One thing that I’m good at is debating. It’s probably because I’ve done a lot of reading, have a great memory, and am really good at asking the right questions. In other words, I can really put my interlocutor on the spot. In terms of apologetics, this helps, but sometimes debating doesn’t get one anywhere. If someone loses an argument, it doesn’t mean they’re going to convert to your faith. It may contribute to it in the long run but it’s a stretch. It’s hard to get people out of their comfort zone. It’s a tactic one must use sparingly.
A good friend of mine is a former Catholic who is now an Evangelical. We both volunteered for the same organization and we have many interests in common. He once had a roommate who was a prominent Evangelical and they used to debate each other quite often. My friend is probably the smartest guy I know and a great communicator. He can certainly hold his own in debate.
A couple of years ago he moved to a different city. It’s actually my hometown so I often see him when I go to visit my family. While living in my hometown, he had made friends with a group of Evangelicals. He used to call me up and ask me how to respond to some of their points since he was dialoguing with them quite often. He eventually stopped calling and asking for arguments. I didn’t think much of it at the time. Eventually I heard that he had left Catholicism for Evangelicalism. The next time I was in my hometown was a few days before Christmas 2016. We made arrangements to have coffee then see Rogue One together.
As one can guess, the coffee turned into a heated debate. We’re both exceptional debaters so it was quite an intellectual brawl. We debated at the coffee shop, we debated on the way to the theatre in my car, we debated while sitting in the movie theatre, and this continued through the previews until quite literally when the movie started. Despite how great the movie was, the debate was depressing. I thought I did pretty well but it was the furthest I’ve ever felt from my friend. While driving him home, I didn’t bring up any debate and we just talked about the movie.
Somewhat in turmoil over his leaving Catholicism, I talked to one of our mutual friends about his defection. He told me something very wise. He told me that our friend debated with his old Evangelical friend for two years when he was Catholic and wasn’t won over. He mentioned that the evidence pointed to the fact that he didn’t leave Catholicism for debate and apologetic reasons, therefore apologetic reasons and debate wouldn’t bring him back and that he needed to be brought back through other means. I really thought about this for a while. He was bang on.
Most people convert to other religions for many reasons. There are many non-Catholics who read and comment on this blog and I welcome their presence. If someone wants a good debate, I’ll give them a good debate. However, if they’re not too polemically minded in their comments, I don’t engage them but instead try to understand them. The prayer of St. Francis goes as such:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.
The bold is my emphasis. It’s good to understand people because if we don’t have empathy, it’s hard to show that we care about the one we’re talking to. Debate doesn’t always work. In fact, most of the time, it only plays a minor role in a conversion if any at all. I’m not saying it’s useless, but it has a very specific place in dialogue and search for truth. It needs to be used carefully.
Most people who convert to another religion don’t do so because they went on an intellectual quest for truth. They usually convert because they’ve met friends or a spouse, found a community they enjoy, or admire the values of the religion whether they are displayed in the founder or its adherents. This is true for all faiths, including my own. I’ve learned this from talking with people who convert and reading many conversion stories.
Realizing this, people will wonder as to the purpose of this blog. Well, it’s for apologetics. Not everyone who reads this blog will be converted but I’m here to present the truth, share my knowledge and give answers if anyone has questions. Again, don’t feel intimidated, if you want a pleasant dialogue, I won’t give you a heated debate. I’ve learned from my mistakes.