When I was in college, one of my majors (I had four) was Philosophy. When Tom and I were cleaning out our house, I saved several boxes of books and marked them “Re-read.” Each time we go to John and Jackie’s, I retrieve a few more books and take time to re-read them. One of the books is my Intro to Philosophy textbook from all those years ago in college.
I remember feeling like this book, “The Philosophical Imagination,” was opening a new world to me. There are sections on Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ethics, Politics, and Aesthetics. I especially liked the section on metaphysics: the philosophy of origins. Where does God come from? Are there proofs that God exists? Is the ontological argument convincing? I loved thinking about these things and debating them with others when I was in college.
I started re-reading “The Philosophical Imagination” yesterday. Somehow it doesn’t hold the same fascination it did when I was 19. Could it be that I have become uninterested in philosophy in the 40 years since I took the class? Are the areas of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics less fascinating to me now than they were then? Have I wrestled with how these issues play out in living day to day so much that I no longer need to read about them?
In 30 years of being a minister, I found that overarching philosophical schools of thought were generally useful, but practically absurd. So, instead of turning to philosophy, I turned to the Bible, to Jesus, and to prayer. The “principle of utility” is irrelevant to the husband and wife struggling to keep a marriage together. Talking about the “categorical imperative” is useless when counseling someone hurt by an abusive parent.
Proofs of God’s existence no longer interest me because I have felt God’s presence in the hospice room and the sanctuary. I have seen God in lives that are changed by his grace alone. I know that Jesus is real because new life in him is a reality that I deal with every day. Philosophers don’t organize my reality because Jesus is Lord of my life. As long as I follow him, he orders my life in ways that please him and life me up. Philosophers can’t teach me more about God than I can learn through worship and prayer and living with him day to day.
Walt Whitman wrote a poem that expresses this same idea, “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer”:
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.