Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Church proposes an authentic dialogue...

In his Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam, Pope Paul VI told us that, "The Church must enter into dialogue with the world in which it lives. It has something to say, a message to give, a communication to make." (No. 65).

The Holy Father goes on to say that, "Dialogue, therefore, is a recognized method of the apostolate. It is a way of making spiritual contact. It should however have the following characteristics:

1) Clarity before all else; the dialogue demands that what is said should be intelligible. We can think of it as a kind of thought transfusion. It is an invitation to the exercise and development of the highest spiritual and mental powers a man possesses. This fact alone would suffice to make such dialogue rank among the greatest manifestations of human activity and culture. In order to satisfy this first requirement, all of us who feel the spur of the apostolate should examine closely the kind of speech we use. Is it easy to understand? Can it be grasped by ordinary people? Is it current idiom?

2) Our dialogue must be accompanied by that meekness which Christ bade us learn from Himself: "Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart." It would indeed be a disgrace if our dialogue were marked by arrogance, the use of bared words or offensive bitterness. What gives it its authority is the fact that it affirms the truth, shares with others the gifts of charity, is itself an example of virtue, avoids peremptory language, makes no demands. It is peaceful, has no use for extreme methods, is patient under contradiction and inclines towards generosity.

3) Confidence is also necessary; confidence not only in the power of one's own words, but also in the good will of both parties to the dialogue. Hence dialogue promotes intimacy and friendship on both sides. It unites them in a mutual adherence to the Good, and thus excludes all self-seeking.

4) Finally, the prudence of a teacher who is most careful to make allowances for the psychological and moral circumstances of his hearer, particularly if he is a child, unprepared, suspicious or hostile. The person who speaks is always at pains to learn the sensitivities of his audience, and if reason demands it, he adapts himself and the manner of his presentation to the susceptibilities and the degree of intelligence of his hearers....In a dialogue conducted with this kind of foresight, truth is wedded to charity and understanding to love." (Nos. 81, 82).

As faithful Catholics, we must recognize and embrace these characteristics of authentic dialogue, even when our partners in dialogue refuse to accept these principles. For we will often encounter those who have succumbed to relativism or who do not possess a love of objective truth. For such people, the purpose of dialogue is not to attain truth but rather to achieve personal victory and to triumph at any cost. As Dr. Montague Brown explains in his wonderful book "The One-Minute Philosopher" (Sophia Institute Books): "An argument (emotional, not rational) is a disorderly confrontation based on an unwillingness to learn from one another. Desire for victory takes precedence over love of truth, with the result that agreement becomes an argument, I simply want my position to be the right one and you to agree with me. I am, indeed, looking for agreement, but on my terms, not in terms of objective truth." (p. 33). An authentic dialogue (which such people are not really interested in) is, " orderly confrontation based on a mutual willingness to learn from one another. It involves the presentation of evidence by each party and then a good-faith attempt of the participants in the discussion to come to agreement...In a discussion [or dialogue], I do not primarily want to disagree: I want to know the truth.." (The One-Minute Philosopher, p. 32).

It was Pope John Paul II, in his Encyclical Letter Ut Unum Sint, No. 36, who said, "There must be charity toward one's partner in dialogue, and humility with regard to the truth which comes to light and which might require a review of assertions and attitudes." Bearing this in mind, I encourage readers of this Blog to visit the comments section of this Blog post. Ask yourself, "Is there anyone commenting on this discussion thread who comes across as less than honest and charitable?" The answer should be obvious.


Ann Duclos said...

I've been following that discussion. John Hosty, a homosexual activist and blogger, has consistently violated the principles of authentic dialogue while labelling those who disagree with him, or who will not embrace same-sex marriage, as "bigots."

The following response from Jay (the Blog author) to Mr. Hosty is most revealing:

"First you said 'I believe the laws apply equally to us all, and what is hate speech for one group is hate speech for another. Hilton fits the term hate speech and I feel no need to defend his actions simply because he is gay.'

Then you said 'So when you take that understanding and apply it to what Perez Hilton said ('She's a stupid b%$#@') you can see no evidence that fits our definition. Hilton's words were wrong, and they were hateful, but they were not hate speech.'

So if 'Hilton fits the term hate speech' how could his words 'not [be] hate speech'? Or is this just some exercise in creating your own reality, where a thing can both be and not be simultaneously?...Sorry, the quotes are not meant to degrade, only to quote."

Here Jay notes clearly that he is not intending to be sarcastic or that his remarks are intended to "degrade." He is simply revealing Mr. Hosty's dishonesty and self-contradicting statements.

