The Dialogic Attitude

I believe that true religious practice does not ask us to adopt an attitude of “I don’t care what you believe, you must convert to my way,” but one of “here is what I do and believe, here is what has spoken to me and fulfilled my yearnings.  Consider how it works for me, but make your decision, and let us discuss what has spoken and worked for you too.”

This, for me, is the “dialogic attitude” that allows true meeting to take place.  And as Martin Buber famously said, “all real living is meeting.”


In making this claim, I am making, not a descriptive claim here, but a normative one.  I’m not saying that this is the attitude that religions have historically asked us to adopt; I’m claiming that this is the attitude that a an authentic religious practice that values wisdom, compassion, connection with the world and with each other, etc. should ask us to adopt. This is an “ought” claim and not an “is” claim, and holds whether we are speaking of a spirituality rooted in Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, etc., or a spirituality divorced from all of these faiths.

While we have evidence of this attitude in ecunemical Christianity, Sufi Islam, many traditions of Buddhism, many Hindu traditions, etc., this claim, the argument for the dialogic attitude does not depend on empirical or historical facts.  It depends instead on an appear to values shared by all of the world’s religious traditions, namely, wisdom, compassion, and feelings of connection (the etymology of religion points to this later value, for re-ligio means to re-connect).

What argument can we advance in favour of the dialogic attitude based on these shared values?  We can put forward one of the following form:

P1. Authentic religious practice is based on values of wisdom, compassion, and feelings of connection.
P2. We should act in ways and adopt attitudes that support our values.
P3. Adopting a dialogic attitude supports the values mentioned in P1 by promoting understanding and feelings of connection with others.
Therefore, if our religious practice is authentic, that is based on values of wisdom, compassion, and feelings of connection, then we should adopt a dialogic attitude.


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