Friday, May 29, 2009

"Dialogue" is the New "Tolerance"

I'm glad that not everybody is fooled by the application of the word "dialogue" to what happened at Notre Dame on May 17th.

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean---neither more nor less."

I am interested in learning when the word "tolerance" ceased to mean simply refraining from killing, torturing, and oppressing an identifiable social group and started meaning a sort of unwillingness to accept everything about that group's beliefs and actions uncritically.

The word "dialogue" seems to be undergoing a similar transformation---or maybe I have already missed it. Rather than its literal meaning, which I presume to be "opening words" (dia-logos) it seems to mean a sort of uncritical assimilation to the viewpoint of another.

This tendency of ours to abuse words in this particular way keeps me up at night. I think it engenders all sorts of confusion. I think it makes us dumber.

Human beings have captured a great deal of wisdom in language, and when we deliberately change the meanings of words to suit our practical/political purposes, the vast majority of us are in danger of losing our connection to that wisdom.

This tendency to abuse spoken/written language is one reason why I am thankful that Christianity has preserved its deposit of faith in multiple forms. We have the Holy Scriptures, we have the councils, we have popular piety, we have disciplines, we have the Sacred Liturgy, we have a system of highly interrelated dogmas. They are all saying the same things in different ways.

Are we listening?

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