Apologetics and Dialogue: "Responding to Friends"

I have received some criticism over the years for the work that I do. “Why do you talk to those people?”, they ask. “We have the Truth, what good is there in talking to them?” they say. “Their teaching is false/idolatrous; we should have nothing to do with them!”, etc. Okay, often the objections are not put quite so bluntly, but that’s the gist of it.

Today in Cathnews there was a link to this article in National Catholic Register on the New Evangelisation. There is a video embedded in it of Scott Hahn and Fr Barron – but I haven’t watched that yet. What got me was what the author of the article, Matthew Warner, wrote at the end after the video:

I especially liked Scott Hahn’s quote he gave at the end when answering how we engage in this “New Apologetic”?

Answer: By forming strong friendships with Marxists, atheists, and radical feminists so you’re not just refuting arguments, you’re responding to friends.

That really hits home. And that’s one of the reasons I love new media. It gives us a great opportunity to break out of our isolated bubbles and go out and put a personal face on those we disagree with. Personalism. When we get to know those we disagree with – whether it’s about faith, politics or anything else – we are far more likely to attempt to understand them before we coldly demonize them from afar. That builds communion. That opens minds and allows the Holy Spirit to work miracles. And that is our simple task.

The blog is very much about apologetics, but I have no time for polemicism. I like to see all our commentators here as friends around the after-dinner table passing round the port bottle. The New Apologetics must be the apologetics of love, not enmity.

Hence it must also be a dialogical apologetics. Dialogue is what I do for my bread and butter (some people find this hard to believe!). I love to make friends with people who have different ideas to me – as long as they are really interested in searching for the truth and living by it that is. I would rather spend time in conversation with a Buddhist, or an Atheist, or a Muslim or a Feminist who actually seriously is seeking the essential things of life, than with someone who has no interest at all in reflecting upon their life and its meaning and what it means to live and to die well.

In my work and in my leisure, I am not interested in winning arguments. I am interested in “responding to friends”.

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12 Responses to Apologetics and Dialogue: "Responding to Friends"

  1. Matthias says:

    I like that line”responding to friends”,because it gives us the opportunity to personally respond depersonally to an argument=point of view . in ther words we respond to what is being said rather than include the person speaking. It also means we see them-the Marxist,humanist and rad fem -as a human being and vice versa.

  2. Tom says:

    Seems like an inauthentic interpretation Matthias – I would have thought that responding to friends means responding to more than just what they say. Often people say things that they are taught – something that they think, despite what their experience says or what they have interpreted their experience to mean. Part of responding to a person, and not a set of words, is that one does not just engage with words, but with their whole life.

    Dialogue between persons is more than just an exchange of idea’s, but is a disclosing of oneself to the other, and also to oneself. In this sense, to engage with someone in a dialogue, as opposed to an academic debate or the like, you are able to know this person and see them, often in ways they cannot see them self, and the same holds true for our self as well.

    In this way, if what we say is really the Truth, then the dialogue between persons reveals ones self to the other, and in that disclosing of the self, the other is disclosed to them self. That is, engaging in a dialogue, as opposed to academic debate reveals the Truth as words and ideas, but also the Truth as the Truth of our life – people will respond to the latter far more readily than the former.

    This is not to say that the Truth of words and ideas is somehow different to the Truth of our life, but that one is the specific instantiation of the principle. Instead of being academic with people, we can be human with people, and this disclosing allows them to engage with the Truth that we announce in a way that will not be discoloured by the falsity in their own opinions.

    In the end – if what we say is really the Truth, then the Truthfulness of the Truth will do all the arguing that it needs to do by itself. We carry the word, and we can announce it, but ultimately it is our witness to the Truth in our life, that will convince people – not in our words or ideas. In short, no one will listen to a hypocrite.

  3. Matthias says:

    Mate ,nothing inauthentic at all, about what i meant . For example i knew the bloke who was behind the push to deliver humanistic ethics to Victorian school kids,as alternative to Religious Instruction. He knews i disagreed with him ,and as you say speak the Truth to him,but it was my actions and not my words that i hoped spoke the Truth ,in that I always warmly greeted him and listened to him ,and treated him with respect. In your words ‘responded with my whole life”. When his wife died it was showing support beyond words.
    AS francis Schaeffer a Christian philosopher and theologian said-we Christians must speak in love to those we disagree with and showby our actions that we are followers of Jesus.

    • Tom says:

      forgive my misinterpretation of what you meant. I did not mean to offend, I think I just misunderstood what you intended to say.

  4. jules says:

    Interesting problem. How do I talk to my friends in a way that will bring them to truth? One thing that gets in the way is when nominal Catholics, atheists, feminists, etc…reject that the truth is objective. To them each person has their own truth or is in search of a personal truth. This , to me, is the biggest obstacle because at one point I need to tell them that Jesus, in fact, is the TRUTH. It is a matter of accepting Jesus as God and if not it is accepting the work He set out to do.

    • Tony says:

      One thing that gets in the way is when nominal Catholics, atheists, feminists, etc…reject that the truth is objective.

      One of the mechanisms of someone who has stopped listening in the sense of this original post is labeling ‘them’. While we box each other into our own pre-judged groups, there’s no real listening going on.

      • Tom says:

        Then Tony, how can we refer to the ‘other’ without using third person pronouns? Without naming people explicitly, we use pronouns – it does not necessarily signify a prejudged concept of people. Jules used ‘them’ to refer to her friends – I used the word ‘them’ to refer to people who are ‘other’, that is, not me. This is not false in any way. Dialogue is always dialogue with the ‘other’. Someone who is not me…

        • Tony says:


          It’s not the ‘them’ reference that concerns me, it’s the nominal Catholics, atheists, feminists that put people in boxes.

