What common ground exists between those who have little seeming common authorities? One of the problems of the modern world is that there is a lack of recognition of common ground between people who have different worldviews. This means that persuasion essentially does not exist for many in the contemporary world, because persuasion implies that you can argue from ground that is relatable and appealing to someone else, and that is a skill that few people even attempt, much less master, in the present day. Yet are things as dire as they seem to be, in that our apologetics only seeks to appeal to those already converted to our way of thinking?
When we are interacting with people, it is worthwhile to consider what they consider to be authorities. Rarely is this question a simple and straightforward one. Often people are not consciously aware of what they consider to be authorities. Let us say, for example, that one is speaking (as I sometimes do) with a Taliban student in southern Afghanistan who (for some reason) wants to learn English. What authorities do both of the speakers have? As it happens, both of us are religious, in our own particular ways. It is not quite as simple as saying that the Taliban student believes in the Koran as an authority and I believe in the Bible as an authority. Both of us belong to specific schools of thinking and interpretation within our larger faith traditions, with very specific ideas not only about our own holy scriptures and how those are to be understood but also our relationship with our own larger faith communities and other communities. As is often the case, both of us have to deal with the issue that we simultaneously view other faith traditions as lacking legitimacy, to which others naturally respond in kind. Unfortunately, this sort of similarity is not likely to be recognized when people only know their own school of thought and do not know how it compares with that of other people.
There are nevertheless ways that we can recognize common ground even in the absence of a common worldview. Sometimes it is possible to view worldview questions in isolation rather than as one whole cloth, and to at least provisionally make an argument to an element that is shared between people even if they have different worldviews. For example, to the extent that two people believe that it is improper for people to engage in coercion in order to defend one’s own perspective, those people can engage in friendly and respectful conversation even where there are differences or disagreements. Similarly, one can engage in profitable conversation across worldviews where there are common beliefs. For example, critics of the celebration of Mawlid and I share an assumption that the ways of the heathen are not to be imitated in Holy Days, even if we might differ as to what counts as heathen. Similarly, there are going to be at least some commonalities in religious practice with others who happen to have calendars that are based on the lunar months because the importance of new moons and full moons in any lunar-solar calendar is going to have similar grounds as opposed to calendar systems that only care about the sun, despite any differences.
It should be noted that the presence of worldview is not in itself sufficient for there to be agreement between people, much less people being friends or enjoying each other’s companies. Even if people have the same intellectual foundation of their worldview, they may value other qualities besides beliefs. They may have different styles or different approaches. They may have stark differences in how they think if they have similarities in what they think. In the best case, people can be enriched by differences and the recognition of how it is that others think, and therefore how other people are to be approached. Yet even if we know how to approach someone, elements personal to ourselves can interfere with how people relate to our appeals to them. Most people spend so much time thinking about themselves and their own identities and perspectives that they are barely even aware of how this can help or hinder one’s efforts at relating to others. Yet in our times, it seems unlikely that too many people will cultivate an excessive interest in how to relate to others, except in very specific circumstances, at which we may discuss another time.