Pluralism strengthens the exchange of opinions. A healthy pluralist society is conducive towards the creation of a marketplace of ideas where individuals and groups can participate more actively in the social, economic and political life of their community.
Dialogue should be one of the cornerstones of such a society. Unfortunately genuine and constructive dialogue is often stifled by different outlets peddling tawdry gossip, sensationalism and half-truths.
These are no doubt responding to a thriving market demand. Uneasiness toward differing views, uneducated opinions prompted by gut feeling and an arrogant unwillingness to engage seem to be part of human nature.
The first step toward engaging in dialogue thus begins by overcoming these innate tendencies. Dialogue may dismantle certain perceptions and establish some common ground. It contributes toward creating a stronger and inclusive pluralism – particularly in areas where consensus can never be reached.
The realm of faiths is one area where dialogue is sorely needed. Individuals still identify strongly with a particular faith or the lack thereof. Others claim to be “spiritual but not religious.” Faith is certainly not something most individuals ignore or are neutral about.
The question of the existence of a God is still relevant. There has been seen a great surge in the publication of books which seek to prove or disprove the existence of God. Some anti-theists have engaged in this debate with a zeal which puts certain religious fanatics to shame.
This situation, together with the general consensus on the supremacy of the secular model of the state, seems to be the raison d’etre behind the launching of the “Courtyard of the Gentiles” project in 2011. This project takes its name from the space close to the Temple of Jerusalem where different peoples of diverse faiths and nationalities could meet and enter into a dialogue with scribes and teachers of the Jewish faith.
Pope Benedict XVI envisaged that such a space, be it physical or virtual, is needed for people of different convictions to engage with one another. Whatever one’s convictions, there are still people who thirst for “a new world, a world that is freer, more just and united, more peaceful and happy.”
In his opening address via video-link, the Pope urged the audience of believers and non-believers to rediscover the way of dialogue; “Religions have nothing to fear from a just secularity, one that is open and allows individuals to live in accordance with what they believe in their own consciences.”
The invitation to dialogue is one which should not be taken lightly. It does not (and should not) seek to coerce or come to an agreement on all the issues but build a basis for understanding – an understanding which is lacking but sorely needed.