as in tractor) from our myriad sense perceptions various concepts and possibilities, on the bases of which we can choose and decide to act one way or another--which is another way to say we "love," that is, reach out to become one with what we perceive to be the good.

Humans have long recognized that we are something unique in the cosmos (there may be other free beings we have not yet discovered--or perhaps ever will) because of our radical freedom (despite its limitations, of which we are increasingly becoming aware), based on our rationality.

I have written extensively about how humanity has in the last two centuries increasingly come to realize that, because all knowledge is necessarily limited and is interpreted by the knower--"Nobody knows everything about anything!"--we have no other intelligent choice but to reach out in dialogue, deep-dialogue, to those who think differently from us in order to learn increasingly/endlessly more about reality. I have also increasingly stressed the other side of our "coin of humanity," critical-thinking, wherein we constantly pose the critical three "w" questions: What precisely are we talking about? Whence comes the basis for affirming it? Whither do its implications lead--reductio ad absurdum, or not? Steven Pinker has most recently brilliantly shown that it is the increasing human rationality, in the sense of the increasing development of reasonable habits of mind, abstract thinking, and, thence, actions, that is leading to an increasingly peaceful human world (counterintuitive though that may seem at first blush). (14) Even before him, in a more philosophical than social-scientific manner, Lonergan also argued that increasing intelligence was a necessity for an increasing ethical behavior.(15)

Since we humans are also bodies, our perceptions, reflections, and decisions need to issue in actions in the world. Through fostering our critical-thinking and reaching out increasingly to expand our necessarily myopic view of reality through deep-dialogue, we will want to act in a manner that is a reflection of our "both-and" deep-dialogue/critical-thinking, namely, competitive-cooperation. The cooperation half is relatively easy to understand. As long as the Other is not acting in a destructive manner, then at a minimum we would want to act not negatively toward the Other but as much as possible in tandem, so as to create a win-win situation. But, "competitive"? That would seem necessarily to aim at a win-lose, a zero-sum approach. To a certain extent, that is accurate. However, I am thinking first of all of this "competition" as being with ourselves, striving to be as effective, efficient, and creative as possible--to borrow from Islam the initial meaning of Jihad, the Great Jihad: the struggle, the competition, with our self to live out our inner principles (placed there by God). This creative competition may at times mean that one individual or one group will be chosen to provide the requested product or service--win-lose, zero-sum in that sense. But, the creative competition individual or group should thereby be led to create or develop new alternatives--as, for example, renewable energy sources as alternatives to fossil fuels--a both-and, a win-win for both the producers and users, reflecting the creative balance of deep-dialogue, pro-and-con critical-thinking, in a balance of creative competition and cooperation.

Hence, our most authentically human way of being and acting is through deep-dialogue/critical-thinking/competitive-cooperation. Thus, dialogue--deep-dialogue/critical-thinking/competitive-cooperation--is not simply another technique to be utilized but is a way of encountering and understanding oneself, the Other, and the world at the deepest levels, grasping the fundamental meaning of life, individually and communally, and then acting relationally. (I use the term "way" because that is how what we in the West call religions usually name themselves.) This, in turn, transforms the way we deal with ourselves, others, and the world. Deep-dialogue/critical-thinking/competitive-cooperation has recently slowly begun to emerge from the centuries of largely negative encounters of the differing ways. The increasingly positive ways/encounters are leading us to see that there is a deeper common ground out of which the various ways rise, namely, our very humanness, our body-spirit, which, against the background of the massive cosmos, fragilely, almost wraith-like sways within the whole cosmic dance of dialogue.

