Repairing the Divided Discourse
I think Convivium is a fantastic project, but it represents a problem as well—the problem of divided discourse. People who care about faith in common life will write for and read Convivium. The secular liberals, to whom many of the articles in this journal are addressed, will likely never look at it. Many of the people who consult conservative and/or faith-friendly media outlets like Convivium, the National Post or Sun TV would rarely, if ever, consult liberal and/or aggressively secular publications like the Edmonton Journal or the Toronto Star.
Even if there is some overlap between the readers of more conservative and more liberal publications, people naturally gravitate toward columnists they agree with. If I were ever compelled to read a portion of the Star, I would probably stick to Chantal Hebert's column. Her analysis is generally quite dispassionate and fair, and is therefore not representative of the paper as a whole.
It is not just the proliferation of different publications but also the increasing social fragmentation of people with different world views that makes meaningful dialogue about the important social and moral issues we face more and more difficult. It is now quite possible for a liberal-minded young person to go through high school, undergraduate and graduate studies without ever encountering serious arguments that conflict with their own views on abortion, homosexuality, feminism and various other issues. Conversely, many religious youth are cocooned such that they are unable to understand or participate in public debates (when they actually happen) about important social issues.
There is something profoundly wrong with this— that there are no media or other forums that enjoy the respect of conservatives and liberals, of the secular and the religious alike, in which they both participate in debate and both read each other's arguments.
It behooves those of us who care about the perspective and context that religion can bring to our public discussions to seek out shared forums where these issues can be explored. Our common life needs more honest and authentic public debate. This doesn't mean "gotcha" political interactions or superficial exchanges where people agree on fundamentals but debate their application, nor does it mean histrionic back and forths that entertain but do not enlighten. We need more debates that dig into the deep and fundamental world-view differences between people on different sides of important social questions, and where those debating have the time required to properly explain their positions.
We also need more people willing to "cross the divide" and seek meaningful interpersonal conversation with those who do not share their world view. It is easy to sit around with friends after church and bemoan the direction of our culture—it is much more difficult to have that same conversation with work colleagues or Star-reading acquaintances. "Preaching to the choir" does not win any converts, either to a religious or a political perspective.
A journal like this is essential because it furnishes its readers with the arguments they need to engage non-readers in conversation about the important issues facing our culture. But it must be the beginning of a series of conversations that we have with non-readers, not just an opportunity for those of us who agree with the perspectives presented in these pages to enjoy the wisdom and wit of its writers and then get on with our lives. Our common life requires the restoration of meaningful discourse between people with significantly different points of view. We can all play a role in addressing the problem of divided discourse and in challenging those who hold views we disagree with to reconsider them.