First a personal note:
This is not the longest series of posts I’ve done on any one particular set of reflections, and due to both the limitations of this format I must really draw this to a close. Clearly more could be said. Tighter and more rigorous arguments could be made. Nor is this my final word on the matter.
But this series has been something of a departure for me, even when I began it about a year and a half ago. I have certainly not given up more academic types of reading, reflection and writing, as this has been and always will be part of my personal makeup. But I have been in a long season of reconciling something like a split between head and heart, which season happened to coincide with my reception into the Orthodox Church on Pentecost 2007. Having long emphasized even, one might say, retreated into the world of the mind as the primary way I interacted with the world, I had come to discover that this was not a useful way to live as a Christian. If one perused my pile of books read and to read, or read journal entries, one may perhaps discern something of an imbalance. Once a pendulum has swung hard in one direction, it takes some force to correct that. And of course, even Aristotle recognized that in pursuing the mean, one had to take one’s personal soulish contours into account and perhaps aim at one or another end of the virtuous spectrum, appearing perhaps too close to one or another vice, to establish those habitual grooves in one’s soul by which said virtue is developed.
All that said, I do not discern a return any time soon to this sort of writing. This may well be my last for a while. But who knows?
Now, to conclude in brevity.
There are, we must assert, marked differences between philosophy and Christianity. There is clearly very little compatibility between philosophy as it is practiced today and Christianity. But even the classical philosophy, which as we have seen holds marked similarities to Christianity, has some distinct differences.
One might say that philosophy (and here as throughout these posts I refer to classical philosophy) may be viewed as a narrower subset of Christianity: the particular and narrow exercise of the intellect in philosophy as a part of the larger way of living of Christianity. I do not think this is an adequate capturing of the two, but it hints at some important overlap.
It is precisely because it is a narrower view that philosophy and Christianity are not the same thing. One might do philosophy as a Christian, but that is different from something like a Christian philosopher. That is to say, philosophy is an activity of the intellect and that activity is the same whether one is a Buddhist, a Christian, or an atheist because the capacities of human reasoning, and their limits, are the same for all persons. There can be no such thing as Buddhist philosophy, or atheist philosophy. The activity is the same.
One could, as we discussed above, import particular Buddhist, atheist or Christian data into said activities, but already the Christian data is distorted by the limitations of the philosophical activity placed upon it. That is to say, in that philosophy is an expression of common human capacities, there is no distinctive “philosophy” of one sort or another. The syllogism “works” whether or not one does so as a Christian or something else.
But, that said, while the contours of the way of living that is philosophy are not essentially different from the contours of the way of living that is Christianity, nonetheless being a Christian is a distinctive way of living. The locus of way of living that is philosophy, an emphasis on the energies of the intellect versus Christianity, those of the heart, is simply and radically different. More to the point, in that both seek to be totalizing ways of living for their adherents, there can be no compatibility. One is a Christian who does philosophy, and seeks to do it excellently. But one is not a Christian philosopher, any more than one is a Christian mechanic, a Christian cellist, or a Christian grocery shopper. To assert such is to compartmentalize the Christian way of living that is antithetical to that way of living and to concede a dominion it is not ours to concede.