One of the well-known places where this underlying deep-dialogue is spelled out is at the beginning of the Bible (Gen. 1:26): "And God made humans in God's image" [Imago Dei in St. Jerome's Latin translation]. One part of us is our amazing but nevertheless earthly limited body. "And God took some adamah [Hebrew for "earth"] and breathed his spirit [ruach] into it and created ha adam" [literally, "the earthling," not the "male"]. The other part of us is our limitless spirit (God's ruach). The Bible had it correct here that every human is an Imago Dei in that we are Godlike, limitless, infinite in our spirit (ruach), always reaching beyond. As today we gain ever more access to this deeper source of all cultural life and experience, it becomes increasingly evident that we humans are in the midst of a profound self-transformation, a maturation of our very humanness--which is a "work in progress."

We humans are centrally involved in shaping our own experience in how we perceive, and then act accordingly, in the world. We are shaped by our cultures, but we also in turn shape our cultures by how we think about our experience. A great lesson in global evolution is that our cultural realities are directly affected by our thought. We are slowly learning that, if we remain turned only inward, we will be trapped in our own limited egos; when we then encounter persons from other cultures, we are likely to react with violence toward the Other--and all will suffer.

At the same time, this insight shows that, the more we self-transform and awaken to deep-dialogue/critical-thinking/competitive-cooperation ways of thought and living, the more we flourish in our personal and communal lives. It is gradually becoming clear that we have been in a painful struggle of maturation out of monological to deep-dialogical, critical-thinking, competitive-cooperative ways of being. All the great religious, spiritual, rational, scientific, moral, and political advances in the cultural evolution of the past can now be seen as the maturation from a monological mindset and practice toward the virtue of deep-dialogue/critical-thinking/competitive-cooperation. It is vital that we note that deep-dialogue, its counterpart critical-thinking, and their implementation competitive-cooperation are "virtues," which means that they are not acquired in a flash. Virtues are habitual ways of acting. For example, the person who has developed the virtue of courage reacts habitually, that is, "automatically," in a courageous manner when a challenge arises. So too, a deep-dialogue/critical-thinking/competitive-cooperation mentality/practice needs to be inculcated to operate habitually; it needs to become a virtue--a way of life that helps persons and communities flourish by self-transforming from a monological mindset through creative, positive ways/encounters. Virtues, however, cannot be developed overnight. They must be painstakingly practiced, reflected on, and practiced again, until they become second nature. We must eventually learn to live the virtue/way of deep-dialogue/critical-thinking/competitive-cooperation.

VI. Critical-Thinking, the Obverse of Deep-Dialogue

A further word must be said about the obverse of deep-dialogue, which is critical-thinking. It cannot be too strongly stressed that in order to open ourselves to deep-dialogue we must also develop the skill of thinking clearly and carefully, the virtue of critical-thinking (recall: critical, from the Greek, krinein, means to judge, to choose). We need to answer the three "w" questions noted above: (1) Do we understand what we (and others) really mean when we hear or say something? (2) Whence comes the evidence saying something, so as to "judge," to "decide" where we think truth is? (3) Whither do the implications lead?

It might seem overly obvious to state in (1) that it is most often here at the very beginning that the greatest confusion arises. What a vast amount of time and energy is wasted and confusion spread because we often do not know precisely what a term or phrase means when we or another uses it or because we use the same term more than once but understand it differently each time. It is even more deleterious when we inadvertently slip into four-term syllogisms, thus confusing ourselves and our listeners/readers. We use a word in an initial statement and then, without noticing, use it in a second statement with a different meaning and attempt to draw a conclusion therefrom.

In addition to addressing these three questions, critical-thinking entails at least these additional points: (4) that we raise our presuppostions from the unconscious to the conscious level--only then can we deal with them rationally, deciding for, against, or part for and part against; (5) that we realize that our view of reality is a view, that though it shares much with others' views of reality, it is also partially shaped by our personal lenses through which we experience and interpret reality and, hence, is not absolute but perspectival, and (6) that we learn to understand all statements in their context--that is, a text can be correctly understood only in its context--because only then will we be able to translate the original core of the statements/texts into our context. This process of critical-thinking, then, entails a dialogue within our own minds. Hence, at its root critical-thinking is dialogic, and deep-dialogue at its root entails clear, critical thought. Deep-dialogue and critical-thinking are two sides of the coin of humanity.

