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September 25, 2007

The Myth of Dialogue

One of the foundational beliefs in Western democracies has to do with the virtue of entering into a dialogue with people who hold differing opinions. The idea is that, through open and honest discourse, we will be able to come to consensus, settle our differences, and avoid going to war (verbal or real) with one another.

Certainly, these are noble aims; but they presume certain truths about the participants which may or may not be true. First, we assume that the people involved are men and women of goodwill who truly want to find a peaceful way to mediate their differences. Second, we must assume that they are reasonable, discerning people who are capable of recognizing the value of a strong argument. In other words, they can be persuaded to change their minds, or to at least compromise to the point that the two parties can amicably agree to disagree.

But what if those assumptions are wrong? What if one, or both, parties are not people of goodwill? What if they are people who don't want peace, but who use endless talk as a delaying tactic while they prepare their armies for war?

To me, the world is full of such people -- like the current presidents of Iran and Venezuela -- and it does no good to pretend (or even hope) otherwise. This is why I find the reasons offered by the president of Columbia University for inviting Iran's president to speak such simple-minded, dangerous prattle. Neville Chamberlain stands as a sobering reminder of how a man of goodwill can be hoodwinked by a megalomaniacal, murderous scoundrel. As we look upon the world scene, it's always smart to be "as wise as serpents, but innocent as doves."

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If dialog fails and one goes to war - one would have gone to war anyway, and more often, if there'd been no dialog. As long as a false anthropology of human inherent goodness isn't assumed.

Let Ahmadinejad speak. It is the censorship of others at Columbia that concerns me.


Jesus gave us an example of what to do when encountering such people. He laid down His life.


I did not see the Ahmadinejad talk at Columbia, but based on the press and blogger reaction I've seen, it sounds like the event massively backfired on the Iranian president. His gay denial statement in particular is now alienating his sympathizers on the American left as the press uses the statement to highlight Iranian civil rights abuses. (Read here for more info.: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,297982,00.html)

"Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks...."


Your comments hit the bulls-eye! The assumptions you listed are absolutely correct.

In Ecclesiastes it tells us that there is a time for war. It is when God ordains justice or judgement based on His Word or direct communication.

While Jesus said to turn the other cheek there is nothing in God's Word that I've seen that indicates that we should stand by and let evil run free!

Engaging in "dialogue" with someone (or state) that has given itself over to evil is foolishness.


Would that Brian be more specific with his hit-and-run post "Jesus gave us an example of what to do when encountering such people. He laid down His life."

I prefer thoughtful commentaries like Diane Singer's "The Myth of Dialog" where she builds upon and develops her premise. It is much more meaningful than just lobbing sanctimoneous platitudes.

Amy Jane (Untangling Tales)

Thank you for putting this into words.

I've always felt that assuming dialogue improves things includes other assumptions, but hadn't itemized them like this.

Very helpful.



I gotta say, I think your critique of Brian's comment is a bit over the top. He laid out a thought - you agree? Disagree? You obviously think it needs developing, which is certainly true. It seems meant to provoke response. But sanctimonious?? I don't see it.


Diane Singer's statements in The Myth of Dialogue are well-stated. There are dangers that can arise, but that is yet to be seen. The link to foxnews above did not "work". Here is the link that led to the story at Fox that I found: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,297935,00.html


Ummm, Peter, if you want to engage in an (ahem) dialog with Brian, I'm not sure that's exactly the right way to begin.

I've had at least one extended dialog with him, and I've found him to be extremely thoughtful. (I was hoping to hear his views on Ahmadinejad's comments on homosexuals - especially in comparison/contrast to the situation here in the USA. But I don't want to put him or anyone else on the spot.) So please don't label Brian's postings.

Besides, it kinda proves Diane's point, in a negative way, and I believe we can all do better than that.

And we're not supposed to venture off-topic, but I'll note in passing that Jesus cleansed the Temple with a whip at least once, and maybe twice or more. It's not a picture you see very often on the walls of a church's Children's Ministry area. And it was part of what led to Jesus laying down his life.

Since, after all, some people view dialog as merely a way of entrapping someone.

Sy Hoekstra

I disagree about the assumptions behind open diologue and diplomacy. Shocking, right? I think this actually gets to at least part of the heart of our disagreement on the other Ahmedinejad article. The whole point of open diologue in this country was set in place, like most of our constitution, to guarantee rights for everyone so long as they were not encroaching on the freedom of others. Now, it's obvious that Ahmenijad is encroaching on a whole lot of other people's freedom, and the appropriate people will deal with him. That would be other governments, and the UN, if they can really deal with anything. The argument for talking with him is a slippery slope argument. Basically, we don't stop anyone from engaging in diologue or stating their opinions for fear of tyranny. This was a bedrock principle of our country's founding. If we stop anyone from being allowed a voice, where do we draw the line? Everyone in the world is trying to talk with Iran, except us. No one seems to be getting very far, but our sanctions and political pressures are doing nothing but making his people angry with us, and giving him political leverage. Yesterday was a step forward in showing most of the world what a liar Ahmenijad is. We got to better understand the evil with which we are dealing. And I think Brian's point was that Jesus never put a qualifier on who he talked to. He was polite to the point of being rediculous by any worldly standard, praying forgiveness for those who were torturing him on the cross. Jesus died for Ahmenijad too. I know it's crazy, but he loves him. America's stance so far has been to put pressure until, presumably, we can find a pretext to invade the country and take the government down by force. Engaging, being direct, to the point, and respectful, is a much more Christ-like approach in my opinion. Unless, of course, we have no other choice. Not talking to him seriously limits our choices.


I accept, and am chastened by, the criticisms of my intemperate reaction to Brian.

Amy Jane said it well with "...he laid out a thought."

Thank you.


I think conversation ceases to be dialogue when one or more of the parties are just talking to hear their own brilliant points and not actually thinking about what the other person says.

With most dialogues I try to understand the person on their own terms, but I rarely go into it thinking that I might change my opinion--I know it to be true so how could you change my opinion?


By definition, dialogue is a two-way street. If both parties, don't express understanding (not agreement, but understanding in the sense of "this is what I hear you say") of the other, then we have not had a dialogue. This takes discipline, but in my mind it is also a duty (love your neighbor...or enemy) to understand each other as a prerequisite to moving towards any clarity of agreement OR disagreement. Then, in this model of dialogue, we can begin to do the work of drilling down to the significant points of difference. I believe a place like this (The Point) is potentially the kind of place where such difficult work can occur. But we need new tools to deal with the overwhelming flow of information and opinion. Without some significant new tools to manage this new age of accelerated info flow, even a great site like this will never be more than a fairly small group of people spouting off on an endless litany of topics...


While reading through the comments I noticed Travis's reference to the comment by Ahmadinejad that Iran doesn't have gay people and was thinking about commenting... so Lee, I guess you'll what you were looking for!

It made me squirm when I heard him say it. I thought back to the images of gay Iranian teens hanging in the gallows. Gay people certainly do exist in Iran.

But while the president's comments strengthened my resolve to create a society which understands and accepts its LGBT citizens both here and abroad, something else struck me even more: the reaction.

That comment has been one of the most talked about portions of the event. Americans around the country are thinking about their brothers, sisters, coworkers, friends, neighbors, bankers, barbers, and realators and trying to process how a person could possibly assert that gay people don't exist there.

In realizing that gay people are in Iran just as much as they are in the United States, I think people are realizing that being gay is just one part of being human and it's as much a part of the human fabric in Iran as anywhere else in the world.

We do exist.


Thanks, Brian. You're right, Ahmadinejad has definitely put homosexuality on the world stage.

The question I would have liked to ask him - the one I think no one asked, but everyone assumed the answer to - is this: "Sir, how is it that your country has no homosexuals? First, have you done an inventory of every person in your country? And second, has it always been so, or is this something you caused to happen, and if so, how?"

In spite of the fact that you'll read things on this website that may upset your stomach, Brian, you'll almost never hear anyone suggesting a Hitlerian "Final Solution" for gays. In fact, I could imagine it would be fun for you to ask "So you think homosexuality is a sin. OK, what do you propose to do about that sin?" That question would, I think, make many on this list stumble for an answer. Christians, at least, would recognize the inconsistency in killing gays in the name of Jesus. (What so struck me is that no one has mentioned why Ahmadinejad would not feel any inconsistency. It's the elephant in the room that no one seems to acknowledge. It's a huge difference between two cultures, and between the USA and Iran.) What they would probably stumblingly suggest is that, uh, well, homosexuals should, um, repent of their sins. (At which point you could prompt them "You mean, like everyone else - gluttons, drunkards, lazy people, and the rest?") And that leads back to the central point, which is that Christians have to reach out IN LOVE to everybody - not make them feel unwelcome. But I digress.

When Matthew Shepard was murdered, the entire USA was outraged. Katie Couric tried to pin responsibility on James Dobson, but he strenuously denied that he ever intended anything of the kind, and condemned the murderers. What would happen in Iran for all the Matthew Shepards (that, alas, you probably rightly envision)? Are the Imams saying it was the government's idea to begin a pogrom, and not theirs?

And more to the point (and The Point), why do people seem to be assuming what Ahmadinejad meant - instead of questioning him... and his motives... either directly, or indirectly via discussion and speculation?


I object to the above posts by Brian and Lee, both of whom condone the sin of homosexuality.

I object further to the absurd implication by Lee that James Dobson was somehow responsible for the murder of Matthew Shepard.

Lee suggests that Brian pose the question "So you think homosexuality is a sin. OK, what do you propose to do about that sin?" to his detractors. Excuse me, but "what do you propose to do about that sin (of homosexuality)?" is better directed at the sinning homosexual. Only the sinner can do something about his sin through confession and repentance.

No true Christian that I know condones "killing gays in the name of Jesus." That red-herring allegation is flat out wrong.

There is an important difference between us Christian "gluttons, drunkards, lazy people, and the rest" and it is this. We know and accept the fact that we are sinners. GLBT practitioners and proponents choose rather to deflect with allegations and accusations of others while refusing to admit their own sin.

May God have mercy.

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