And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures. Acts 17:2
So Paul reasoned. From a worldview of One Truth, with hierarchies based on anointing, this translation of the word “to dialogue” does not really make sense.
Though the worldview of the people at Paul’s time surely was rational – otherwise they could not have comprehended such complex concepts as Judaism and the old testament – it was not truly logical. Reasoning as we understand it today has only come into being with a new complexity of consciousness and a new set of tools.
It is only since we see truth as adhering to facts either statistically, empirically, or by logical deduction or proof that we can reason.
Granted, precursors of this had been around in ancient Greece, but at the time of Paul, had vanished largely and even before had only been used within intellectual circles.
When Paul was dialoging, it meant that he was using words, and that it was a back and forth between him and others.
But our ideas about dialoging and reasoning have since evolved. To use the word reasoning to translate dialogemai is very telling. It is less about exchanging words, and more about convincing the other of one’s own view and reasons why something is supposedly true.
With post-modernity, we realise that truths are subjective. Not that there is no objective truth, but when we try to grab this truth, we can only sense it and make sense of it within our own worldview and history. What we call truth will always be a personal or shared opinion.
Obviously, our personal opinion is shaped heavily by the societal opinion that surrounds us and imprints us.
This becomes clear when we look at the word communicate, which means to share, impart, make common.
Thus, to dialogue is to communicate between people using words. It is a process to find common ground exchanging ideas.
Reasoning does not focus on the exchange part as much as on right or wrong. It means to deduce or come to a conclusion by being rational or logically sound.
We therefore, when reasoning, already introduce limits to the dialogue. We exclude everything that is not reasonable, rational, or logical.
But then, who decides what is reasonable? We tend to think it’s reason. Which would mean that it is past reasoning limiting our present reasoning. Thus, our past thinking, our past experiences, imprint, hurts, history, all we learned and have been told define what is reasonable and therefore what makes sense and should be believed in the now.
External stimuli have little impact because they are filtered immediately through our worldview and sense-making. If the stimulus comes from a trustworthy source – again, it is our past that determines the trustworthiness of a source – it stands a bigger chance to survive and be taken into consideration.
A true dialog now looks to lower the thresholds and consider more and more incoming information as being valuable, even though it might not make sense or feel reasonable.
This is not just holding your own opinions lightly. It’s recognising that your own reasoning is very opinionated and might well be wrong. It’s letting go of the need to defend your own opinion and to be right.
Most worldviews want to win people over to their own view of things. What is there to be gained? One more person with the same opinion as I have? And then, we can go after others together?
A dialogue might bring forth something new. It sparks progress and creativity. While reasoning seems to unify, it just brings people on the same track. That is equality of thinking instead of equity of thinking.
Equality of thinking does not take into account our individuality, but wants everybody to think the same. Equity of thinking knows that this is impossible due to our individuality and individual history, but by allowing diversity and valuing different worldviews, can result in true discovery.
The problems of this world are complex, too complex for a single mind. Dialogue is necessary.
In the old testament, God invites Isaiah to reason with him (Isa 1:18). In the mindset of the time, this is a good translation of the underlying Hebrew word. It implies God winning.
But what is happening here: in the text, God through Isaiah turns around their worldview. It’s not about sacrifices and feasts, it’s all about willingness and listening. Usually the second word is translated as obedience, which has a connotation of punishment in the word itself. The better connotation of what is said in the text is to hear with an open heart and act accordingly.
What is the difference? Obedience is blindly enacting what you hear, while listening to somebody and acting accordingly can much more mean to incorporate the principles into one’s own reasoning and behaviour. And it includes the hearer as a sovereign entity, not just an executing object. There is some processing including a change of heart between the hearing and the doing, hidden in the word listening. It even includes willingness.
Looking at the verses in Isaiah, we see the true meaning of repentance. Today, we understand repentance as being sorry and instantly subject to the perceived view God has of something, that is obedience. And usually fail.
But reading all the above we see that we usually will be obedient only to our understanding of what we believe that God wants, our opinion about what is right or wrong.
A dialogue needs time. Time to change our thinking and emoting. It’s not mere accepting of what we think the other means and wants. It’s understanding and incorporating in an individual and creative way into my being.
Children are told what to do because they need to build up their ability to reason, and later to dialogue. But we grow.
God instantiated sacrifices and feasts for humanity in childhood. And from there on, he more and more leads us into maturity. We first observed the law, that is mindlessly did what we were told. Usually, that happened because of fear, bad experience or sheer power. We then obeyed. And after that comes discussion. Discussion includes debate.
Debate elevates facts and debunks what is found (or believed) to be wrong, or defends opinions more likely. Often we had to debate God because we assigned so many things to God that were never his – or at least were his in a totally different way – that we needed to strip this from our image of God. Thus, we actually never debated God, but our imagination of him, and therefore came out with a clearer understanding of who he is.
Now, we are ready to dialogue with God.
Reading the bible as a traditional book and the one truth, literally and with a fundamentalistic mindset has made it impossible to grow and mature further into leading a dialogue. We are to believe and do what we are told. Obedience was the epiphany in our relationship with God.
God invites us anew to dialogue with him. And since we have grown in our ability to think more complex, what was reasoning has now become dialogue.
No more apologetics, no more reasoning. True dialogue.