It should be readily apparent to anyone of good will that Mr. Hosty isn't seeking truth. His goal is to "win a debate" not to find truth.

Michael Cole said...

I thought the following comment revealed something about John Hosty's dishonesty:

"..hate speech is intended to degrade through someone's distinctions, usually some type of liability, like ethnicity for example. Often comments are based in misinformation through either exaggeration or outright lies.

"All poor people smell like sour milk" is an example of hate speech geared towards class discrimination.

So when you take that understanding and apply it to what Perez Hilton said ("She's a stupid b%$#@") you can see no evidence that fits our definition. Hilton's words were wrong, and they were hateful, but they were not hate speech."

But Hilton knew beforehand of Carrie Prejean's background, and specifically the fact that she was raised in a Christian family. And, as you noted Paul, his blog used to have the title - a reference to his anti-Christian mindset. In another comment, Mr. Hosty acknowledged that such a title is "anti-Christian."

It would seem that with Mr. Hosty, honesty is like a game of
peekaboo: now you see it, now you don't.

Ellen Wironken said...

Mr. Hosty wrote: "this is supposed to be a Catholic website, is it not? While we disagree on key issues I have tried to be as respectful as I can while disagreeing with your points. In return I get open hostility, there is no longer any confusion about it like was attempted to be created in the past. You chose to hate.

You will know who comes in His name by the love they bring.

I will pray for all of you, this is indeed a very sad turn of events and very eye opening. I expected much better of you all."

I have not seen any real respect from Mr. Hosty. He has frequently chosen to calumniate those he disagrees with by referring to them as bigots and homophobes. I say calumniate because he has not been able to offer a shred of evidence to support his accusations.

But while Mr. Hosty has frequently engaged in harsh rhetoric and false accusations, Catholics who visit this blog have demonstrated a remarkably calm and charitable dialogue and have refrained from returning Mr. Hosty's insults and outright fabrications.

Referring to Mr. Hosty as Mr. Hosty or John Hosty is a mark of respect and fully within the norms of etiquette. He therefore fails to make a case for hate by complaining that others will not use his "married" name. However, by frequently engaging in attempts to intimidate and by calumniating others, Mr. Hosty has demonstrated the very sort of hatred which he [falsely] attributes to others.

Anonymous said...

Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, on "The Limits of Dialogue"

Presented to:
Institute for Religious Life
upon receiving the Pro Fidelitate et Virtute Award

April 10, 1999
Mundelein, Illinois

Dear Friends,

I thought this evening, I would speak about the limits of dialogue and toleration. I want to begin by stating very emphatically that I favor both dialogue and toleration. I say that so that my subsequent remarks will not be in any way misconstrued or misunderstood. I also want to say that I think it is imperative that we constantly be alert to improving the methods by which we discourse with each other within the Catholic Church particularly, but also in our present, pluralistic, cultural context. It is vital, in my opinion, that civility and genuine civilized courtesy be an ever-present constituent of any kind of discourse. For Christians, of course, courtesy and politeness are concrete expressions of Christian charity, and so they are imposed upon us by a double imperative that which requires civilized behavior and comportment as well as that which requires Christian attitudes and approaches to our fellow human beings, remembering always the old adage that "A stranger is merely a friend you have not yet met, and every enemy is really a potential friend."

The reason, however, that I feel it is necessary to revisit the limitations on dialogue and toleration, is because in certain sectors of our cultural milieu, we find tolerance and dialogue exalted to such an extent that they supersede other, and superior, values and qualities, such as (in some instances) truth itself.

Let us, first of all, talk about dialogue. Jesus, in the Gospel, is not known to have told His disciples to go out into the world and dialogue. I think that the words that are appropriate in our Lord's last instructions to us are mathutusein and didaskein, which mean "go out and make disciples," and "go out and teach." Now let me be the first to say, that on some occasions, dialogue is a very effective method to make disciples, and can be an excellent pedagogical method as well. However, a method is not, in itself, a goal or an end, but rather a means to achieve an end. The first limitation I see to dialogue is that it cannot rationally be accepted as a permanent state of affairs. Dialogue is a way in which we strive to achieve some purpose or goal. Perpetual and eternal dialogue does not seem to me to be an appropriate method in which Christians can live, although one can apply the word dialogue in prayer and the relationship between God and His people in dialogic terms.

