Having been thoroughly terrified after watching the Sunset Limited based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel, I thought I should try to actually do a little philosophy in order to (at least?) believe in God again. I do it here in an attempt to keep myself honest in the company of those that do believe. If this doesn’t make much sense, please keep in mind my lingering view of philosophy, and consider this an apologia and a confession.
Some thoughts to set the stage:
“I am not a religious man but I cannot help seeing every problem from a religious point of view”. — Ludwig Wittgenstein, noted philosopher.
“But theology is the function of the Church. The church confesses God as it talks about God… But in so doing it recognizes and takes up as an active Church the further human task of criticizing and revising its speech about God” — Karl Barth, noted theologian, Church Dogmatics, 1.1, p. 3.
“Actually I should like to say that in this case too the words you utter or what you think as you utter them are not what matters, so much as the difference they make at various points in your life. How do I know that two people mean the same when each says he believes in God? And just the same goes for belief in the Trinity. A theology which insists on the use of certain particular words and phrases, and outlaws others, does not make anything clearer (Karl Barth). It gesticulates with words, as one might say, because it wants to say something and does not know how to express it. Practice gives the words their sense”– Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, p. 85e).
“The whole modern conception of the world is founded on the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are the explanations of natural phenomena.
Thus people today stop at the laws of nature, treating them as something inviolable, just as God and Fate were treated in past ages. And in fact both were right and both wrong; though the view of the ancients is clearer insofar as they have an acknowledged terminus, while the modern system tries to make it look as if everything were explained.”
— Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 6.371-2
On method: For the sake of simplicity I’m going try to use Wittgenstein’s language, rather than, e.g., Karl Barth’s.
To understand how (or why) you should listen to Wittgenstein, it may help to keep in mind these things about his life: Wittgenstein volunteered for World War I, even though, by law, he could have avoided being drafted. He served with valor that was highly decorated more than once. Before the war, was was one of the wealthiest men in Europe: he gave most all of his money away during his life and worked as a grade school teacher. Three of his brothers committed suicide. While at war he discovered Tolstoy’s The Gospel in Brief, carried it with him, and used it to evangelize anyone in distress. He completed his only completed philosophical work during the war. I guess what I am saying is that Wittgenstein was extremely sincere about philosophy and sincere in trying to keep it simple. He was rigorously simple in how he lived life. Want more ? Wittgenstein’s definitive biography and New York Times review of that biography. A good theological introduction to Wittgenstein. For those that don’t read anymore, you might check this out.
“The world is all that is the case: The world is the totality of facts, not of things; The world is determined by the facts, and by their being all the facts.” –Tractatus, 1 – 1.1.
For some, simple facts can only be expressed by art. For some, simple facts are clear and distinct ideas. But logic seems to tell me that if you really believe that simplicity is actually a fact at all, there is only one question. What is the simple fact?
This philosophy is about answering this question with reason. Philosophy is catch-as-catch-can — there are really no rules, just reason. But what the most brilliant philosophers have shown is that simply because there are no rules does not mean that there no simple facts, it only means that the rules are not the simple facts, they just point to them.
For some, the simple fact is: I am. For some people the simple fact is: the world. For some the simple fact is: fate. For some, the simple fact is: whatever works. For some people the simple fact is: humanity. For some the simple fact is: nothing. For some the simple fact is: nature
For some the simple fact is: God. For some the simple fact is also: the Holy Spirit. For some the simple fact is also: the word of god. The best definition I can think of for Christian is this: Christians are those for whom the simple fact is also Jesus Christ. The best definition I can give for Evangelical Christian is: those who believe that the simple fact is: in Jesus Christ alone is life.
For a long time the simple fact was: love. It think that love has to be a lot more simple than most anybody thinks, but love is not even as simple as fairness.
For me, now, the simple fact is: God!