|Austin Farrer. (Image source: bbc.co.uk)|
Have you ever had an idea, one that is strong and meaningful but tough to articulate, and then you stumble upon a quote that brings it into sudden focus? Such a quote flashes like lightning around the idea, illuminating it and allowing you to see it clearly for the first time.
I had the experience tonight after discovering a remark by Austin Farrer, an Oxford scholar and close friend of C.S. Lewis:
For though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish. [in Jocelyn Gibb, ed., Light on C. S. Lewis (1966)]
I’ve spent hundreds of hours over the last couple years exchanging arguments with all sorts of unbelieving friends — atheists, agnostics, and other labels I didn’t know existed. Some fellow Catholics have warned me that, “Nobody has ever been argued into the Church,” or that, “Evangelization is more about the way you live than the arguments you give.” Neither sentiment ever rang true with me, at least not completely, but I couldn’t explain why.
Then I discovered Dr. Farrer’s quote, which affirmed two key convictions that have brewed within me during these many encounters. First, without arguments or good reasons to believe in God, most Christians will abandon their faith — especially while they are young. Religious experience and devotion can only carry people so far. Most of the atheists and agnostics I engage were raised in Christian homes, but ones that provided no intellectual support.
Second, Christianity is not even a viable option for most non-believers if, to them, it lacks respectable arguments. It’s not that they won’t find the Gospel compelling without good, supporting reasons; it’s that they won’t even consider it. Without a strong intellectual basis, they’ll pay Christianity as much attention as Scientology or Hinduism.