Apologetics and Argumentation

by Frank Muller

In apologetics we can often resort to “winning” the argument and in that pursuit, we lose it. Now, this is a far cry from “agreeing to disagree” which is two parties agreeing not to pursue the Truth together no matter how hard that might be. That is by definition both parties agreeing to lose. What is moral is simple agree that in friendship and love to continue to work together to arrive at the Truth and in that process, we grow in the virtues namely of patience, fortitude, perseverance and cheerfulness. I know, easier said than done.

Generally, one or both parties simply tire, and thus choose expediency over the Truth. This is specifically related to the virtues of patience and fortitude which demand of us patience in the process of “a lifetime”, fortitude in the strength to return again and again not in argumentation but fact seeking and challenging in trying to understand more clearly and providing data that the other party can attempt to understand more clearly.

Not only do we try to help the other party understand but more importantly we seek persistently to try and understand what is right about their arguments. This process helps us break down selfish pride as we come to acknowledge that we all need to grow in Truth.

At the heart of this mutual pursuit of the Truth is Love. That is love that endures all things, love persists in striving for the good of another and of one itself. Thus, two people who agree to seek the Truth no matter where it lies, and each are willing to repent or that is turn away from long held views or biases if the balance of information demands it, then we must submit to that Truth.

The challenge we as human beings have is that we want everyone to change to our views and we refuse to change to theirs. This separates and divides and eventually destroys from within. When one chooses to separate by “agreeing to disagree” means we are choosing not to seek the others good (or our own) in favor of our own “Matrix” bliss of a comfortable lie for ourselves.

Therefore, there are some principals in apologetics that I think should guide our strategies. The first principal is before conveying the teaching of the Church or a scientific theory or the ABC’s we seek first to help people understand their own underpinning theology or assumptions (including our own). 

We may be surprised to find for example that many Catholics and Protestants simply do not know their Faith and thus routinely just speak past one another in half understood sound bites.

We may be surprised that many people do not know how water gets to their tap or why the stars move across the sky. Many people adopt “beliefs” because Momma or their preacher or professor said so and that was the end of it.  Our pursuit of truth becomes easy because we simply pay attention to that which we know and thus we never fully understand why we believe that truth or if it is even true.

As we take the time to learn for ourselves the “why” and “what” behind what people postulate as their belief (and our own) we are helping them (and us) to search for Truth wherever it lies in love and friendship.  

No one should fear the Truth and if one does, this indicates a desire to not really want the Truth but only our own subjective truth. That is, we become our own gods and are desirous only of friends that agree with us. Pontius Pilate captures this with his “what is truth” question. In the end, his answer to truth is simply relativism and pragmatism and thus situationally rationalized.

Imagination is the second and frankly much more interesting strategy.  In my experience I watch and listen to people extol and know intricate details of the Star Wars or Game of Thrones books and movies.  I have seen children like seven or eight years old know the complete story (and back stories) of the entire grand Star Wars saga. 

Please do not tell me children (and adults) cannot learn Salvation history and this wonderful and fascinating story that is even more compelling and interesting than Star Wars.  People learn by stories because it enlivens the imagination. 

Reason and Imagination are linked faculties of our brains.  Authors like Shakespeare, Tolkien and CS Lewis easily come to mind as they create worlds where great Truths are taught through rollicking adventures and characters. 

Just perhaps, we should consider framing Salvation history (or for that matter any intellectual endeavor) as a story told with the use of imagination and drama.  In teaching University students, I found that real world case studies sharpen their minds and interests as the technical subject matters becomes wrapped into a story of human drama. They learn better, remember more, and have a greater ability to apply academic concepts to real world situations.

Not only can authors such as those weave wonderful stories of Truth and Morality and Ethics, but we also can by using our own stories where we have lived our own Exodus, our return as the Prodigal Son, our story of our own blindness or deafness to the Truth….  Each of our individual stories told within the context of our Lord’s stories will draw people to the Truth and create narratives that seek not to win the argument but only point to the Truth in a way that folks may be able to hear and recall

Holly Ordway: The Role of Imagination – Biola University Chapel – YouTube

Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Interview with Holly Ordway – Word on Fire

Linked above are two wonderful pieces on the role of imagination in the Catholic context but these teachings apply to any area of spiritual and intellectual formation.

Peace be with us all.

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