March 1, 2009

Have I Been Wrong About Atheist-Theist Dialogue?

Take My HandImage by danny.hammontree via Flickr

We all make a number of assumptions about the world in which we live. Some are fairly explicit and form the framework of our various worldviews. Others are implicit and may influence us outside of our conscious awareness. When we fall into overly rigid or inflexible patterns of thought and behavior, these implicit assumptions are often to blame. One of my implicit assumptions has recently come to light, and I am starting to wonder if it has been leading me in some wrong directions. In this post, I will reveal it, highlight its relevance to my own atheist worldview, and invite comment. If I've been in error on this one, I really want to know about it.

In a nutshell, my assumption is that more dialogue between disagreeing parties is nearly always preferable to less. I realize that disagreeing parties will not always come together in agreement, and I certainly realize that dialogue cannot solve all problems. However, I find myself clinging to the idea that more discussion is better than less.

It is this assumption which leads me to write posts encouraging atheist-theist dialogue and identifying obstacles to such dialogue. Even if I recognize that such dialogue will change few minds about the theistic claim itself (i.e., that some sort of god or gods exist), I am convinced that greater dialogue is beneficial to both sides and will ultimately reduce conflict.

I suppose this assumption was ingrained in me during childhood. For years, I was not even aware of it. There have been periods in my life where it got me in trouble, as I often found myself trying to make peace by encouraging opponents to come together and talk. Obviously, it does not always work.

Still, I cling to the idea that parties coming together to discuss their differences is nearly always preferable to the alternative. I am honestly not sure why I am starting to question this now. It is difficult to question what has long been an implicit assumption, but I feel that I must do so.

I suppose my questions to you (and to myself) are along the following lines?
  • Are there circumstances where increased dialogue is counterproductive, and if so, what would be some examples of such circumstances?
  • Do you think that atheist-theist dialogue is something to encourage?