Last night I read an interview given by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, in the Guardian Weekend. Since taking on the role some nine years ago I have been impressed with him as a thoughtful man of faith.
He was asked about the current trend among militant atheists led by Richard Dawkins to attack vehemently the very notion of religion, the Christian faith in particular.
In responding to this situation the archbishop does not set much store by confrontation. "Arguments have the role of damage limitation. The numbers of people who acquire faith by argument is actually rather small. But if people are saying stupid things about the Christian faith, then it helps to say, come on, that won't work.'
He has a fondness for quoting St Ambrose: 'It does not suit God to save his people by arguments.' This echoes the guidance that Francis gives his friars in the Franciscan Rule.
Francis wrote: 'I counsel, admonish and beg my brothers that, when they travel about the world, they should not be quarrelsome, dispute with words, or criticize others, but rather should be gentle, peaceful and unassuming, courteous and humble, speaking respectfully to all as is fitting.'
Francis gave this exhortation when the community of faith was struggling with various popular teachings that went counter to the Gospel. Good Catholics were expected to join in the fight! But Francis had little trust in the power of argument to win hearts. Rather he called on people to live our faith in Christ with generous love.
In the end we must draw by attraction.