Is Dialogue Still Possible?

The meaning of the word “dialogue” is to speak across (dia) the “logos”. The “logos” refers to the source of reason that makes it possible for people to see the same thing. Reason unites because it is the common reality that binds people together. For Catholics, the “logos” is the “Word,” and the Word was made flesh. The “Word,” therefore, is the objective center of things, the source of reason that allows people who may initially differ, to come together in agreement. “Dialogue” is a word rich in implication and bright with hope.

Unfortunately, in this hour of mayhem, there is no center which can unite people.  The Irish poet,William Butler Yeats described the situation quite accurately in his poem The Second Coming:  “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.  The best lack all conviction, while the worst full of passionate intensity.”  These words apply with dramatic and painful accuracy to what has been going on recently in Seattle, Portland, Chicago, Washington D.C. and other American cities.

The “logos” or the Word of God is our common ground.  Earth is also our common ground, and so is reason.  Our feet stand on the ground of Mother Earth; our mind finds its common ground through the universal faculty of reason. We are, supposedly, rational animals. When St. Thomas Aquinas produced his monumental Summa Contra Gentiles, he stated his appreciation for the possibility of global unity.  “Against the Jews,” he wrote, “we are able to argue by means of the Old Testament, while against the heretic we are able to argue by means of the New Testament.  But the Mohammedans and the pagans accept neither the one nor the other.  We must, therefore, have recourse to the natural reason, to which all men are forced to give their assent.”

Aquinas was wonderfully confident about the capacity of reason to serve as a basis for dialogue and the possibility for unity between all human beings.  We find in today’s world, however, that reason has been replaced by will, thus invalidating our rational faculty and converting society into discordant factions that are unable to communicate with each other.  General Omar N. Bradley said it well when he made the comment that “Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants.  We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than about living.  We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.”

 

There is, of course, much talk about dialogue and open-mindedness, but it is just talk.  Reason operates magnificently when it comes to technology, but it seems entirely irrelevant when it comes to discussing pressing moral issues.  The problem is serious and there seems to be no solution in sight.  The frustration in not being able to communicate effectively often leads to anger, rage, fury, and ultimately violence.  These unhappy consequences, nonetheless, are an indirect proof that human beings are made to be at peace with one another.  There is a strong sense on the part of human beings that the path to violence is the wrong one.  There must be a better way.

Unfortunately, that better way—through reason—has been abandoned.  The wrong note on the piano is wrong only because it is not the right note.  We need to get back to playing the right note.

Shortly before President Trump arrived at Mt. Rushmore for an Independence Day speech, a native chief requested that the four presidents whose images grace the mountain be “removed”.  The notion spread like wildfire that the iconic figures represented “white supremacy”.  People began signing petitions for Barack Obama’s face to be carved into the mountain.   An issue that is born in irrationality can hardly be solved through more irrationality.

Washington, America’s first president, united the country.  Jefferson gave it the Declaration of Independence.  Roosevelt opened the Panama Canal and was the first president to have an African American serve in the White House.  Lincoln preserved the country, wrote the Emancipation Proclamation, and his Gettysburg Address stands as the most eloquent document ever written in defense of equality and democracy.  Is there any reason to revile these individuals whose contributions to human rights is beyond compare?  If we begin a conversation with a premise that is devoid of rationality, no resolution is possible.

Lincoln freed the slaves and honored people’s religious beliefs. Obama required the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for contraceptive coverage, thus violating their strongly held religious beliefs. He was America’s most pro-abortion president, consigning millions of unborn babies to premature death while claiming that killing the unborn is simply a form of health care.

Recently, a handful of students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison demanded the removal of a statue of Abraham Lincoln from the campus.  The university was founded in 1848, the same year that Wisconsin was awarded statehood. It has long been a champion of human rights, and offers special scholarships for black students. The protestors claimed that Lincoln’s image was “offensive”. If the most towering figure in American history is now seen as offensive, then all images of Americans should go with him. Is it reasonable to demand the eradication of American history?  Is this a discussable matter?

How do opposite sides come to terms in this Wild West moment of history?  I commend Catholic publications for doing what they should be doing, which is standing firm for reason, while hoping that reasonable discussions that may bring about agreeable solutions and even form the basis of friendships.  There is no other reasonable choice.  Through reason we become free; from reason, we become enslaved.

Photo by Christian Battaglia on Unsplash

By

Dr. Donald DeMarco—Prof. Emeritus, St. Jerome’s University; Adjunct Prof., Holy Apostles College & Seminary. He is a regular columnist for the St. Austin Review. His latest books, How To Navigate through Life and Apostles of the Culture of Life is posted on amazon.com. He is also the author of How to Flourish in a Fallen World (En Route publishers). Reflections on the Covid-19 virus: A Search for Meaning is in production.

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