VII. Concluding Remarks about Key Communal Practice

Christians and Muslims together make up more than half the world. Hence, the commitment or noncommitment of Christians and Muslims to dialogue has a massive affect on the entire world. In fact, many Protestant and Orthodox Christians began to engage in dialogue with each other 100 years ago, but, when invited, the Vatican repeatedly rejected the offer and even forbade its members from joining the dialogue. All that radically changed with Vatican II (1962-65). There the Catholic Church institutionally committed itself to dialogue fully: The Church "exhorts ... all the Catholic faithful to recognize the signs of the times and to take an active and intelligent part in the work of ecumenism [dialogue]." Not being content with this exhortation, the bishops went on to say, "In ecumenical work, [all] Catholics must ... [make] the first approaches toward them [non-Catholics]." (16) In case there were some opaque minds or recalcitrant wills out there, the bishops again made it ringingly clear that ecumenism [and interreligious, interideological dialogue] "involves the whole Church, faithful and clergy alike. It extends to everyone, according to the talent of each." (17)

I mention the Muslims now because in the wake of September 11,2001, and to a significant degree because of it, Islam is now entering into the dialogue. The embrace of the "global interreligious dialogue" by Islam came first from 138 Muslim scholars and religious leaders from around the world on October 13, 2007, when they issued the amazing public letter, "A Common Word between Us," inviting the pope and other Christian leaders and scholars to join with them in dialogue. (18)

Then, onto the stage of world interreligious dialogue strode King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia--the heartland of conservative Islam. Having met with Pope Benedict XVI on November 6, 2007, (19) King Abdullah launched a World Conference on Dialogue with all the religions of the world in Spain, the land of the "Golden Age" of interreligious dialogue--Convivencia (!), July 16-18, 2008. (20) Further, King Abdullah supported, and even lent his name to, the establishment of the King Abdullah Center for the Study of Contemporary Islam and the Dialogue of Civilizations within Imam University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The very name communicates a profound commitment. It sends a loud and clear message that, if you wish to be serious Muslim in the contemporary world, you need to be involved in dialogue with the other civilizations of the world. As an initial down payment on that pledge, the King Abdullah Center sent fourteen professors of Islamics from Imam University in 2009 to study dialogue and democracy with my Dialogue Institute at Temple University in Philadelphia. Then in March, 2012, a UNESCO Chair in Interreligious, Intercultural Dialogue was established at Imam University. The Dialogue Institute has continued to train more and more Muslim nations and groups in interreligious dialogue. Across the globe--from Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, India, Azerbaijan, Iraqi Kurdistan, Lebanon, and Egypt--one sees global Islam joining the global interreligious dialogue analogously as did Catholicism at Vatican II.

In conclusion, encouragement can be drawn from a perhaps unexpected source, the Vatican Curia. The Secretariat for Unbelievers wrote that even "[d]octrinal dialogue should be initiated with courage and sincerity, with the greatest freedom and with reverence." (21) It then continued with a statement that is mind-jarring in its liberality: "Doctrinal discussion requires perceptiveness, both in honestly setting out one's own opinion and in recognizing the truth everywhere, even if the truth demolishes one so that one is forced to reconsider one's own position, in theory and in practice, at least in part." The Secretariat then stressed that "in discussion the truth will prevail by no other means than by the truth itself. Therefore, the liberty of the participants must be ensured by law and reverenced in practice." (22) These are dramatic words that should be applicable not only to Catholics but also in general.

The conclusion from these reflections, I believe, is clear: Interreligious, interideological dialogue is absolutely necessary in our contemporary world.

