It’s not uncommon for me to be in a conversation with someone with a different belief system. Sometimes it’s just one person, sometimes it’s a classroom of people. When the conversation turns theological or philosophical, I take for granted we won’t start out at the same place.
I’m not bothered by such disagreements. I find them interesting. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). But what can be exasperating is their attempt to stay “above the fray.” Not only do they not believe what I believe, they don’t want to commit to believing anything. There was a day when such folks would be called naysayers: people who are skeptical or cynical without offering alternatives.
It doesn’t help to confront such cynicism. This only results in their adding “judgmental” to their list of criticisms. So now I just let them talk and I listen. And the more they talk the more they describe what they believe. They are not above the fray after all. They are firmly entrenched in a camp.
On September 25, 1940, C. S. Lewis wrote a long and thoughtful letter to a Ms. Eliza Marion Butler. As she discussed Lewis’s faith in Christ, Ms. Butler attempted to stay above the fray. To be noncommittal. Lewis was not impressed. With a passing reference to his early mentor, W. T. Kirkpatrick, and a French philosophical term meaning “vital force,” Lewis responds,
“A pure agnostic is a fine thing. I have known only one and he was the man who taught me to think. What I am worried about is the purity of your agnosticism: for one of the most dangerous things about the modern world seems to me the fact that most of those who call themselves agnostics have not really got rid of religion but merely exchanged civilised religion for the barbarous religion — worship of sex, or the State, or the elan vital, or the dead, or Mystery as such.
“And I still think you are not quite out of this danger. Nearly everything you say in your letter can be read in a double sense.”1
I often quote that last sentence to myself as people tell me why they don’t believe what I believe. Because as they do, they unintentionally tell me what they do believe.
“Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” – 1 John 5:21.
- Walter Hooper, ed., The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis: Books, Broadcasts, and the War 1931-1949, Vol. II (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004), 444. Italics in original.