Philosophy of Religion

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.

The Other Side of the Tapestry

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.

Illustration by Loren Long

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.
I will probably re-read my philosophy textbook pretty quickly.  Most of it seems boring now and life is too short to spend reading boring books.  But re-reading books that were important to me is good.  It reminds me where I have been, how far I have come, and how far I still have to go.