But… you’re so reasonable!

This is an absolutely priceless story submitted by a reader. Names and details have been deliberately altered / removed, but it is not difficult to imagine a conversation like this taking place at just about any College or University in any Western nation. What may be difficult to image is the conversation turning out as well as it did.

Because I am an adult student at a large state university, I was asked by my philosophy professor if I would like to join some others from the department for the end of the semester wind-down at a local bar/restaurant.

After talking for a while, one of the grad students joined the table, introductions were made all around and  a bit later in answering some question I stated “…well, yes, I’m a Christian.” The grad student sarcastically said “Oh, a follower of Jesus Christ” pointed to the professor seated to my left and said “So, don’t you have anything to say to her?” The professor turned to me and said “OH YEAH, so tell me what about all these laws in Leviticus that denigrate women?” So I proceeded calmly to describe the marked difference in the OT Laws to the other ancient Near East cultures and how they actually were in place to protect women. “OK” he said, “Then can you explain to me this really complicated causal chain how it is that God answers prayers?” So again I gave my opinion that sometime I think people attribute an answer to prayer by God that may not have been. We continued talking about the Bible, and its fit in history, and surrounding cultures.

It was at about that time that he got this really odd look on his face, scratched his head and said,

“I don’t understand, you’re so reasonable!”

Lessons learned? Well, this reader did so many things right that there are a lot of great lessons in here.

  1. This reader (I will refer to the reader in the feminine) was prepared. She had obviously taken the time to investigate and understand Old Testament laws, the cultures within which those laws were given, and she understood what made the Old Testament laws superior to the alternatives. [1]  She had also taken time to think through issues surrounding prayer and the question of how we might know if God is listening to / answering them. I suspect she is also well versed in many other issues related to the veracity of Christianity; simply put, she obviously loves God with her mind.
  2. She interacted with her friends in person. I’m a huge proponent of face to face interactions whenever possible, and I’m glad this story took place in person. Next week’s story is about a conversation that took place mostly via email and it did not turn out so well.
  3. She remained calm, non-accusatory, and stuck to the facts. As I have shared elsewhere (here and here) there is often a correlation between increased knowledge and increased confidence and civility. The fact that she knew her stuff makes it a little less surprising that the ending is so priceless. If she had flipped her lid and yelled at them do you think anybody would have told her she was “reasonable,” even if what she said was, in fact, perfectly reasonable? I highly doubt it. Remember, for these kinds of conversations the messenger is just as important as your message.
  4. There is even a lesson to learn from her interlocutor (there’s your word for the day if you haven’t heard it before). Rather than dismissing her views, insulting her or in any other way responding negatively, the professor had the insight to see that a reasonable case was being made, and the depth of character to verbalize as much. As I describe in Arguing with Friends, if somebody else makes a good point, admit it. If their arguments are beyond your ability to respond to, let them know that, jot down their line of thinking and tell them you’ll look into it.

All in all this is a wonderful example of a discussion that reaches what I call a “level 2” success.

It is said that we learn from our mistakes, but I think we also learn from our successes. We can also learn from the successes and failures of others. I hope to share many stories on this blog (some will be mine, some will be other people’s stories) so that we can all reflect and learn how to have life’s big conversations with more success. If you have a story you would be willing to share, please contact me and let’s talk about it.


[1] – If you would like to look into this issue yourself, consider the book Is God A Moral Monster by Paul Copan, or some of the writings at the Christian Thinktank.

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