SG Jones | April 9, 2019
Renaissance physicist, mathematician, philosopher, and theologian Blaise Pascal once said:
“People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.”
I think he is on to something here.
By no means is Pascal saying that arguments and evidence play no part in convincing us of what we believe (or that we should abandon them in our efforts to persuade). He knew that there are different kinds of appeals one can and should make to his or her audience. There are of course appeals to reason. There are also appropriate appeals to a credible authority and even appeals to emotion. But the point of each is the same: to appeal to the sensibilities of one’s audience. They are intended to be persuasive and attractive.
In the first post in this series on pro-life persuasion, I said that it is imperative that we engage. We have to get involved.
The second piece of advice I’d like to suggest is to be attractive. This has to do with our manners, as opposed to the content of our arguments. A mentor recently told me, “If you are not seeking to persuade…you’re not going to do any good.” What he meant by that is that when we engage, we are taking part in a persuasive enterprise. We are not to be angry or nasty when we engage. We are to be attractive in how we comport ourselves.
Now this might seem like an obvious point to many, but it is amazing to see how many pro-lifers become boorish and shrill when it comes to sharing their convictions.
This is not attractive or persuasive—it’s actually quite embarrassing—and it even happens when pro-lifers are speaking to one another. As one wise fellow put it, “Are you preaching to the choir? Well, you’re not even doing a good job at that! If you’re out there trying to persuade someone to change their mind, you’re not doing a very good job of it.” And this is even less effective when engaging those with whom we disagree. A quick look at the state of public discourse in our country is a good reminder of this, as if we needed it.
So, there is a better way for us to engage, and though it is an obvious one, we need to be reminded. It is ok to present our point of view. As we have already said, it is imperative that we get involved. But again, if we are not trying to persuade in an attractive manner, we need to ask the question: Are we really doing any good?
Above all, we want to do good. We need to, and there is no other choice for us, especially for those who are followers Christ. So let’s engage, let’s do it persuasively and attractively, and let’s give good reasons for why we believe what we do. Pascal himself would agree with this more holistic approach.