Nicky Campbell presents a special edition of The Big Questions recorded at Bury Grammar School Boys.
To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible, the British TV program The Big Questions debates just one topic: Is The Bible Still Relevant?
Contributing their views from the panel are: the Right Reverend Michael Nazir Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester; the scientist and atheist campaigner, Professor Richard Dawkins; Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner from the North Western Reform Synagogue; and the Bible scholar Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou, who presented the BBC Two series, The Bible’s Buried Secrets.
I have listened to the interesting discussions among the four panel speakers and some of the audience. There is much to absorb and digest from their various perspectives for me. There are some points mentioned that resonate with me, such as since the bible was used by people to enslave others, it cannot be used as an absolute authority on so-called “morality”. Dawkins also has a good point that the bible can be seen as just a book like any other literature, such as Shakespeare’s writings, from which people can draw inspiration, as it contains some truths, but it is not the absolute truth. I agree because the truth is not in a book but is in our heart. Everyone can be guided by love from within, and does not need the bible or any other book to live by, else they can get bound by dogma and traditions, which only result in guilt and condemnation. We are the living books, so to speak. We are the good news, regardless of our belief systems or backgrounds, because we all are made in Love’s image.
While the exchange of views in the video discussion was fast-paced and entertaining, perhaps due to the nature of the TV show and limitation of the one-hour program to accommodate as many views from various people as possible within a relatively short time, I couldn’t help feeling that the prevailing atmosphere of the program was that of a debate rather than a deep interfaith dialogue. There was much tension and high blood pressure among the participants as they jostled with one another to make themselves heard at times, or at least it seems to me that way.
I was thinking that it doesn’t have to be that way, as everyone can benefit more if they were to engage in an interfaith dialogue that seeks to build a collaborative understanding of one another’s views instead of trying to prove who is right or wrong. I have watched college debates on TV in the past, and I know how it can be exciting for the audience to hear a witty exchange of views and rebuttal of ideas between both sides of the contestants. But perhaps at this point in time, I am slowing down and mellowing, and I am reflecting that such debates usually favour those who are articulate and eloquent.
But in reality, there may be people who are not as eloquent and prefer to speak only in a calmer setting and their views are just as valuable and insightful. Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh, for example, have great wisdom (and are eloquent too), and yet I can’t imagine them engaging in a heated debate with others about religion. I think they would prefer to share their views in a more harmonious setting where people seek mutual understanding of one another and establish a deep connection and not allow their different views to create division and strife among themselves. I think that would underscore the truth that we are all one family of brothers and sisters as fellow human beings (or sons and daughters of God/universe/divine love) after all.
Debate is oppositional: two or more sides oppose each other and attempt to prove each other wrong. Dialogue is collaborative: two or more sides work together toward a common understanding.
In debate one searches for the other positions flaws and weaknesses. In dialogue one searches for strengths in the other position.
Debate creates a closed-minded attitude, a determination to be right. Dialogue creates an open-minded attitude, an openness to being wrong and an openness to change.
In debate winning is the goal. In dialogue finding common ground is the goal.
Debate defends one’s position as the best solution and excludes other positions. Dialogue opens up the possibility of reaching a better solutions than any of the original solutions.
Debate assumes there is a right answer and that someone has it. Dialogue assumes many people have pieces of the answer and that together they can put them into a workable solution.
Debate implies conclusion. Dialogue remains open-ended.