Saturday, October 14, 2006

First Fruits: An urban harvest festival

My church is putting on an urban harvest festival tomorrow. It should be really intersting with artists (including Henningham Family Press), doctors, musicians and others sharing their first fruits. It is a little late to invite people, but do drop in if you are in the area.

My contribution will be on philosophy. Here is a little piece I wrote for the event (thanks to Gregory and Paul for reading through it and suggesting improvements)

What does it mean to practice philosophy as a christian?

It might reasonably be asked why one would offer up philosophical work as first fruits to God. Is it really appropriate? I want to try and answer that question as briefly and simply as I can. My starting point is that of every Christian: “Jesus is Lord”. I find no reason to restrict this confession, leaving certain areas of my life outside Christ’s lordship. That certainly does not mean that my life is perfectly submitted to Christ! But it does mean that I have thought about what the significance of his lordship over my life requires from me in the area of philosophy.

One of the fullest expressions of Christ’s lordship is found in Colossians 1:15-20. Here Paul states that “all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (vv.16-17). This is important for philosophy, as since its inception it has sought to explain the origin of things and how things hold together. So, first off, a christian approach to thinking philosophically will reject all and any attempt to find the origin and coherence of our world within itself. Such attempts are forms of idolatry (see Romans 1:21-25). Perhaps the various forms of materialism, often touted as the results of scientific thinking, are amongst the most conspicuous attempts to do this today.

On the more positive side philosophical thinking along christian lines will emphasise the richness of God’s world, beyond any human attempt to comprehend it (see Job 38-41, Psalms 19 & 104).

To put things in more technical, though hopefully still understandable, language, philosophy involves and reflects on theoretical thinking. Now the development of theories often, if not always, depends on analysis, or in other words taking things apart in thought. We separate out an aspect of reality and focus on it, ignoring other realities with which it is connected; in a word we employ abstraction. Through an act of thought we leave the fullness of reality and investigate an isolated piece of data. If there is a faith in theoretical thought that leads one to believe it gives us the true picture of reality, against the ambiguities (and richness) of everyday experience, then the result of theoretical thinking will be equated with true reality. Given the nature of abstraction to isolate and focus on an aspect of the world, the equation of theoretical data with true reality tempts one to posit that aspect of reality as the independent and fundamental basis of all reality. All isms that one encounters in the different fields of scholarship, rationalism, behaviourism, psychologism, organicism, historicism, physicalism etc., give evidence of the seductiveness of this temptation.

One of the tasks of philosophy, conceived christianly, is to combat the tendency to reduce reality to one or two basic realities on which all else depends or through which all else can be explained. It also has the task of exploring the richness of God’s world as uncovered by the many fields of scholarship by giving a theoretical overview that remains open to further surprises. As with all cultural tasks this should be done in obedience to the two great commandments to love God and serve ones neighbour.

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