Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 2, 2009
True dialogue seeks to understand, not mock, each other
A Shepherd Speaks
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
The Freethought Association of Canada would like to feature bus ads in Toronto, Halifax and Calgary, questioning the existence of God. The ads read: “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”
The ads are very clever and are presented as opening the doors to dialogue.
However, they are grounded in the militant atheism espoused by the like of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, who have grown more outspoken and aggressive in their attempts to dunk the very idea of God and mock religion. They no longer want to be tolerated but to monopolize the public square and expel Christians from it.
Their goal is to divorce political questions like abortion from moral claims and religion; to control school curricula so that a secular ideology can be promoted; and to portray Christianity not only as wrong but evil.
Their strategy is not to argue with religious views or to prove them wrong but to treat them with scorn so that they are pushed outside the bounds of acceptable debate and to liberate oneself from moral constraint and indulge one’s appetites by portraying religion as a form of repression.
The ads are a call to self-absorption. There is no heavenly or earthly appeal to transcendence but rather a philosophy of narcissistic hedonism and licence.
The Freethought Association is not interested in dialogue.
CRITERIA OF RESPECT
A dialogue has certain characteristics — clarity, an outpouring of thought, meekness, humility, kindness, patience, generosity, prudence and trust. In a dialogue, we are compelled to make our language understandable, acceptable and well-chosen, so that we can be both truthful and charitable to one another.
A sincere dialogue seeks to understand the reasons and feelings of others. This requires taking into account the hopes, sufferings and concrete situations of those with whom one is in dialogue. It is precisely in this way that people of good will open their hearts more freely and share their secular, spiritual and religious experiences in all sincerity. This is a characteristic of friendship.
Above all, there is listening, a fundamental condition for dialogue, then, discussion. By seeking to understand the beliefs, traditions and convictions of others, agreement can be found, at times hidden under disagreement.
A respectful dialogue of charity and truth involves not only an exchange of ideas but also of gifts. This is mutual enrichment by means of testimony.
Each of us has the right and duty to draw upon our own normative sources and not be constrained to bracket or minimize what is specific to ourselves but rather to contribute our own distinctive doctrines and practices. In this way we offer more of ourselves and our experiences to our partners in dialogue.
The situation is somewhat similar to our desire to establishing a dialogue with the Muslim faith. You don’t start by mocking or publishing cartoons about Mohammed.
Archbishop Vincent Landel of Rabat wrote an insightful commentary entitled If the other really became my brother
“If the other really became my brother!
Is not this the question one must ask given the debate in the media?
If the other really became my brother, could I question the faith that makes him live?
Could I ridicule his beliefs in one way or another?
If the other really became my brother, could I speak of freedom without living respect?
If the other really became my brother, could I reject him with violent acts against his person or properties?
If the other really became my brother, could I allow myself to speak negatively about him behind his back?
Could I allow myself to destroy even his privacy?
If the other really became my brother, I could really meet him in truth; we could speak simply, even if we don’t agree on everything.
If the other really became my brother, meeting with him would make me grow, and I am certain he would also grow.
If the other really became my brother, our gazes would meet and a real smile would illuminate our faces.
If the other really became my brother, what an exciting world we could build!”
To my atheistic friends, I simply say if you really want to dialogue, please don’t start by mocking what I hold to be more sacred than my life itself.
Letter to the Editor - 04/06/09