The second limitation, as I see it, is that when the Church and/or Catholics in the Church engage in dialogue, they have no guarantee that this process will always result in the emergence of truth. We all know that there is no guarantee in any kind of dialogic discussion, truth will be the victor. Theoretically with human minds always open to the reality of truth, one could hope this is the case. De facto, however, it isn't. In Adam Smith's Classic Economics, it is the better mouse-trap that wins in the marketplace, and the world beats a path to the door of the man who invented it. We know, however, that in the world of reality, that does not often happen. It is rather the person who can pass off shoddy goods as genuine and good, the person who manipulates and lies in advertising, the person who underpays workers, and so on, who could just as well prevail in the marketplace as the noble inventor of the mousetrap. Similarly, someone can possess truth in a dialogic relationship and still be, so to speak, conquered by someone who is more glib, more articulate, better looking, who can state and simplify--indeed, over-simplify--presentations. Audiences can think as much with their glands sometimes as with their minds. We have only to recall Benjamin Desraeli's famous remark that seeing certain officials freely elected by free people makes it easier to understand how the ancient Egyptians could have worshiped an insect. The second limitation then, is that those who engage in dialogue should always be aware that truth does not necessarily prevail as the outcome of every dialogue.

The third limitation that I see in what is called dialogue is that it can very seriously result in the mutilation or marginalizing of truth. Things can be so ordered that consensus and good feeling are the major outcomes desired in dialogues, and therefore, there can be a normal human tendency to trivialize things that are relatively important for the sake of compromise and consensus. We all know that consensus is not always a process which results in truth, any more than dialogue itself always results in truth. Consequently, we can, particularly in a pluralistic society when we are very desirous of living in comity and reasonable comfort with neighbors with whom we disagree, arrive at the conclusion that certain matters are not really of any kind of earth-shaking dimensions, and really have no eternal repercussions.

The fourth limitation I see in dialogue is that it sometimes skews the relationship of teacher and student. Granted that Socratic interrogatories and various kinds of dialogic procedures can be extraordinarily useful, particularly when dealing with mature students, adults and the like, at the same time the flow in teaching must go from teacher to student who is being taught. There is some back-flow into the teacher, and that is also quite normal. At the same time, if the Church, for example, as such, enters into dialogue, it must be clearly seen that the Church is already in possession of a certain measure of truth,and the purpose of dialogue is to make sure that the terminology in which this truth is phrased is acceptable and can be accommodated by the one who is the partner in the dialogue. What may happen, of course, is that the perception can be given, sometimes by the participants in the dialogue and sometimes by onlookers, that truth is really an open-ended matter in religion, and, therefore, it is quite acceptable to assume that no party owns or posses the truth in these matters, and by means of the dialogue, we will somehow or another arrive at truth. Needless to say, this opens doors to what Pope John Paul II calls in his new encyclical, "historicism, scientism, eclecticism, and ultimately, nihilism." It makes truth quite a relativistic notion and can have the effect of reducing truth to something genuinely unattainable, and epistomologically, something that is merely opinion at the best. In a certain sense, then, dialogue has the possibility to convert, but it also keeps open the possibility to pervert. Dialogue certainly can be desirable. The Church can and must dialogue with those about her, with the secular world, with the unbelieving world, the diversity of non-Christian religions, as well as those churches and denominations that once in history may have had an association with the Catholic Church and still claim sometimes to be rooted in Sacred Scripture and perhaps in Christ Himself. If dialogue is meant to be a device for evangelization and persuasion, if it is device by which civil conversation can ensue, and a device by which mutual educational efforts can be undertaken, dialogue is highly desirable. However, dialogue can be a danger if it is seen as some type of manipulation or clever way to insinuate a kind of proselytism unworthy of Christian discourse, if it can be a device by which the unwary or the unskilled can be persuaded to adopt a position which is untrue, or to abandon truth, or to embrace error. Unlimited dialogue, then, in my view, is not something to be extraordinarily or highly desired, but rather is a procedure, a technique, a method of conversation which, while it holds much promise, also holds many perils.
Speaking now about toleration. It is my view that this word, and this attitude and procedure must also be treated as desirable in some instances, but can be perilous in others. The scholastic definition of toleration is "Toleratio est permissio negativa mali." Literally, it means that tolerance is a negative permission of evil, a patient forbearance in the face of evil, either real or imaginary. Tolerance and toleration do not really concern human beings. We are not allowed to tolerate human beings; we are required by our religion to love all human beings. Also, we are not allowed to tolerate the good. That which is good must be approved, accepted, and promoted as well as fostered. Tolerance always refers to some kind of evil, physical, moral, intellectual, whether real or imagined. There is a famous story about a little boy saying his night prayers, praying, "O God, please make Omaha the capital of Nebraska." His mother asked him why he wanted Omaha to be the capital of Nebraska, and he replied, "Because that's what I put down on my Social Studies examination in school today." Now, the little boy's examination contained an incorrect answer and an untruth, in other words, an intellectual error. The teacher of that little boy who is obliged, if he or she is Christian, to love the child, is, it seems to me, equally obliged to correct the error. Not to do so would be a matter of serious neglect.

