At my congregation we are expecting some protestors, and we are getting the word out to congregants and staff: “don’t engage.” This is certainly good advice for dealing with belligerent protestors. I’m heartened that we have to say it, because it isn’t human nature, in in our time of extreme division.
Literary critic Terry Eagleton once said, “The din of conversation is as much meaning as we shall ever have.” I like that. On first glance, it appears to be bleak — human conversation is all the meaning there is?
But imagine what human conversation has given us.
Often we light on the cliche of lonely geniuses, but genius is seldom lonely. For example, Shakespeare and his Globe theatre were not the only show in town. Shakespeare’s London had twenty-seven public theatre venues. Synergy, not silence. A din of conversation.
Or reflect that there were more than fifty British bands in the so-called British Invasion of the early-1960s. The Beatles weren’t alone. Synergy. A din of conversation.
Imagine the din of conversation in Baghdad in the late 700s when an institution called the House of Wisdom opened its doors — an attempt to gather all the wisdom in the world.
Looked at from this perspective — from the view of what gets created in the crucible of human sharing — Eagleton’s phrase doesn’t sound quite so bleak: “The din of conversation is as much meaning as we shall ever have.” Why would we ever want more than human conversation? Truths change; facts get reinterpreted; but human conversation is our constant. Is our wise search for wisdom rather than certainty.
Both democracy and consensus are born in the din of human conversation.
In early English, the term “conversation” meant “intimacy with others.” It also meant “sexual intercourse.” Only later did the term take on its present meaning of talking. Even now, the word calls up visions of connection.
Let’s just say there’s something intimate about conversation.
Isn’t it interesting that the world’s great religions don’t make much of conversation? “Thou shalt join in deep conversation” is not a thing in religions. It’s “sit ’n’ get” for the most part.
Philosophy has done a bit better. The dialogues of Socrates stand as foundational in the Western tradition. Still, the Western way or religion and philosophy is man-splaining, white-splaining, and lots of ‘splaining about god and the economy.
Explaining or expounding are not conversing.Those do not connect us as companions on the journey. They don’t lead to synergy.
Look around. See all the sides and dogmas and battle lines? That is the result of a whole lot of ‘splaining going on.
It might be nice to do some listening, but the dominant US culture is going to have to do some learning first. Who from? As theologian Delores S Williams phrases it, “No survival strategy is more developed among many black religious women than the art of connecting.” An art learned in necessity. Sounds like a valuable lesson. We humans have resources, and they can come from conversation.
As I’ve mentioned before, the essence of Humanism is that people matter for than ideas. What does that mean?
Conversation rather than confrontation. What a concept. It might save us yet. After all, what do we have to lose?
Let’s hear it for that din of conversation.
The FUS YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLVkUYGVtlA
Delores s. Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness: the Challenge of Womanist God-Talk.