Author Archives: TEnloe

Philosophy 101

The term “philosophy” comes from two Greek words, philos (love of) and sophia (wisdom), so it means literally “love of wisdom.”

Philosophy begins with asking questions. When we start to reflect upon – that is, to think seriously about – ourselves and the world that we live in, we quickly realize how BIG everything is and how SMALL we are. We realize that we do not know very much at all, and that certainly we do not know as much as we like to think we know!

Something you will come to appreciate as you get older is the saying “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I still don’t know.” Once we realize that we do not know very much, we are in a position to start asking questions about the things that we do not know.

Many people believe that Socrates (469 B.C.–399 B.C.) was “the father of philosophy.” Socrates was famous for saying that true wisdom consists in knowing that you do not know. He was also famous for saying “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

According to Socrates, most people do not know most of what they think they know. In fact, most of what they think they know consists of prejudices that they have not exposed to the light of inquiry on the basis of reason.

According to Socrates, most people regularly confuse appearance (what only seems to be the case) with reality (what actually is the case). By asking questions and exploring them to try to find answers, Socrates encouraged people to think philosophically – to seek true wisdom rather than just what seemed to be wisdom.

Philosophy does its work by means of reason. Philosophy starts with our ordinary, daily experiences, asks questions about them, and tries to logically figure out the answers to the questions. Philosophy is, therefore, concerned with matters that we can figure out for ourselves – that is, matters that we do not need special guidance from God to figure out..

Using Socrates as a model, we can see that for the Greeks, philosophy was defined simply by three statements:

  • “Know yourself.”
  • “Do not do anything to excess.”
  • “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Like all the wise men of the Bible, Socrates knew that he was not much at all, and that most of what he thought he knew was wrong when compared to God’s knowledge. In this sense, philosophy is something that all Christians can and ought to be interested in, for it is a path to wisdom. When you follow this path, you will know, with Job, that a human being is “Like a flower he comes forth and withers. He also flees like a shadow and does not remain.” (Job 14:2) You will also realize the truth of what God said to Job about how pitiful Job’s knowledge was: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” (Job 38:4)

Also, recognizing that you do not know puts you in a frame of mind to learn things because you do not think that you already know. If you already know something, do you try to find it out? Of course not. Only by recognizing that you do not know are you ever able to start trying to find out. This is the beginning of a philosophical way of thinking. Scripture teaches the same thing: “The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Cor. 8:1).

The second point of philosophy is “Do not do anything to excess.” When you know that you do not know, you will also be prepared to live your life avoiding excesses. Too much food, too much playing, too much working – all of these are excesses. Scripture tells us to control ourselves, which means, among other things, to avoid excesses (Proverbs 13:3; Proverbs 21:7; Galatians 5:23; Philippians 4:10-12, and others).

Philosophy can help teach you to understand the difference between the mere appearance of Good and the reality of Good. You will often find that what appears to be Good to you the first time you look at it is not what really is Good. More often than not, the things that only appear to be Good will be excesses of one kind or another, while the thing that really is Good will be something moderate, something that is not extreme.

The third and last principle of philosophy teaches you to live your life with an attitude of examining everything to see whether it is true or false. You cannot know yourself and avoid excesses if you do not examine your life carefully and weigh your experiences in this life in the light of principles that come from a higher place than this life. The Bible tells us the same thing:

  • Philippians 4:8 – “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:21 – “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.”

“Facility of Education Will Lead to Indifference To It”

More from T.S. Eliot, foreseeing the impasse of the modern educational ideal:

People can be persuaded to desire almost anything, for a time, if they are constantly told that it is something to which they are entitled and which is unjustly withheld from them. The spontaneous desire for education is greater in some communities than in others…It is possible that the desire for education is greater where there are difficulties in the way of obtaining it – difficulties not insuperable but only to be surmounted at the cost of some sacrifice and privation. If this is so, we may conjecture that facility of education will lead to indifference to it; and that the universal imposition of education up to the years of maturity will lead to hostility towards it. A high average of general education is perhaps less necessary for a civil society than is a respect for learning.

– as cited in The Great Tradition, ed. Richard M. Gamble, p. 620

“A Swollen Number of Candidates”

T.S. Eliot, writing about 72 years ago, presciently observes:

…the ideal of a uniform system [of education] such that no one capable of receiving higher education could fail to get it, leads imperceptibly to the education of too many people, and consequently to the lowering of standards to whatever this swollen number of candidates is able to reach.

– Notes Toward the Definition of Culture (as cited in The Great Tradition, ed. Richard M. Gamble, p. 621

Education is About What Things are For, Not How They Work

Education is not job training; it is not even schooling. Education, in so many words, is knowing what things are for, not simply how they work. The truly educated person understands the proper uses to which such things as bodies, brains, governments, art, and sport are put, not merely how to eat, how to execute difficult mathematical computattions, how to win an election, how to paint a still life, or how to hit a curveball.

The difference between these knowing what things are for and merely knowing how they work is the difference between wisdom and information, between knowledge and data, between knowing and knowing about. Those who acquire the former are genuinely educated; those who gain only the latter are technological functionaries, replaceable by the next generation of machines.

From Michael Bauman, The Second Death of Socrates: Why Public Education is the Enemy of Learning

Theology

The English word “theology” comes from two Greek words, theos (God) and logos (the study of), so it literally means “the study of God.” Things that Theology is interested in are: (1) the nature of God (what kind of being is God?), (2) God’s attributes (God’s characteristics and abilities), and (3) God’s relationships with His creatures.

The basic meaning of the word “theology” is “the study of God.” However, often the word “theology” is used in a more expansive sense than this, to describe the studies of different teachings of the Bible. These kinds of theology have their own special “-ology” names:

  • Theology Proper (the study of God)
  • Anthropology (the study of man and the created universe)
  • Christology (the study of the person and work of Jesus Christ)
  • Pneumatology (the study of the Holy Spirit)
  • Ecclesiology (the study of the Church)
  • Soteriology (the study of salvation)
  • Hamartiology (the study of sin)
  • Eschatology (the study of the final purpose of all things)

The source for all of these “-ologies,” all of these particular “studies of,” is the Bible. The things that the Bible says about these topics are scattered throughout its pages, not presented all in one place for each issue. We go through the Bible, look at the things it says about each of these issues, and then try to put all those things together into a single “picture” that makes sense. When we do this, we are doing theology, and we are each and every one of us theologians.

Why Is Theology Necessary?

First, no man is an island. No one lives all alone with his own personal copy of the Bible. No one should act as if he or she can figure it all out without ever consulting anyone else. Christians are called to be in community with each other (the church). It is in the context of our lives together in the church that we read the Bible, talk about it, try to figure out what it means, and work to apply its teachings to our lives. Theology is what we all do together as Christians who all love the same Lord and read the same Bible.

Each of us has different gifts, different strengths (1 Cor. 12:12-20). We need each other, especially when it comes to understanding the Bible. Sometimes one person can see something that another does not see, and the first can help the second to see. As Christians, we are a body (Eph. 4:4-16). For each person to try to figure out the Bible all by himself would be like the foot saying to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or the head telling the stomach, “You have nothing to say that I need to hear. I can do it all by myself!”

Second, the Bible itself tells us that not everything in it is easy to understand (2 Pet. 3:16). Sometimes what you read in one part of the Bible seems to say something different than what you read in another part. When this happens, you have to try to reconcile the two places.

One of the jobs of Theology is to reconcile parts of the Bible that seem to contradict each other. Theology uses tools to do this. Some of those tools are: (1) knowledge of the original languages of the Bible, (2) knowledge of the cultures of Bible times, (3) the thoughts of past generations of Christians on the texts in question, and (4) the beliefs of your church.

Third, Theology helps you to grow more mature in your faith. There is nothing at all wrong with “just” reading the Bible. Every Christian should read the Bible regularly. But there is a difference between just reading the Bible and studying the Bible.

Studying the Bible is a much more serious task than just reading it. Studying the Bible requires you to pay much closer attention to its words, and it often requires you to confront things in the text that seem to be difficult to understand. When something you read in the Bible is difficult to understand, and you “wrestle” with it for a while trying to reach a conclusion, you are thinking theologically – that is, you are engaging in the process of trying to figure out what the theology of the Bible on this particular point is. The process of “wrestling” with the Bible this way helps you to grow more mature in your faith and makes you stronger as a Christian.

Theology can help you see where your own views come from, and also help you better understand why other Christians think differently than you and your church think about particular issues, so that you can be more charitable to them.

In the Middle Ages, theology was called “the Queen of the Sciences” because Christians thought that all other kinds of knowledge owed allegiance to the basic truths of the Christian Faith as summed up by the discipline of Theology. This is a view that has fallen on hard times in our age, because we often do not want to do the hard theological work of relating what the Bible says to every area of our lives.

We need to remember that God’s Word has something to say to us about every area of our lives. All of our studies should be done with a nod to the “Queen,” whose decrees we read about in the pages of the Bible.

Greek Religion (2)

(Continued from Part 1)

Greek religion was anthropomorphic – the gods were made in the form of man himself. The gods, as their statues show, were idealized human beings, having far more power than, but with all the character flaws of, their worshippers.

The chief difference was that whereas man is doomed to die, the gods are “the deathless ones,” “the born-for-always ones,” and “those without cares.” The presence of such beings inspired in men a sense of fear and unworthiness – close to but perhaps not exactly guilt. Thus, the relationship between the gods and men thus could only be one of men giving to the gods in order to placate them and to hopefully receive blessings back from them.

In the Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic eras of Greek history, religion was wrapped up with one’s civic duty to the city. Cities were thought to have been founded by gods, and to worship the gods was to show one’s care for the welfare of one’s city.

Worship consisted of formal story-telling with certain associated rituals, such as the pouring out of libations or the burning of sacrifices to the gods or reverencing statues of the gods or observing certain burial rites.

These rituals were aimed at the formation of public moral character, the ethos of the individual Greek person in terms of his public duties to his city. For the Greeks of Homer’s time forward, the polis (city) was the sum total and center of life.

All of life was political because all of it was lived in the polis. Sine the polis was divinely founded, in a sense, then, Greek religion was fundamentally political.

A quite important question that gets passed forward into Christian wranglings with the Greek heritage is thus: What is the proper relationship of religion and politics? To this question we cannot seek an answer from the Greeks, but we must continue to reflect on the Greeks nevertheless.

Greek Religion (1)

Unlike many religions, such as Christianity, Islam, and Mormonism, Greek religion had no developed theology such as we would recognize. Nor was there an institutionalized worship of the gods such as we would recognize. The Greeks did not go to temples and worship the gods like we go to church to worship God. There were priests, but these were not like the Aaronic priesthood of the Old Testament. The priests oversaw the operations of the temples, but the Greeks did not need to go to the temples to worship the gods.

Moreover, there was no special revelation such as the Bible, the Koran, or the Book of Mormon. The works of Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey, were in a limited sense “holy books.” All Greeks revered them, and Homer was called “the teacher of all the Greeks.” But unlike the Bible, Homer’s books contain no codified religious dogmas and no detailed religious law codes.

Further, unlike the Bible’s portrayal of God, the Greeks came increasingly to rezlie that the character of the gods was not worthy of imitation by man. The moral code of Homer’s works is not spelled out systematically like in the Bible, but would have been “absorbed” by those who heard him performed (or later read him). How should you think and live? Why, like the great heroes and heroines in Homer, of course! This meant seeking arete, or “excellence,” and part of excellence was showing proper reverence for the gods – the most excellent beings of all.

Rather than being a covenantal bond as it is in Christianity, Greek worship of the gods was what some have characterized as a do ut des affair. The Latin phrase means, “I give in order that you may give [to me].”

(Continued in Part 2)

All Is Vanity: Deal With It

Seneca (ca. 4 B.C. to 65 A.D.) recommends that since life often sends us for a loop, we should just sit down, shut up, and deal with it:

You must reflect that fettered prisoners only at first feel the weight of the shackles on their legs: in time, when they have decided not to struggle against but to bear them, they learn from necessity to endure with fortitude, and from habit to endure with ease. In any situation in life you will find delights and relaxation and pleasures if you are prepared to make light of your troubles and not let them distress you. In no respect has nature put us more in her debt, since, knowing to what sorrows we were born, she contrived habit to soothe our disasters, and so quickly makes us grow used to the worst ills. No one could endure lasting adversity if it continued to have the same force as when it first hit us. We are all tied to Fortune, some by a loose and golden chain, and other by a tight one of baser metal: but what does it matter? We are all held in the same captivity….all life is a servitude. So you have to get used to your circumstances, complain about them as little as possible, and grasp whatever advantage they have to offer: no condition is so bitter that a stable mind cannot find some consolation in it….Abandoning those things which are impossible or difficult to attain, let us pursue what is readily available and entices our hopes, yet recognize that all are equally trivial, outwardly varied in appearance, but uniformly futile within… – “On Tranquillity of Mind,” in Seneca: Dialogues and Letters, ed. and trans. C.D.N. Costa (New York: Penguin Classics, rep. 2005), pp. 46-47

In some respects he sounds like Solomon in Ecclesiastes, but in others it looks like he could take a lesson from Job.

Chill Out

In Ecclesiastes 12:12, Solomon says, “Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca (ca. 4 B.C. to A.D. 65) says the same thing about the mind, and he recommends that for the health of one’s soul one should not to let work and study – serious things – consume everything.

The mind should not be kept continuously at the same pitch of concentration, but given amusing diversions. Socrates did not blush to play with small children; Cato soothed his mind with wine when it was tired from the cares of state…Our minds must relax: they will rise better and keener after a rest. Just as you must not force fertile farmland, as uninterrupted productivity will soon exhaust it, so constant effort will sap our mental vigour, while a short period of rest and relaxation will restore our powers. Unremitting effort leads to a kind of mental dullness and lethargy….We must indulge the mind and from time to time allow it the leisure which is its food and strength. We must go for walks out of doors, so that the mind can be strengthened and invigorated by a clear sky and plenty of fresh air…. – “On Tranquillity of Mind,” in Seneca: Dialogues and Letters, ed. and trans. C.D.N. Costa (New York: Penguin Classics, rep. 2005), pp. 46-47

Sometimes in order to really love the pursuit of wisdom, you just have to chill out for a bit. “Bodily exercise may profit little” (1 Tim. 4:8), but that’s not the same thing as saying it profits nothing.

True Economics: Nothing to Excess

“For as a body bred to a good habit requires nothing exquisite either in clothes or food, so a sound man and a sound household keep themselves up with a small matter. Riches ought to be proportioned to the use we have of them; for he that scrapes together a great deal, making use of but little, is not independent; for if he wants them not, it is folly in him to make provision for things which he does not desire; or if he does desire them, and restrains his enjoyment out of sordidness, he is miserable.”

– Plutarch, The Comparison of Aristides with Marcus Cato