Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A message to Christian students in my classes

A redated post.

Some Information about a Philosophy Class

This is a class in philosophy, attempting to introduce the subject to students. Very often people enter a philosophy class thinking of it as strange and forbidding territory. I can understand these concerns on the part of students. Perhaps it would be helpful to clarify what, at least to my mind, a philosophy class is supposed to be about.

The textbook emphasizes that philosophy has to do with developing and articulating a world-view. Based on many years of teaching philosophy, I find this concern well-placed.

I am myself a Christian and my philosophical career has been centered around thinking things through from a Christian perspective. I have taught in both a Christian setting and a non-Christian setting, but most of my student career and my teaching career has been in secular institutions. I often find that in a non-Christian setting students seem unaware of the fact that they have a world-view, or else they haven’t really thought very clearly about what their world-view is and how to make it a consistent one. So you find people drawing from one source here and one source there whenever it suits them. In a Christian setting you will still find some of that as well. But the main issue that I believe I should try to come to terms with in dealing with Christian students is the fact that they have learned certain ways of talking about what they believe which are common in churches but have little meaning to anyone outside of four walls of the institutional church. One church outsider came to a church and was asked “Are you under the blood?” which prompted him to look up at the ceiling to see if there was some red liquid coming down. Consider even a phrase like “Christ paid the penalty for our sins.” What penalty? What sins? And how could Christ pay it, if we incurred the penalty?

Missionaries often spend years studying the peoples of the countries in which they minister, hoping to understand the thought-forms of those peoples, so that they can learn to present the Christian message in a way that is meaningful to the people of that culture. Yet, I think, a lot of Christians have no idea how their world-view differs from the world-views of others, or how to ask the questions a non-believer would ask.

While I am myself a Christian, the goal of this class is not to make Christians of everyone. I might personally hope for that result, but it isn’t my job. My job is enable people to discover what their own world-view is, so that they know what they believe, know why they believe it, and know how to explain the difference between their own views and those of others. The should be able to understand the reasons supporting their own world-view, and the reasons that could be used to criticize their world-view.


cross love said...

hi i am chris paul ,a christian

nice to be here and appreciate your


hope to be friends with you

Jonathan said...

Hi Victor,

What is the textbook you mention?

Many thanks.

Victor Reppert said...

Life's Ultimate Questions, by Ronald Nash.

Timmo said...

Is the goal of philosophy really to develop an entire worldview? One lesson to take from Wittgenstein is that attempts to articulate a comprehensive, unified conception of the world and our relation to it are invariably bound to distort or falsify what our forms of life are really like. Ryle warned of the desire for a skeleton key, an intellectual cure-all. This will be an unpopular suggestion, but perhaps we should content ourselves with piecemeal efforts to get clear about this or that question.

There's a joke about a drunk man who has lost his keys on the other side of the street. A passerby asks him, "If you lost your keys on the other side of the street, why are you here beneath the lamp post?" To which the drunk man replies, "Because this is where the light is."

I think if we're honest, we will recognize that it is simply beyond us to advance a worldview which has a reasonable chance of being true. The history of philosophy is simply littered with the bones of metaphysicians who offered dramatic, captivating visions of the world. But, were any of them correct? "Clash of the worldviews," I'm afraid, doesn't sound like a recipe for truth.

Edward T. Babinski said...

I concur with Timmo when it comes to acknowledging philosophy's limitations, and concerning the limitation of human knowledge in general.

Philosophy seems to be about learning to fearlessly ask questions, ala Socrates.

Including questions raised by the philosophical study of language itself.

Edward T. Babinski said...



[4] for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds.
[5] We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,
[6] being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

[25] Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret for long ages
[26] but is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith --

[21] Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

"For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but to us who are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of
the prudent." Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness. But unto them who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For you see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the things that are mighty; and the base things of the world that are despised has God chosen, yes, and the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence" (1:18-29).

1 Corinthians 11:29-31 (New International Version)
29For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep [i.e., Paul believed many Christians had been made ill or even executed by God for not celebrating the Lord's supper the right way].

1 Corinthians 5:5 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

1 Corinthians 16:22 King James Version (KJV)
If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.

Jesus not only becomes angry, but erupts in vindictivenes towards "the scribes and Pharisees," calling them a "generation of vipers," "hypocrites," "fools," "blind," "serpents," and "whited sepulchers," upbraiding them with even more menacing threats of being cast into uttermost darkness and a "furnace of fire in which there is only perpetual weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 11:21-24, 12:34, 13:42,49,23:13-33,25:30,25:41-46; Mark 6:10-12, 9:48; Luke 11:39-52). Note the frequency of these "Woe unto you!" passages and the seeming glee with which this eternal punishment is being described. Further note that such invectiveness is not directed at social injustice or poverty or hunger or oppression or slavery or tyranny, but at people who disagree with him. These violent outbursts bespeak a zero tolerance for dissenting opinion and a very conditional interest in (and concern for) prospective followers.

Such is religion.



Plato and Xenophon never portray Socrates behaving in such ways as Paul or Jesus above. On the contrary, he characteristically responds to disagreement and lack of interest with cool detachment and impenetrable unflappability. I cannot imagine him resorting to name-calling, insults, verbal abuse, and threats of the kind that fill the synoptic Gospels.

Anonymous said...

