Screwtape, an evil demon who is the uncle and mentor to another demon named "Wormwood" writes to him the following advice on how to deal with Wormwood's human "patient," i.e. how to keep him away from God, the Kingdom, and Church:
Are you not being a triffel naive? It sounds as if you suppose that argument was the way to keep him out of the enemies clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time humans pretty well knew when a thing was proved and when it was not. And if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as a result of the chain of reasoning. But what with the weekly press and other such weapons we've largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn't think of doctrines as primarily true or false but as "academic" or "practical" "outworn" or "contemporary," "conventional" or "ruthless," jargon, not argument is your best allie in keeping him away from the church...The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle on to the enemies own ground...By the very act of arguing you awake the patient's reason, and once it is awakened who can foresee the result. Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favor, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fateal habit of attending to universal things and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it "real life" and don't let him ask what he means by "real."....
[From chapter 1 of The Screwtape Letters]
There are a lot of interesting things in the above quote by Lewis, but one thing that strikes me is the statement that people do not connect thinking with doing, or at least they do not do so anymore: "Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head."
Now, if that was true in Lewis' day 70 years or so ago, then it is all the more true these days. In fact, it is no longer even a revelation to say so. It is the fashion these days to kind of pick and chose which beliefs to accept from a religion or philosophy and which ones are not so desirable. The illustration of the food buffet-line is often used. We go through and pick what we want and leave what we don't want. I think it is for this reason that religions today, in an attempt to take advantage of our consumer oriented culture, put their best food forward and emphasize the best of their beliefs. With Christianity, of course, we've got a lot going for us. In my opinion, we are the best deal out there!
But I digress...this quote of Lewis' also brings up the question of evangelism and apologetics: Do we make an appeal to people's reason? Or do we seek other ground, since our culture is suspicious of reason? If reason is not in fashion these days, do we let it slide and appeal to other things: community, personal healing, etc.???
For Lewis it is evident that he believes that reason is a positive appeal. The "very act of argument" is the playing field of the Christian faith. This is so much the case, says Lewis here, that even if a particular argument does not convince the unbeliever it still moves their mind on to "universal things" rather than "the stream of immediate sense experiences." So, in this sense, even when a Christian fails to convince a non-believer there is still a victory because the mind and heart have been turned to spiritual thoughts and away from the temporality of this world.
Perhaps Lewis is on to something and we need, in this culture of anti-reason, to imploy the use of the argument. After all, the human being is a whole person, and to deny the rational side of personhood seems to be as dangerous as to elevate reason higher than it was meant to be.