Christianity in Today's America
"You can't reason a person out of a position they didn't reason themselves into."
99% of those reading that statement know it to be a true statement, and this from experience. The first thought will be to view this as a borderline insult about someone. In other words, we don't think very highly of the person the statement describes.
I do not wish to make anyone uncomfortable, so I will pass over the other likely first reaction: the assumption it does not apply to oneself. No one of us believes we have come to our opinions apart from fact and reason, and yet all of us can point to people who have opinions that do not seem to rest on fact or derive from reason.
What I would like to call attention to is the fact that the statement is not necessarily a derogatory remark. In order for it to be seen negatively, several assumptions must be made.
First, we assume that the position the person has is false. But a person can have true beliefs that do not come from careful reasoning. It may have been received by a good authority, for example. In this case, they didn't reason themselves into the position, but they arrived by it reasonably, anyway.
Second, we assume that all truths ought to be ascertained by the exercise of reason. This is the general view of the skeptic and hard core atheist. They raise up Reason as being at odds with Faith, and utterly superior to it in every respect, in every situation.
But it doesn't take more than a moment's thought--that is, a tiny bit of reason--to see that there are cases where the cold application of logic and philosophy are not merely inappropriate, but positively sick and even inhuman. For example, the trust we have in our spouse or a close friend. This trust certainly can be based on fact and evidence: your husband has a long pattern of keeping his word, it is thus reasonable to trust him when he says he's going away on a simple business trip, and not on a tryst.
The woman who insisted on purging 'Faith' from her mindset, relying only on Reason, evidence, and argument, would have to continue follow her husband and monitor his behavior at all times before she could say he is trustworthy. But this would be, as I said, inhuman and sick. And, barring the possibility that she actually has evidence of his unfaithfulness, pretty rare. Which goes to my point: there are some 'positions' that are not obtained by reason--certainly not by reason alone.
That leads to the next observation that wars against our first take on the statement. For it to be seen negatively, we must also assume that a 'position' can be ascertained by reason (alone) at all. What if there are truths about the world that cannot be derived by syllogism, no matter how cleverly arranged it is?
I have already given an example of something in our daily life that would probably apply, that of our relationship with our spouse. Whether or not we trust our spouse is going where he or she says may be reasonable, but the specific instance of trusting is not itself an exercise of Reason. But the trust we have may not merely be born of the observation of past promises kept. The intimacy that comes from *ahem* frequent marital union is not born from laying premises and making deductions or inductions, and what is born will never be a syllogism. This is a part of human experience that is real, contains truths, can be encountered, but is simply not adequately described or processed by Reason.
To put the finer point on it, if we say that you can't reason a person out of a position they didn't reason themselves into, and that position is the coital embrace, we'd say, "Quite right. We wouldn't want it any other way."
I use this example because it is likely to be universally accepted, but the point is to prove the existence of a category of aspects of our human experience that are not properly derived by reasoning oneself into them, and indeed, if someone did try to reason themselves into it, we'd see it as inhuman and again, sick.
So, it isn't quite enough to make the statement and leave it at its first impressions. It's a bit like the slogan "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing." The statement can be taken in at least two different ways, one positive and one negative. A careful application of reason will reveal this. :)
But having come to the point where we acknowledge that there are meaningful things that are not acquired by Reason, and that to try to acquire them by Reason would be grotesque, we of course begin to wonder what other avenues of gaining truth are available to us. I am not here saying that all of these avenues will be good, beneficial, or reliable; I am only pointing out that humans--everyone of us--are walking some or all of those avenues. What are the implications?
I would contend that we do not 'reason ourselves into' some important parts of our daily experience of reality, but they are not for that reason false or unreasonably obtained. I extend that observation to the veracity of Christianity, and the falsehood of other worldviews. Anyone who has even a passing understanding of Christianity understands that it is not presented as an abstraction. I am an an evidentialist--that is, I believe that there is sufficient evidence for the truth of Christianity that any reasonable, sincerely seeking person will be compelled to accept that it is true. So, do not think that I am trying to knock evidence and argument, here. But at the heart of Christianity is a person.
It is the story of God restoring an intimate relationship with his wayward creation. And since the thing under discussion is relational, I would argue that Christianity is not wholly the kind of thing to be grasped ONLY by reason. What I mean is that there are certain things about Christianity that can ONLY be grasped when one walks one of the previously alluded to 'avenues.'
If I am right, then it may be the case that those who reject Christ may do so simply because they refuse to walk the route where he can be found. The path to intimacy is not paved by bricks of syllogism.
I am convinced that one important way in which truths are apprehended, absorbed, processed, and derived is not through Reason, but through Story. I do not say this to elevate Story or denigrate Reason. The right tool for the job. By denying the fact that Story does shape us, we deny reality. And denying reality can never end well. Christians should be aware of the power of Story even if the skeptics insist that their every position was obtained by reason. We know why they have to do this. The admission of even the slightest instance in human experience where a truth can be reliably ascertained apart from cold logic and evidence is an irritance to their worldview. But they still shell out big bucks for movie night just like the rest of us. Similarly, we Christians must understand that Story can get things into our own minds as well-- and these things may not be true, or good.
My ministry's upcoming conference explores these issues, and I hope you'll join us.