Again, every religion and ideology can make its own several official statements from the Catholic Church about the necessity of dialogue, starting with Pope Paul VI in his first encyclical: "Dialogue is demanded nowadays.... It is demanded by the dynamic course of action which is changing the face of modern society. It is demanded by the pluralism of society, and by the maturity man has reached in this day and age. Be he religious or not, his secular education has enabled him to think and speak, and to conduct a dialogue with dignity." (23)

To this the Vatican Curia later added: "All Christians should do their best to promote dialogue between men of every class as a duty of fraternal charity suited to our progressive and adult age.... [T]he willingness to engage in dialogue is the measure and the strength of that general renewal which must be carried out in the Church [read: in every religion and ideology]." (24)

(1) Some of the introductory material in this essay will be familiar to J.E.S. readers, but it is included here for the sake of coherence and completeness. The essay is a slightly adapted version of the keynote address that Leonard Swidler gave at the Dies Facultatis of the University of Vienna, October 17, 2011. The University of Vienna is the second-oldest German-speaking university-founded in 1365--and the largest Austrian university, with 90,000 students. Medieval universities always began with a Theology Faculty (the "Queen of the Sciences"), and so the Archbishop of Vienna is a sort of titular head of the University. The academic year, which begins in the second week of October, is initiated with a traditional "Faculty Diet"--Dies Facultatis--with the Rector of the University, or representative, initiating the festivities, which takes place, appropriately, in the huge baroque University Festival Hall (Festsal der Universitat Wien). On this occasion, it was jammed with a thousand faculty and students with standing room only. Actually, the Festival started an hour earlier with a Catholic liturgy at the nearby twelfth-century Benedictine Scottish Church (Festgottesdienst in der Schottenkirche) at which Viennese Archbishop Cardinal Christoph Schonborn was the lead celebrant, assisted by numerous clerical university faculty. Vice-Dean of the Theology Faculty Prof. lngeborg Gabriel (also Director of the Institute for Social Ethics, who is a member of the Board of Directors and an Associate Editor of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies) spoke briefly on interreligious dialogue and introduced Swidler. After his lecture--begun in German, then continued in English--Cardinal Schonbom took the podium and offered some remarks on several of Swidler's points. An extensive interview with Swidler can be found at

(2) The modern understanding and implementation of human freedoms and rights stem from the experience of the United States. They were clearly articulated in the June 12, 1776, Virginia Constitution: "All men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent fights.... All power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people" (Richard L. Petty, ed., Sources of Our Liberties, rev. ed. [Chicago: American Bar Foundation, 1978], p. 31 l). This is treated in detail in Leonard Swidler, "Human Rights: A Historical Overview," in Hans Kung and Jargen Moltmann, eds., Concilium: An International Review of Theology, 228 (1990, 2).

(3) For further detail on the sense of history and other core characteristics of Modernity, see Leonard Swidler, Club Modernity: For Reluctant Christians (Philadelphia: Ecumenical Press, 201 I).

(4) See Leonard Swidler, with John Cobb, Monika Hellwig, and Paul Knitter, Death or Dialogue: From the Age of Monologue to the Age of Dialogue (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990).

(5) Blaise Pascal, Perishes, 1669, Pensee 277.

(6) The term "holy" is related to "salvation"; in its Latin form, "salvatio," it comes from the root "salus" (the Greek form is soterion/soteria from saos), meaning wholeness, health or well-being-hence, such English terms as "salutary," "salubrious," and "salute." The same is true of the Germanic root of "Hell," "salvation," which as an adjective is "heilig," "holy"--whence the English cognates: health, hale, heal, whole, and holy. To be "holy" means to be "whole," to lead a whole, a full life. When we lead a whole, full life, we are holy; we attain salvation, wholeness, (w)holiness. Indeed, for German-speaking Christians, Yeshua (Jesus in Hebrew), is called our "Heiland," Savior. The very name of Yeshua has very interesting significance in this regard. The name of Yeshua is made up of two parts. The first part, "Ye" is an abbreviated form of the Hebrew proper name for God, Yahweh. The second, "shua," is the Hebrew word for salvation. Where the root meaning of the Indo-European words for salvation is fullness/wholeness, the root meaning of the Semitic "shua" is that of capaciousness and openness. Salvation, then, means the opposite of being in straits; it means being free in wide, open space. This makes it close to, though not precisely the same as, the Indo-European root meaning.

