Reason Is More than Just Arguments

The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of. . . .We know the truth not only by the reason, but also by the heart. – Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)
There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. – Pope Francis


I was originally drawn to philosophy through Christian apologetics. As far back as I can remember the cognitive aspects of my faith – and how to justify them – were always in the forefront of my mind. In 1968, when my parents asked me what gift I wanted for my First Holy Communion, I answered, “a Bible.” While each of the other second-grade prospective communicants had requested a religious medal of one sort or another, I gravitated to the λόγος. I was a strange little Catholic kid.

As a teenager, I left the Church and became an Evangelical Protestant. I found myself attracted to authors and writers whose primary work was in defending the intellectual credentials of Christianity. In fact, before I went off to Fordham University in 1984 to earn my MA and PhD in philosophy, I studied for a short time at a small Evangelical graduate program (which has since merged with a larger more established Evangelical university), where I earned an MA in apologetics.

Over the years, as I have already noted on this page, I began to discern in myself an inordinate desire to treat my Christian beliefs as merely data on which I can exercise the powers of dispassionate reason, as if they consisted exclusively in a collection of hypotheses that I was required to prove to my own satisfaction. Rather than seeing my cluster of beliefs as an integral, though not an exclusive, aspect of a journey that cannot be taken without the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, I approached this cluster as if it were a mere collection of intellectual puzzles to be solved.  

I also began to discover that some of my Evangelical apologetic heroes were not very nice people. Sure, they were super smart, and could take on all comers with a variety of clever and compelling arguments. But, at the end of the day, I did not want to be like them. Despite their calls to an intellectually serious Christianity, some of them would often settle for intellectual short cuts rather than take the time to patiently and carefully assess a critic’s argument.

Two in particular, as they entered their twilight years, became caricatures of their once promising younger selves. As the celebrity virtues that at one time had served them well – youth, charm, and quit wit – began to wane, the vices that they had not properly contained in their younger years began to aggressively assert themselves. At some point, they crossed the threshold from being endearing curmudgeons with immense gifts to angry old men resting on withered laurels.

To be sure, I had many other Evangelical apologetic heroes, who were not only outstanding scholars in their respective disciplines, but also good and decent people as well. In the case of this latter group, however, unlike the former, they were men and women of prayer, devotion, deep piety, and personal charity.  Because their Christian faith was not reducible to cerebral combat, they had an attractive manner and radiated a sense of joy, contentment, and real intellectual curiosity.  I wanted to be like them.

After I re-entered the Catholic world nearly eight years ago, I discovered a similar phenomenon. Some Catholic apologists were like the first group I had encountered as an Evangelical: they often had wonderful arguments, but ugly souls. They seemed perpetually angry, dismissing critics as blind fools motivated by bad faith.

Others, to my great joy, were like the latter group. They understood that evangelization is not just about introducing your neighbors to arguments in order to win them to Jesus; it is about introducing Jesus to your neighbors through one’s example so that they may be drawn in to listen to your arguments.

This is what I believe Pope Francis is trying to teach the Church about the New Evangelization. As the Holy Father writes in his 2013 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium:

It is true that in our dealings with the world, we are told to give reasons for our hope, but not as an enemy who critiques and condemns. We are told quite clearly: “do so with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet 3:15) and “if possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all” (Rom 12:18). We are also told to overcome “evil with good” (Rom 12:21) and to “work for the good of all” (Gal 6:10). Far from trying to appear better than others, we should “in humility count others better” than ourselves (Phil 2:3).”

Francis J. Beckwith is Professor of Philosophy & Church-State Studies, Baylor University, and 2016-17 Visiting Professor of Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Among his many books is Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith (Cambridge University Press, 2015).