President Obama has a great many admirers for (among other things)
his perceived openness to dialogue with people on all sides of all
Fr. Bob Barron, popular evangelist of the modern culture and fair-minded scholar, says ‘dialogue’ is a slippery word.
I realize that to say that one is against dialogue is
akin to saying that one is impatient with motherhood, patriotism, and
sunny days. But the point is this: one should, in certain
circumstances, be suspicious of dialogue. The great Canadian Jesuit
philosopher Bernard Lonergan laid out the four basic moves that
characterize the action of a healthy mind.
First, he said, a properly functioning mind ought to be attentive,
that is to say, able to take in the facts, to see what is there to be
seen. Second, it ought to be intelligent, by which he meant, able to
see forms and patterns of meaning…It is at this stage that
open-mindedness is a great virtue, because sometimes the most
outrageous theory turns out to be right. But the healthy mind cannot
stop at this stage. It must move next to what Lonergan called
reasonability. This stage of judgment, the moment when the mind, having
surveyed a variety of possibilities and scenarios, having listened to a
range of perspectives, finally decides what the truth is.
This is a key component of a truly open and reasonable mind.
Many people balk at judgment, precisely because it is
painful. The word “decide” comes from the Latin term “scisere,” which
means “to cut.”…All judgments, all decisions, are bloody, because they
cut off a whole range of rival points of view. Then finally, having
judged, Lonergan says, the mind must move to responsibility; it must
accept the implications, both intellectual and behavioral, of the
judgment that it has made.
Dialogue, Barron says, is the means to arrive at a judgment.
G.K. Chesterton said that the mind should remain open,
but only so that it might, in time, chomp down on something nourishing.
The Church has come to the considered judgment that abortion is morally
objectionable and that Roe v. Wade is terrible law, as bad as the laws
that once protected the practices of slavery and segregation in our
country. To suggest, therefore, that a Catholic university is a place
where dialogue on this matter is still a desideratum is as ludicrous as
suggesting that a Catholic university should be the setting for a
discussion of the merits of slavery and Jim Crow laws. I would like,
actually, to stay with these last examples.
This remains an apt analogy, directly applicable to the current
debate and struggle over the human rights denied in abortion laws and
Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, the legendary retired President
of Notre Dame, was mentioned several times in President Obama’s speech
as a model of the dialogue and openness to conversation that he was
extolling. Does anyone think for a moment that Fr. Hesburgh, at the
height of the civil rights movement, would have invited, say, George
Wallace to be the commencement speaker and recipient of an honorary
degree at Notre Dame? Does anyone think that Fr. Hesburgh would have
been open to a dialogue with Wallace about the merits of his
unambiguously racist policies? For that matter, does anyone think that
Dr. Martin Luther King would have sought out common ground with Wallace
or Bull Connor in the hopes of hammering out a compromise on this pesky
question of civil rights for blacks? The questions answer themselves.