(7) Those who know Western Medieval philosophy will recognize that these are the "metaphysicals," the four aspects of Being Itself perceived from different perspectives: the one, the true, the good, the beautiful.

(8) For general information, see http://en.wikipedia.orglwiki/Bemard_Lonergan. His major works were Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (1957) and Theological Method (1972).

(9) For general information, see His magnum opus was Truth and Method, 2nd rev. ed., tr. J. Weinsheimer and D. G. Marshall (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1989).

(10) For general information, see His more influential work was Time and Narrative (Temps et Recit), 3 vols., tr. Kathleen McLaughlin and David Pellaue (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984, 1985, 1988 [1983, 1984, 1985]).

(11) Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, Q. 1, a. 2.

(12) See for reflections at the Scottish Parliament, March 19, 2009.

(13) See Leonard Swidler and Paul Mojzes, The Study of Religion in an Age of Global Dialogue (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000), for greater detail. When defining "religion," I also wrote of those "explanations of the ultimate meaning of life, and how to live accordingly" that are not based on a notion of the Transcendent, suggesting that they be referred to as "ideologies."

(14) Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Viking Books, 2011), chap. 9. Amazingly, it is a massively proved fact that the popular IQ level has steadily gone up over the past century in the area of abstract reasoning--the so-called "Flynn Effect."

(15) See Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology (New York: Herder and Herder, 1972), p. 253; discussed further in Leonard Swidler, After the Absolute (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), pp. 15ff.

(16) Vatican II, Unitatis redintegratio ("Decree on Ecumenism"), no. 4, in Austin Flannery, ed., Vatican Council II, vol. 1, The Conciliar and Postconciliar Documents, new rev. ed. (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Co.; Dublin: Dominican Publications, 1975. 1986, 1992, 1996), pp. 456 and 457; emphasis added.

(17) Ibid., no. 5, p. 459; emphasis added.

(18) See This was quickly followed up by a major scholarly conference at Yale University, which also deliberately included Jewish scholars: "The 'Common Word' letter was drafted by Muslim leaders and addressed specifically to leaders of 'Christian churches every where' in order to address concrete issues and problems between Christians and Muslims.... Given the extent, however, to which Jewish concerns are intertwined with those of Christians and Muslims, and given the historic Christian and Muslim tendency inappropriately to exclude the Jewish community, we are deeply committed to seeking out Jewish leaders and scholars to play a central role in the ongoing Common Word dialogue" (Andrew Saperstein, Rick Love, and Joseph Cumming, "Answers to Frequently Asked Questions regarding the Yale Response to 'A Common Word between Us and You," in Miroslav Volf, Ghazi bin Muhammad Talal, and Melissa Yarrington, eds., A Common Word: Muslims and Christians on Loving God and Neighbor (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdroans Publishing Co., 2010), pp. 179-180.

(19) See

(20) See

(21) Secretariat for Unbelievers, Humanae Personae Dignitatem, August 28, 1968; quoted in full in Flannery, Vatican Council 11, vol. 1, p. 1007.

(22) Ibid., p. 1010.

(23) Ecclesiam suam, no. 78.

(24) Humanae Personae, p. 1003.

Leonard Swidler

Temple University

Philadelphia, PA
COPYRIGHT 2012 Journal of Ecumenical Studies
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Swidler, Leonard
Publication:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2012
Previous Article:The ever-elusive self: response to Jayarava Attwood.
Next Article:Transforming Relations: Essays on Jews and Christians throughout History--In Honor of Michael A. Signer.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters