- I who write this am both a Christian and a philosopher. Perhaps you, my reader, are both of these things as well. Perhaps, furthermore, you know of other persons who are both Christians and philosophers, or who aspire to exemplify that combination of attributes. Very likely, it has occurred to you to wonder what the relationship between Christian commitment and philosophical practice is, or what it ideally ought to be.
- In this essay I shall address this issue by posing the question, “How Christian can philosophy be?”
- One answer to our question is that philosophy can’t be Christian at all. […] Some of the people who hold this are professional philosophers who hold it because they think philosophy, if properly done, will quickly and decisively eliminate religious perspectives such as Christianity from serious consideration. Such an attitude is less common today than it was a few decades ago, but it does still exist.
- However, the view that philosophy and Christianity are incompatible is also held by some Christians. I imagine all of us have encountered Christians such as this, persons who regard philosophy as thoroughly opposed and antagonistic to Christian faith, and who would scorn anything called “Christian philosophy” as dangerous nonsense. […] such an approach clearly has its limitations. Part of our calling as Christians is to “love God with all our minds,” and doing this centrally involves making the attempt to understand, as best we can, what the affirmations of Christian faith are all about. And it has repeatedly been the experience of Christians seeking to do this, that the sorts of reflection made possible by philosophy are helpful if not essential in the process. Different styles and types of philosophy have been favored in different periods, but the urge to make use of philosophy in clarifying the content of the faith seems to be widespread. And on the other hand, the anti-intellectualism that would reject philosophy — and “worldly learning” in general — holds little promise for a constructive Christian use of the mind.
- There are, however, some philosophers who are not necessarily opposed to Christianity who nevertheless think philosophy cannot be Christian. Their reason for thinking this is that philosophy has to be neutral and impartial between all options; to adopt in one’s philosophy a particular viewpoint such as Christianity would mean that the philosophy is biased, prejudiced, and so not good philosophy. […] This aspiration to reject, or hold in suspension, all previous beliefs and start over from scratch with “pure reason” is one that has been shared, in one way or another, by quite a number of philosophers. But it is an aspiration that more and more philosophers now recognize is simply impossible to fulfill. […]The truth is that we simply have no option except to do philosophy as the people we are, believing the things we actually do believe, and doing our best to bring ourselves and our beliefs more in line with what is in accord with sound reason. What is required for good philosophy is not an impossible state of absolute neutrality, but rather fairness and a resolute attempt to evaluate all perspectives and beliefs, including one’s own, for their internal coherence and their correspondence with the evidence we have. In particular, we must seriously try our best to understand the beliefs of those who disagree with us, rather than caricature and distort those beliefs. And our evaluation of all beliefs, of others as well as our own, must be carried out fairly, not claiming for our own favored perspective privileges we deny to others. These, I submit, are requirements that can and should be accepted in good faith by Christian philosophy.
Footnote 1: Excerpted.
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