Yet More On Consensus…

Centrists / General Convention / Religion

As I was doing some research on the process of the Reception of Truth (Doctrine) by the Church, I came across a long, scholarly article posted on Women Priests.

In the middle of the article that discusses the process of how new ideas grow into doctrine (in the vocabulary of Vatican II), there is a really useful summary of modern communications theory as applied to the process of reception as per Habermas

“Many of the proponents of a hermeneutical theology highlight the metaphor of conversation, the to and fro dialogue between two participants which, if faithfully engaged in, can yield shared truth. This turn to the dynamics of dialogue and conversation has been provocatively explored by Jürgen Habermas. Relatively late in Habermas’ distinguished career he became interested in the approaches to language theory associated with Searle and Austin and came to see the emancipatory power of human communication. It is only through authentic communication that we can overcome the alienation which is endemic to our modern world. Central to his work is the conviction that the very dynamism of language is to achieve agreement with one another, even if only on the meaning of what is communicated. The very possibility of language as a medium for communication requires that there be commonly accepted rules. For Habermas the dynamism of communication provides the key for understanding the nature of social action. Communication must be understood in terms of certain kinds of social action.

Two kinds of communicative action
        Of particular usefulness for us is Habermas’ distinction between those kinds of communicative action which are oriented towards the successful realization of a particular goal (communication towards success), and those communicative actions that are oriented towards understanding (communication towards understanding). The strategic form of action oriented towards success is quite consciously concerned with the accomplishment of a particular goal. It is strategic because ‘it possesses an objective other than that of truth, rightness, or truthfulness, namely that of “effectiveness”’. The second kind of communicative action – that which seeks mutual understanding – possesses no strategic goal other than the achievement of a consensus or common understanding. As such, communication towards understanding requires the following:

• Participants have to believe that genuine consensus is possible.

• There must be an equality among participants.

• There must be freedom from constraint.

• Discussion and dialogue cannot be closed prematurely.

• Members must be given the opportunity to voice their views and demand the respect and attention of the others.

For the survival of any true community, this kind of action oriented towards understanding must occur. Thus, the acid test for any community is not harmony but how differences of opinion, and even division, are handled within the community. When this kind of openness does not occur, the mode of social action ceases to be action oriented toward understanding and begins to be action oriented towards success in any of its many forms.“

It strikes me that the present enterprise in the Episcopal Church / Anglican Communion is profoundly entwined in just this sort of question. If Habermas’ ideas are right, then if we can guarantee that the above conditions are met, we have a chance at receiving the truth that the Holy Spirit is trying to impart to the Church in our day.

The full article is here.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...