Saturday, February 21, 2015

Letter to an online friend (My Apologia Pro Vita Sua)

May I give a story, rather than an argument?

The history of philosophy is an intellectual laboratory. [Friend],  I am thankful that you have found a way out of despair through Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Kierkegaard, and that you have found "the Living Word." My journey has been different. When I read these thinkers, I am left in exactly the opposite state: despair.

In my experience, when I see that I am lost, I have a choice: I can either keep driving forward, and hope that there will eventually be a way to my destination, or I can back up, see where I took a wrong turn, and get back on track.

My putterings in the intellectual laboratory have convinced me that the late middle ages was the fork in the road that led to places with names like Descartes, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Nietzsche, Clifford and Rand, among others. While it is informative to sight-see in those locales, they are not my destination: they are not places where I can settle and flourish. Their inhabitants can be very stimulating folk, but I find that in order to communicate with them, I cannot use my "heart" language. Thus, we never do completely understand one another, and my soul becomes increasingly isolated and depressed when I think that I might be exiled forever in those places.

That is why I have decided to do an about face, and march against the intellectual flow. (If you read "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," by Ursula LeGuin, you'll get a glimpse of what it has been like.) Since charting this course, I have met a number of wonderful companions who are also retracing the steps of (post) modernist thought. Furthermore, I have come to better understand how the "fork in the road" came to be constructed in the first place. We have not yet reached our Destination, but we have been heartened by the Food and Drink and cool Waters that are available in the towns along the way...towns with names like Boethius, Augustine, Anselm, Thomas, Bonaventure.

Yes, I often write blogs and posts and even make quick trips back to "rescue the perishing;" to try to show the inhabitants of (Post) Modernia that they, too, are welcome to join our pilgrimage to the City. When I do, some jeer, some accuse me of being an intellectual fossil or an antediluvean dotard. They say I am not "with it" and that I am only concerned with my own salvation. But the truth is, I am only concerned with what is True and Good and Beautiful, and that my hunger and thirst for it is leading me to Him in Whom faith and reason coincide. 

1 comment:

Nick Case said...

As you know, I too had a similar path (in no small part due to you).

Nevertheless, what I have discovered is that I really never understood many of these figures (Hegel, Heidegger, etc). What I also discovered was that the similar terminology masked a tremendous diversity and important insights. There are failings in each philosophy, but that should hardly surprise us. Even Thomism isn't perfect.

But perhaps more important is we cannot ignore history. We cannot retreat to a glorified past and live their as if it was immortal. We must deal with the world in which we live. We cannot deny contemporaneity for the sake of the past, or we deny ourselves.

More to the point, we have tried this in Thomism before and it did not work, we were left with a protectionism which was sterile to contemporary problems. Even Gilson recognized this.

We must return to the sources of course, but not to live there or we deny our very existence. Thomas did not retreat to Augustine to relive the glory days, but returned to his sources so as to engage in contemporary concerns. We ought to follow his example.