          If you’ve decided that one of ‘them’ is a ‘nominal Catholic’ it does two things. Firstly, you position yourself as one who determines what a nominal Catholic is and, by extension, what you are (‘not nominal’, orthodox, loyal …). Secondly, your capacity to listen to them is coloured by that view. It makes really listening to ‘them’ that much harder.

          Essentially you position yourself as someone who needs to correct them, not actually listen.

    • Peregrinus says:

      Hi Jules

      “How do I talk to my friends in a way that will bring them to truth?”

      A useful and important question to ask.

      A humbling but also comforting thought that may help point us towards an answer: You don’t bring them to truth; the Holy Spirit does that. Your role (or mine, or David’s) is to co-operate in the work of the Spirit – to try, perhaps, to create a space for the Spirit.

      I don’t think we can often co-operate effectively in the work of bringing our friends to the truth simply by assuring them that such-and-such is true. If I do not feel obliged to accept their statements about what is true, why should they accept mine? I have no particular authority and, if they are not already Christians, I am not appealing to an authority that they find persuasive or influential. So, while they may be interested to know what I believe and glad to discuss it, it will not occur to them that they should believe it also, and anything I say or do which suggests that I think they [I]should[/I] believe it also is more likely to damage our friendship than to alter their beliefs.

      And the friendship is vital. It’s only anecdotal, but I have been active for about seven years in the RCIA and I’ve seen quite a number of adults who have embraced Catholicism from a position of being non-Catholic, or non-Christian, or even non-theist,. I can think of one – possibly two – who have done so as a result of philosophical enquiry into beliefs or into truth. Everyone else, without exception, has been introduced to the faith through a significant personal relationship – a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a spouse, a grandparent, a friend, a work colleague who became a friend, or a relationship with a catholic community (through attending a catholic school). And in very, very few of those cases would the other party to the relationship have been actively or intentionally seeking to work a conversion, or to persuade of a particular truth.

      What brings people to the truth, it seems to me, is not an encounter with Christian belief so much as an encounter with Christian life. People become Catholics because they want to be part of the Catholic community; they want to share what Catholics have. What we can do to support this is to live as Catholics in a way that others will see is good, valuable, desirable and even enviable; to live in a way that they will want to live too. When, and only when, they are persuaded by their encounter with us and with our lives that Catholicism has something to offer them, something that they want, will they have any interest at all in openly considering what we believe.

  5. Matthias says:

    Tom I can almost here Cartesianism in what you are saying. “I Dialogue therefore I am not the ‘other'”

    • Tom says:

      Ahahaha, j’accuse! No, I’m not being Cartesian in my approach. The res cogitans is not the foundation of my argument, but the relational aspect of the human, revealed by its comportment to itself and others is something useful in philosophy and theology. What we can term an “ontological analysis of the subjectivity of the subject” is not meant to be understood as subjective (in the relativistic sense) but rather as an analysis of the structure of those beings that have the capacity to ask questions of Being. I will grant you that it’s very Heideggerian, and because of that post-modern.

      It is not meant at all as a relativistic interpretation though, because there is something important about the question of what it means to be human, that medieval philosophers tended not to spend much time analysing. Aquinas himself discusses the relational aspect of the esse of humans, as that distinct act which comports oneself to the other within the horizon of the ens commune. In fact, I much prefer the Thomistic approach simply because it avoids the subject-object divide right from the start, where as post-modern philosophy must deal with this divide as that is the most significant philosophical question in the modern period. That being said, the question that Jules presented is a perfect example of why the post-modern approach is useful.

      The fundamental difficulty in answering the question of ‘personal truth’ is that in modern philosophy, the concept of truth has been heavily damaged. Where-as for the medieval’s and the ancient’s Truth was understood as the Truth of first principles, truth today is understood as the truth that proposition-p is factual. In short, truth=fact, or truth=object. I argue that this approach is entirely unsatisfactory because the notion of fact as truth suggests that what lies behind the significance of facts is not truth, but opinion. This is the consequence of modern philosophy. The reason there is this ‘whiff of Descartes’ (if you will) is that the root of the problem comes down to the prevalence of his dualism in modern philosophy. Instead, we should return to the Thomistic approach which said that Truth was conformity of the mind with the entity.

      If we are to discuss the Truth in the context of modern philosophy (and by extension, the theology that has come out of it) then we need to first and foremost find a way of bridging this gap between subject & object. Let me be clear – I do not suggest that because I dialogue, I am not the other; just that dialogue fundamentally requires two people. One cannot dialogue with oneself, and all I mean to suggest is that the use of terms such as ‘they’ ‘them’ etc. as pronouns is that they signify the important reality that announcing the Gospel is not something we do in private, or academically. We announce to the other – we announce with our life the Truth that we have discovered for love of the other. In short, I am suggesting that the Truth we announce is a Truth that we have discovered to be True by seeing it in our own life; the possibility of dialogue is then carried out through the comportment of our life to ‘the other’.

      That being said – it is the problem of dealing with modern philosophy; how do we escape the subject-object divide? This might be slightly off topic though, and a thread hi-jack, so I will finish here.

  6. Christine says:

    When we get to know those we disagree with – whether it’s about faith, politics or anything else – we are far more likely to attempt to understand them before we coldly demonize them from afar. That builds communion. That opens minds and allows the Holy Spirit to work miracles. And that is our simple task.

    I would daresay St. Paul would agree, David. Becoming “all things to all people” for the sake of the Gospel.


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