The first limit on toleration then, seems to be that of love. If we truly love our neighbor we must be impatient with the evil, physical, moral, or intellectual, under which our neighbor suffers, and to the extent we are able or responsible, we are obliged to relieve the suffering that comes from this evil. Naturally, there is a serious measure of balance in correction of evil. We must be exceptionally cautious that we do not cause harm to others by some kind of arrogant assumption that we, personally, are in possession of truth and the others who are benighted and unfamiliar with what we possess. At the same time, we must also be very careful that words like caution and prudence are not simply used as an excuse for inaction, inability, sloth or cowardice which prevents us from sharing a truth with others. Obviously, we who are Catholics possess, in a certain measure, truth, which at least partially is not in possession of those who are non-Catholics, and this is not due, as the Vatican Council says so eloquently, to our own merits, but to God's mercy and grace. At the same time, we are not acting responsibly if we do not allow love to overcome tolerance to a significant extent. To be harsh, to be prideful, to be cruel, in asserting the truth, to use the truth as a bludgeon with which to hurt people emotionally or even intellectually is certainly a violation of Christian charity. At the same time, to be indifferent to truth, or to allow truth, especially doctrinal and moral truth, to be relegated by the general culture to a mere matter of opinion open to variance and contradiction by anyone, is not doing a service to our neighbor nor fulfilling our obligations in Christian charity, deriving from Baptism and Confirmation. Cardinal John Henry Newman once wrote, "Truth and error lie over and against each other, with a valley between them, and David goes forward in the sight of all men and from his own camp to engage the Philistine. Such is the providential overruling of that principle of toleration which was conceived in the spirit of unbelief and ordered to the destruction of Catholicity."

Cardinal Newman sagely observes, "It is a miserable time when a man's Catholic profession is no voucher for his orthodoxy, and when a teacher of religion may be within the Church's pale yet external to her faith. Such has been for a season the trial of her children in various eras in her history. It was the state of things during the dreadful Arian ascendancy, when the flock had to keep aloof from the shepherd, and the unsuspicious fathers of the western Councils trusted and followed some consecrated sophist from Greece of Syria. It was the case in those passages of Medieval history when simony resisted the Supreme Pontiff, or when heresy lurked in the universities. It was a longer and more tedious trial when the controversies lasted with the Monophysites of old, and the Jansenists in modern times. A great scandal it is, and a perplexity to the little ones of Christ to have to choose between rival claimants upon their allegiance, or to find a condemnation at length pronounced upon one whom in their simplicity they have admired."
This would clearly be the consequence of not recognizing what I call limits of tolerance or toleration. Once again, Cardinal Newman sets the matter forth in an exceptionally coherent way. He says that "what we may be dealing with is a teaching that all religions are tolerated and all are simply matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous, and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy. Devotion is not necessarily founded on faith. Men may go to Protestant churches and to Catholic, may get good from both and belong to neither. They may fraternize together in spiritual thoughts and feelings without having any views at all of doctrines in common, or any need of them. If a man puts on a new religion every morning, what is that to you. It's as impertinent to think about a man's religion as to think about his sources of income or the management of his family."

He goes on to say, there is the mistaken notion of subjecting to human judgment revealed doctrines which are in their nature beyond and independent of human judgment, and claiming to determine on intrinsic grounds the truth and value of propositions which rest for their reception on the authority of the divine word. This outlook, alien to Christianity is what Cardinal Newman called liberalism in religion. He opposed this liberalism in religion with what he calls the dogmatical principle. He said that, " There is a truth then, and there is one truth. Religious error is in itself of an immoral nature. That its maintainers, unless involuntarily such, are guilty in maintaining it; that the mind is below truth and not above it, is bound not to descant upon it, but to venerate it; that truth and falsehood are set before us for the trial of our hearts; that our choice is an awful giving forth of lots on which salvation or its rejection is described; and that before all things it is necessary to hold the Catholic faith; and that he who would be saved must think thus, and not otherwise. This is the dogmatical principle." "In opposition," Cardinal Newman says, "is the view that the Governor of this world does not intend that we should gain the truth; that we are not more acceptable to God by believing this than believing that; that no one is answerable for his opinions; that it is enough that we sincerely hold what we profess; that it is a duty to follow what seems to us to be true without any fear lest it should not be true; that we may safely trust to ourselves in matters of faith and need no other guide."

