This is a quote taken from C.S. Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm Chiefly on Prayer. It’s a gem that stands alone excellently without doing violence to the context. Enjoy.
Always, in solitude, and also in confession, I have found (to my regret) that the degrees of shame and disgust which I actually feel at my own sins do not at all correspond to what my reason tells me about their comparative gravity. Just as the degree to which, in daily life, I feel the emotion of fear has very little to do with my rational judgment of the danger. I’d sooner have really nasty seas when I’m in an open boat than look down in perfect (actual) safety from the edge of a cliff. Similarly, I have confessed ghastly uncharities with less reluctance than small unmentionables –or those sins which happen to be ungentlemanly as well as un-Christian. Our emotional reactions to our own behavior are of limited ethical significance.
I finished Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov a few weeks ago. For me, the book came in the wake of Crime and Punishment, so I feel like I’ve had a solid dose of Russian prose. There is so much to say about the quality of Dostoyevsky’s writing, but the effects were so profoundly unsettling (yet joyous and tearful) that it will take weeks to unravel all the paths Dostoyevsky led me as an amateur traveler of literature.
Fresh in my memory are the Dickens-ish eccentric characters (though these are described with psychological depth); the sacred, humble, and happy faith of Father Zossima; and the tremulous rage that accompanies justice unrequited. Dostoyevsky masterfully taxes his readers with the portentous tensions of guilt and forgiveness, shame and confidence, suffering and peace, doubt and faith, and lust and purity. Nowhere have I have read such themes so wonderfully woven into narrative in a way that left me starving for resolution. I couldn’t help leaving each chapter with the feeling that Dostoyevsky was saying much more in every conversation, with each action. Dostoyevsky thought very deeply about these problems and it shows in his writing.
Reading The Brothers Karamazov re-awoke in me the craving for well written narrative. I want narrative that moves me, informs me, and forever changes the way I see the world. If one of you reads one of these novels next year, please let me know what you think! Again, after I have time to sort through my experience with these books, I hope to spend some time reflecting, in a bloggish sort of way, on the valuable role of literature in the life of a Christian.
“Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.” ~ Marco Rubio
Marco Rubio’s recent comments have had some traffic since the most recent (39th?!) Republican presidential debate. (The scrutiny you receive as a presidential candidate is only one of the perks of running for office). The response on social media was as you might expect. The omniscient fact-checker gods flew in with their pronouncements on the Truth of how much philosophers really make. We also saw a host of articles written in defense of the learning of philosophy at the university level. Again, nothing surprising there. What did surprise me was the either/or nature of the debate on vocational vs. academic training. Either you think we need more vocational training in the manual trades or you think that philosophy is a study worthy of time, effort, and money. I smell a false dichotomy.
I’m qualified to address this because I have enthusiastically worked in the manual trades while pursing the liberal arts education that I wish began for me in high school. I have aspirations for pursuing pastoral ministry (when I grow up), and I have come to think that my apprenticeship as a carpenter has broadened and enriched my life experience for the kind of work that I’ll be doing. Manual competence changes the way we see and act in our world.
Probably the most surprising component of the manifold responses to the debate was the use of Matthew Crawford to support the study of philosophy. Indeed, Crawford does encourage young people to consider studying philosophy at the university level. However, Crawford, a philosopher-turned-motorcycle-mechanic, wrote his first book taking a jab at the dichotomy of “brain jobs” vs “manual jobs”. I’m thinking Plato and Aristotle wouldn’t have bought the distinction either.
I’m making no arguments about which field offers more pay because -to be frank -I don’t really care. If you’ve got the money to spend on a philosophy degree, have at it. Philosophy is wonderful. It’s a way of life. I do wish that the philosophers would take more strides, like Crawford, to encourage people to pursue the manual trades as a meaningful way to learn the world and as a means of attaining wisdom. Philosophers would better serve themselves in working to erase the popular stigma against philosophy by creating widespread interest in the history of ideas and the life of the mind. As Gracy Olmstead helpfully suggested, how about philosopher-welders?
John Piper recently wrote an excellent piece on Christian cultural engagement that you need to read. As we’ve encountered rapid cultural change in the recent decades (especially so in the last few years), Christian writers have taken up the task of formulating various cultural-engagement proposals for the church to consider. Piper lists a few in his article: The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher, the Wilberforce Option by Peter Wehrner and Michael Gerson, and the Dr. King Option by Gabriel Salguero. Now we just need the Jesus Option, the Paul Option, and the Al Gore Option (for the climate change devotees) to round everything out.
I’m familiar with Dreher and Piper, but I look forward to reading more about these other frameworks.
Cultures change, so I imagine their responses to the church will as well. The church may be more weird in some cultures than others. These options are exploring the tensions that are presenting themselves as the church is striving to be balanced and faithful in its creation of and engagement with culture. If you’ve come across any books, sites, or articles that have helped you practically with these issues please feel free to share for the other readers’ benefit.
What is striking and paradoxical in 1 Peter is the mandate that Christians are to be both out of step with their culture, and compelling in the culture. We are to be weird and winsome. ~ John Piper