It is not unlikely, in the course of interacting with unbelievers, and attempting to take every thought captive to Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5), that someone will raise this kind of objection. “I have my view, and it works for me, and you have your view, and it works for you.” At best, this sentiment is expressed to claim that rational discourse concerning our differing beliefs is pointless. At worst, it is expressed to claim that rational discourse concerning our differing beliefs is wrong. While such a sentiment is popular in today’s post-Christian milieu, upon further examination, it is found to be fraught with difficulties.
The first problem with this sentiment is that it is self-refuting. The whole point of expressing such a sentiment is to communicate that the Christian should not try to “impose” his views upon someone else, or try to show, by rational argumentation, that they are wrong. Yet, in making such a statement, the unbeliever is attempting to “impose” his views upon the Christian! The Christian believes that the nations should be made Christ’s disciples (Matt. 28:19) and that every thought should be taken captive to the Lordship of Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-6). This belief motivates evangelistic and apologetic encounters. However, by expressing the above sentiment, the unbeliever is trying to show the Christian that his view is wrong, and that he ought not to try to convert anyone. Yet, in so doing, the unbeliever becomes guilty of the very thing that he criticizes the Christian for doing! And in expressing this sentiment, he is acting in contradiction to the sentiment itself, by refusing to take the “hands off” approach and let every man’s view “work” for him. Thus, in expressing such a view in order to attempt to change the Christian’s behavior, the unbeliever is engaging in behavior that is self-defeating. It is practically impossible to consistently live in accordance with the above sentiment, which raises the question of why anyone would hold to it in the first place.
Pragmatism vs Truth
Another problem with this sentiment is its reliance upon pragmatism. Notice that the sentiment in question is not that “your view is true for you and my view is true for me,” but that “your view works for you and my view works for me.” What ultimately matters is not truth or falsehood, but whether or not a specific view “works.”
But what does this mean, exactly? How can a view “work” for someone, especially in the area of morality (where this objection is more likely to arise)? In morality, things are either right, or wrong – there is no category of “works” vs. “doesn’t work.” The only conceivable answer is that the unbeliever’s view makes him feel good about himself, and what he is doing. In this way, a moral view can “work” in a subjective sense, by alleviating his feelings of guilt, at least temporarily. Beyond this, it is inconceivable how a moral view can coherently be said to “work.”
But this raises the question – even if, ad arguendo, moral views can “work,” what is the standard by which they are judged to “work”? How do you know that they are actually “working”? “Working” is likely defined in terms of personal benefit: if it benefits me, then it works. My view alleviates my guilt (at least temporarily), therefore it works. However, in ignoring the question of truth, the unbeliever is actually setting himself up to adopt view that do not “work,” in the long run. Again, consider the case of morals. The unbeliever’s view “works” in the short term, by helping him to feel less guilty about his status as a sinner. Yet, in the long run, such a course of self-deception will only land one before the Great White Throne on Judgement Day, to be condemned to an eternity of torment in punishment for one’s sins (Rev. 20:11-15). Ignoring the problem by sweeping it under the rug may “work” in the short term, but it will only make things worse in the long run. Given that the unbeliever’s view will bring him misery in the long run, the claim that “it works for him” is quite ironic indeed.
Furthermore, in the final analysis, the claim that a moral view “works” is actually a truth claim, which is either true or false. Thus, while the unbeliever has foisted pragmatism upon us as an attempt to escape the demands of the Truth, he still has to pay the piper when determining whether or not his view actually “works.” And if truth is more ultimate than pragmatism, there is no reason to believe that the question of whether or not his view is true or false is not more fundamental and relevant than the question of whether or not his view “works.” Ironically, by retreating to pragmatism, the unbeliever only reinforces the primacy of Truth, which only serves to re-raise the question of whether or not his view is true in the first place.
What Would Happen If Everyone Eschewed Rational Discourse?
It is also helpful to ask what would happen if everyone adopted this sentiment consistently, eschewing rational discourse in favor of simply holding to what personally “works for them.” The answer is that society would grind to a halt, and we would be thrown back into the (metaphorical) Dark Ages.
First, law and order would cease to exist, and society would devolve into lawlessness. If everyone has their own views that “work for them,” then there is no universal regard for law and order. Thieves have a view that “works for them,” and it is at odds with the views of non-thieving property owners. Murderers have a view that “works for them,” and it is at odds with the peaceful members of society. Mass-murdering dictators have a view that “works for them,” and it is at odds with everyone who wishes to remain alive and free.
But, the diversity of viewpoints aside, if rational discourse is to be eschewed, then there can be no system of justice, because convicting a person of a crime involves stating that what they did was wrong, and imposing the views of the Law onto the individual. If rational discourse is to be eschewed, then there can be no development of legislation, which requires rational discourse about what laws are needed, and why.
Second, if rational discourse were consistently eschewed, then human civilization would cease to progress. Knowledge requires justified true belief, and the progress of human civilization is conditioned upon advances in knowledge and understanding. Yet, hardly anyone would attain to any substantial number of justified beliefs if reasons for those beliefs were never discussed. If everyone simply sat around and held to their own views that “work for them,” no one would ever come to know much of anything. Hence, the state of human knowledge would not advance. As a case in point, the whole process of education involves giving students good reasons to believe certain principles and facts about the world and reality. In other words, education is the impartation of knowledge. Yet, if rational discourse is not to be engaged in, education is impossible to achieve. And if education cannot be achieved, then the advancement of civilization is impossible.
We should all be glad that such a sentiment eschewing rational discourse has been in the minority throughout history, and even so, that it has only been held inconsistently. If such a view were held consistently throughout history, there would be no history to speak of. Human civilization would never have developed beyond individuals fending for themselves, holding on to their own views of “what works for them.” And, as each person’s view of the events of the past that “works” for him is likely different than the views of others, there would be no one one account of past of events from which to form a history.
It is likely that the Christian will be confronted at some point with the assertion that we should not argue with others, because their views work for them, and our views work for us. However, in seeking to make the nations Christ’s disciples, and take every thought captive to His Lordship, we should be ready to show that this sentiment does not itself “work” in the grand scheme of things. First, the sentiment cannot be lived out consistently, for it is self-defeating to express this sentiment in telling the Christian that he ought to do things differently. Second, the view attempts to escape the force of Truth by retreating to pragmatism. Yet, this is self-defeating, as it only reinforces the primacy of Truth. And in continuing to reject the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (Jn. 14:6), the unbeliever only succeeds in setting himself up for future judgment and eternal punishment. Lastly, such a view is practically untenable, as it would lead to the dissolution of human society if it were to be practiced universally and consistently.
Let us be thankful, then, that we worship a God of Truth, and may we never tire of contending for the Truth, till every thought is taken captive to the obedience of Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria!