“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” -From french philosopher Albert Camus’ essay ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” -Ecc. 1:2
I have spent many years in the Charismatic Christian tradition and often heard and read that people who have a love for learning or pursue education were somehow less than those who were being guided by spiritual impulse, impression or message.
“Head knowledge” was a negative phrase that could only be remedied by a mystical or emotive experience. The idea that the life of the mind was an integral part of being a holistically spiritual person was somehow off the radar. The academic life was the pursuit of those who had too much leisure or were less concerned about ‘getting stuff done for the Kingdom!”. There was an implied sanctity in the poor, uneducated, street smarts, ‘rely only on the Ghost’ type of person. Faith instead of work, feelings instead or rational thought, dream life vs wakefulness, tingles over thinking were praised at the expense of other valid and often more concrete disciplines of being and thinking.
The same group-think would mishandle verses that spoke of philosophy or ritual as somehow dead religion instead of the cumulative gift of tradition born out of deep and serious study and practice. Anything old was more than likely useless, boring, lifeless and no longer needed. The Ancient was equated with ignorant or irrelevant like trying to play music on an 8-track. Too much of this modern mold spread throughout my experience of Church and has in my opinion contributed to the loss of young minds and hearts to alternative worldviews that do not denigrate, diminish or demonize the life of the mind and body.
Over time I began to realize that throwing shade over ‘loving God with all your mind’ was direct disobedience to the Lord Jesus (Lk. 10:27). I’ve seen countless irrational, stupid and ignorant decisions and actions divide, disillusion and harm people. I’ve witnessed too many dead end conclusions and wasted years. I’ve heard too many thin arguments peddled as spiritual direction or ‘faithing it’, and in time, I began to see the exalted emperor was naked.
A spiritual person is a thinking person.
People wrestling with truth often look to philosophy for answers. Quite literally, the term “philosophy” means, “love of wisdom.” In a broad sense, philosophy is an activity people undertake when they seek to understand fundamental truths about themselves, the world in which they live, and their relationships to the world and to each other. As an academic discipline philosophy is much the same. Those who study philosophy are perpetually engaged in asking, answering, and arguing for their answers to life’s most basic questions.
However, the historical and ‘new’ atheist philosophies offer more questions than answers and this has serious consequences. The logical conclusions of a 100 proof, undiluted atheistic worldview can and often does lead to the black hole of existential despair, depression and even eventual suicide.
The human mind and heart was not created to live in a closed system of cyclical meaninglessness. Life under the sun is a gift from God but its mysteries and madness are meant to force us to look beyond our finite existence to the eternal. Our created life is directly connected to our Creator, and one can only find their fullest of meaning in a relationship with God through Christ. The watch best understands itself and its purpose in the hands of the watchmaker.
Ecclesiastes 12.11 states: “The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails–given by one Shepherd.”
Calvary Chapel Pastor Everette Hatcher said:
“Goads are pointed prods that are used to help direct cattle and sheep. Words of truth prick the conscience and help to guide people towards moral and ethical reason. The firmly embedded nails signify the fixed principles of logic and the reality of absolute truth. Words of logic help to pin down people who have developed a false paradigm and a false view of reality. Logic helps people to see that their beliefs are not in harmony with reality.”
The Wisdom God intends us to arrive at through the study of Ecclesiastes is not a nihilistic tap out on the mat of life. It is not an endorsement unrestrained hedonism or a surrender to the purposelessness of atheism. The spiritual agnosticism that seems to seep out of Ecclesiastes is to be understood as an existential diagnosis, not a theological or philosophical prescription. To the wise observer, life ‘under the sun’ is not all there is to life. So in in the spirit of the Greek philosopher Socrates we come to see that: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
The Wisdom books compel their readers to engage life with one’s full head, heart and hands. To grow in wisdom one must seek to be wise. The first step in that pursuit is to acquire “The Fear of the Lord”: A Hebraic phrase, which means that all human knowledge comes back to the question about commitment to God. This way of thinking compels us to embrace a ‘open system’ worldview that understands that God is the ultimate source of meaning and purpose.
British Christian Philosopher and apologist Peter S. Williams put it this way:
“For the Christian Theist, life is meaningful in that it is the purposeful, good creation of God. The telos (or goal) of human existence is to know and worship God for eternity. In the Christian worldview then, life has an objective purpose, and this purpose is objectively valuable, in that God (being necessarily and objectively good) is the objective standard of value. The crucial point is this: If God exists, then we have a purpose, a reason why we exist, a goal and a meaning. If no God exists, then the universe has no creator, and no Final cause, and we have no creator, and no Final cause, no purpose. Even if God exists and human beings (and the universe) have a purpose, life might seem meaningless if we did not know that God exists and what God’s purpose is.”
Life is breath and we are it’s breathers.
That life can be tragic and tremendous, everyone on earth wrestles with the same experiences ‘under the sun’. No one escapes evil, suffering and pain but all can joy, meaning, love, inspiration, goodness, beauty and truth as well. Good psychologists and theologians know that how and what one thinks has a profound impact on the quality of one’s life. Who we are is directly connected to the life of the mind and heart. Thinking and believing things that are true, should be the goal of all maturing adults. The art of thinking in it’s best sense and tradition is study of philosophy.
Systematic academic philosophy is traditionally divided into these major areas of study.
Metaphysics: At its core the study of metaphysics is the study of the nature of reality, of what exists in the world, what it is like, and how it is ordered.
Epistemology: Epistemology is the study of knowledge. It is primarily concerned with what we can know about the world and how we can know it.
Ethics: The study of ethics often concerns what we ought to do and what it would be best to do.
Logic: Another important aspect of the study of philosophy is the arguments or reasons given for people’s answers to these questions.
As you can see, these matters matter for any serious person wanting to understand themselves, the world around them and the great existential questions of life.
If you are in a church, a tradition or group of people that malign, ridicule or diminish theology, reason, logic, philosophy, learning, reading, or any other form of education be it low or high…run.
If you don’t…you are stupid.
Someday you will thank me, for saying so.
(Material and musings from my sermon series on Ecclesiastes)