It seems to me that humility and docility which are necessary dispositions in order to be saved are absolutely indispensable in showing that there must necessarily be some limitations to dialogue and tolerance or toleration. There were times when our divine Lord, when He walked on earth engaged in dialogue. One thinks, for example, of the exchange of words with some of His ferocious enemies, the Pharisees. One thinks of His dialogue with the Samaritan Woman at the well. On the other hand, there were occasions when dialogue was severely limited. It is difficult to imagine Jesus dialoguing with the merchants that He drove out of the temple with a whip. Just as there did not seem to be an exceptional amount of dialogue with the soldiers who beat and whipped Him, or with Caiaphas and Annas. There are time, I think, when our Lord's example teaches us in our present ecclesiastical circumstances that dialogue and toleration have limits. The dialogue between the fly-swatter and the fly, between the fire and the fire-department, and between the potter and the clay, is not a dialogue that appears rational or in any way reasonable. It seems to me that it is precisely in the inability of our modern political structures and culture to ascertain clearly the limitations in dialogue and tolerance, which make it very difficult to accept that vital and essential linkage which exists between truth and freedom.

In our Holy Father's encyclical Fides et Ratio, he discourses at length, as he has in previous writings on the impossibility on having a genuine freedom if one is not in possession of the truth, following, of course, from our Lord's very clear words, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." His purpose in coming into the world was to bear witness to the truth, despite the sarcastic and rhetorical question of Pontius Pilate. The limitations of tolerance and toleration, and dialogue are quite clear in the kerygma of the early Church. St. Peter, in the Acts of the Apostles, was apodictic in claiming that the name of Jesus was unique and that no other name existed in which one could possibly be saved. Our Lord, too, seemed to have been incredibly exclusivist when He said with no qualification that no one can come to the Father except through Him. If then, we allow in our own thought-structure and in our own outlook, tolerance, toleration and dialogue, desirable and good as they are, to be formed up into ultimates, and give them a supremacy of value that they do not deserve, we may be causing great harm to our neighbor, and grave harm to ourselves, and, of course, in this, grave harm to the cause of Christ. Gilbert Keith Chesterton said, "There is an infinity of angles at which one falls, but only one at which one stands." When it comes to dialogue, when it comes to tolerance and toleration, I urge us all to unashamedly stand on the rock which is Peter and his legitimate successors, and to proclaim, with unequivocal and joyous determination, truth, which is not only something, but in the Divine Person of Jesus, Someone.

Thank you very much.

Paul Anthony Melanson said...

Anonymous, thank you for posting Bishop Bruskewitz's speech. He is, of course, 100 percent right. I cannot think of any Bishop whom I admire more. I really appreciate the tough stand His Excellency took against dissenting groups within the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska. Would that more would follow his example.

Ellen Wironken said...

I left this comment at DTF in response to a comment left by Mr. John Hosty, homosexual activist:

Mr. Hosty writes, "I only ask that we show each other a proper amount of respect." But Catholics who post comments here have been nothing but respectful toward Mr. Hosty, even as he routinely hurls hateful labels as "bigot" and "homophobe" against those who respectfully disagree with his erroneous ideas.

He then writes, "Both sides do a fair amount of casting dispersions on each other." What Mr. Hosty meant to convey, I'm sure, was that both sides cast aspersions at each other. Dispersion is properly defined as "The act or process of dispersing." The word disperse, in turn, is defined thusly: "To break up and scatter in various directions." The word aspersion is defined thusly: "A calumnious report or remark, slander."

Therefore, Mr. Hosty has lied once again. No Catholic here has hurled any "calumnious report" against Mr. Hosty. However, Mr. Hosty has routinely engaged in this practice and has uncharitably labelled those who disagree with him on moral grounds as "bigots" and "homophobes" or as belonging to a "hate group."

Again, referring to Mr. Hosty as Mr. Hosty is entirely within the norms of etiquette. If Mr. Hosty disagrees, then the burden is on him to demonstrate how usage of his name constitutes "disrespect." Was he disrespecting himself when he used this name for several years when posting comments at this blog? What has changed? His "marriage"? Again, those of us who are Christian cannot - and will not (ever) - acknowledge his "marriage."

If Mr. Hosty wants to engage in sincere and authentic dialogue, he will have to work on his clarity of expression, his lack of charity, and his inability to be honest when communicating with others.

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