Dialogue as An Art
01 April 2006


At the end of last year I heard someone, who is strongly opposed to the war in Iraq, say that he would more readily trust someone like George Bush, who thinks he is accomplishing God's will, than someone with no religion at all. 'I'd know how to establish a dialogue with someone who has a faith, but with someone who has no concept of God, I think that would be pointless,' he said.

Even though he did not mean to offend me - he thought there were only religious people in the room - I felt quite distressed.

I was raised as a Catholic, but at the age of 12 I decided not to follow any faith. The question of ethics has troubled me since then. In my teenage years some people thought I was bad because I refused to have a religion. The same people talked of indigenous Mexicans as if they were inferior.

Is that the way people who cannot tolerate difference see others? To tell the truth I somehow considered myself to be smarter than those girls who went to church. I thought they lacked a sense of analysis. In fact I was doing the same thing I thought they were doing to me. To refuse dialogue with others nullifies them and is an easy way to justify what is not just.

I used to be infuriated when my mother made the sign of the cross over me each time I was about to travel. Nowadays I even ask her to pray for me sometimes.

I recently read an interview in which the French philosopher Michel Foucault says: 'From the idea that the self is not given to us, I think that there is only one practical consequence: we have to create ourselves as a work of art.'

The idea that one can mould oneself like clay is challenging but a bit of a relief because it means one is not helpless. Dialogue is a way of moulding one's thoughts and beliefs in order to achieve a sense of truth.

This is the experience of Muslims and Christians (p8) in Sydney, who have gathered in order to understand not only their differences, but also their similarities.

Both non-religious people and religious people seek for the same values such as love, trust, equality and respect. That is my conclusion after spending many hours talking with one of my best friends, who happens to be Muslim.