If this is an intro to philosophy class that you teach in a secular institute, then your textbook is quite inappropriate. It is too slanted to the Christian perspective. If my child attended said institute I would most loudly complain about the misuse of public funds to further a Christian apologetical agendal.

Victor Reppert said...

I didn't choose the text myself, and this particular class is at a Christian institution.

But I don't know about objecting to the apologetical agenda. My own personal approach in classes tends to downplay any apologetic agenda I might have. I usually just refer students to my blog if they want to know my own positions. However, I have seen plenty of philosophy teachers with explicit anti-religious agendas who push their non-belief on students. They make it a mission to destroy the faith of their students. It seems hypocritical to criticize advocacy teaching my Christians but not by non-believers.

Jonathan said...

Sorry I'm only getting back to you now, thanks for the info.

Rasmus Møller said...

Please forgive the lengthy quote (from I find Chesterton delightfully on topic:
"The best reason for a revival of philosophy is that unless a man has a philosophy certain horrible things will happen to him. He will be practical; he will be progressive; he will cultivate efficiency; he will trust in evolution; he will do the work that lies nearest; he will devote himself to deeds, not words. Thus struck down by blow after blow of blind stupidity and random fate, he will stagger on to a miserable death with no comfort but a series of catchwords; such as those which I have catalogued above. Those things are simply substitutes for thoughts. In some cases they are the tags and tail-ends of somebody else's thinking. That means that a man who refuses to have his own philosophy will not even have the advantages of a brute beast, and be left to his own instincts. He will only have the used-up scraps of somebody else's philosophy; which the beasts do not have to inherit; hence their happiness. Men have always one of two things: either a complete and conscious philosophy or the unconscious acceptance of the broken bits of some incomplete and shattered and often discredited philosophy. Such broken bits are the phrases I have quoted: efficiency and evolution and the rest. The idea of being "practical", standing all by itself, is all that remains of a Pragmatism that cannot stand at all. It is impossible to be practical without a Pragma. And what would happen if you went up to the next practical man you met and said to the poor dear old duffer, "Where is your Pragma?" Doing the work that is nearest is obvious nonsense; yet it has been repeated in many albums. In nine cases out of ten it would mean doing the work that we are least fitted to do, such as cleaning the windows or clouting the policeman over the head. "Deeds, not words" is itself an excellent example of "Words, not thoughts". It is a deed to throw a pebble into a pond and a word that sends a prisoner to the gallows. But there are certainly very futile words; and this sort of journalistic philosophy and popular science almost entirely consists of them.

Some people fear that philosophy will bore or bewilder them; because they think it is not only a string of long words, but a tangle of complicated notions. These people miss the whole point of the modern situation. These are exactly the evils that exist already; mostly for want of a philosophy. The politicians and the papers are always using long words. It is not a complete consolation that they use them wrong. The political and social relations are already hopelessly complicated. They are far more complicated than any page of medieval metaphysics; the only difference is that the medievalist could trace out the tangle and follow the complications; and the moderns cannot. The chief practical things of today, like finance and political corruption, are frightfully complicated. We are content to tolerate them because we are content to misunderstand them, not to understand them. The business world needs metaphysics - to simplify it.
Philosophy is merely thought that has been thought out. It is often a great bore. But man has no alternative, except between being influenced by thought that has been thought out and being influenced by thought that has not been thought out. The latter is what we commonly call culture and enlightenment today. But man is always influenced by thought of some kind, his own or somebody else's; that of somebody he trusts or that of somebody he never heard of, thought at first, second or third hand; thought from exploded legends or unverified rumours; but always something with the shadow of a system of values and a reason for preference. A man does test everything by something. The question here is whether he has ever tested the test."

Ilíon said...

I, for one, enjoyed the quote.

Steven said...

Plato and Xenophon never portray Socrates behaving in such ways as Paul or Jesus above. On the contrary, he characteristically responds to disagreement and lack of interest with cool detachment and impenetrable unflappability. I cannot imagine him resorting to name-calling, insults, verbal abuse, and threats of the kind that fill the synoptic Gospels.

This is false. Firstly, any instances of harsh rhetoric on the part of Jesus is only because the persons he's dealing with are scum and not honest with him or with themselves. Yet he still shows some intellectual power in his treatment of their inquiries.

Jesus' answer to the question of whether or not it is lawful to pay taxes shows quite a bit of sophistication!

"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and give to God what is God's."

He identifies an object as a person's property depending on the image and likeness on the object, and claims to give to whomever, whatever contains their image and likeness. The obvious implication is that the Jews were busy thinking over various unimportant ethical issues, like whether it is lawful to pay taxes, and ignoring the important issue of offering themselves to God by way of good and virtuous behavior.

Such a reply clearly shows sophistication and a sharp intellect on Jesus.

Furthermore, Paul's treatment of unbelievers and worldy wisdom in his personal letters to Christians and Christian churches is not necessarily his treatment of those unbelievers in person. In fact it's not the attitude at all he takes in those various instances in Acts when he is in front of pagan counsels or rulers. He is quite respectful.

So you misrepresent both Jesus and Paul. Good work.

Steven said...

However, I have seen plenty of philosophy teachers with explicit anti-religious agendas who push their non-belief on students. They make it a mission to destroy the faith of their students. It seems hypocritical to criticize advocacy teaching my Christians but not by non-believers.

How could you expect them to be consistent with their own principles, if it means stopping people who believe like them?