I’ve just been through a week of exams and I’m thankful I have them behind me, save for one. I’ll have that done, please God, on Monday by 10:00 AM. The thoughts of exams are painful, even if they turn out well. I had two experiences during the week which were the polar opposites of one another. In one exam, I unfortunately was a little under-prepared, which made it like pulling teeth! I passed, happily! In another, I had a really pleasant exam, where the professor even got me a coffee beforehand and then I spoke reasonably well on the given topic.
So it’s been a good week for me overall, exams done and dusted (unless I’m in for some horrible surprises, I hope not!). More importantly than all that, is that a good friend of mine and his wife have had a baby, which is a momentous occasion. It’s the first time in my life a close friend of the same age has had a child so I look forward to meeting them all when I get home. Congatulations again if you read this, my good friend! 🙂
It’s occasions like that which can really put life into perspective. There are some people who believe we are simply here and nothing has any meaning. I don’t believe that but at the same time I don’t know either. I’ve studied philosophy for the last year and a half and I’ve taken in a lot of new information. Seminary has been challenging at times and really joyful at others. Both of these aspects of my experience have sometimes distracted me from what I should have been learning, so I hope I haven’t missed out on too much material which I otherwise would have taken in. The really obvious philosophers for a student of the Angelicum to have studied are Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. I’ll hopefully write in the future about the most important things (to me) that they said about this part of reality that we experience.
However, as I prepare for my final semester in philosophy, I think one of the most important thing I have learned so far is from a philosopher called Kierkegaard. Philosophy is a method of thinking according to systematic reason. There is very little about the world we experience that is not disputed in philosophy. This is in spite of at least 2500 years of recorded philosophical thought. With so much disagreement, one can be left very confused as to what to think. When it comes down to it, I tend to believe in that which is most practical. So does everyone, even those who have sceptically claimed we cannot know anything at all.
Going back to our friend Kierkegaard-he was a Danish philosopher who responded to Hegel’s idea that we humans could eventually potentially, as a race, know everything (I wrote a little- a lot- incorrectly on this about a month ago and I really should edit it! Maybe once the exams are done). Kierks (I like to refer to him this way, at least mentally!) philosophy flowed from his Protestant Christian faith and his basic point was that, in spite of all our fancy reasoning and philosophising, we humans can never know everything. Perhaps we can uncover a lot about our physical reality and then make philosophical claims based on our science, but ultimately, we humans make mistakes and so our knowledge or beliefs are potentially imperfect. The point of all philosophy and all science, based as they are on our experience of this reality, is to point to where that reality came from. ‘All men by nature desire to know’ (Aristotle, Metaphysics) and that is why we engage in the mentioned activities. But we are limited in our capacity to know and so faith inevitably appears once that is admitted.
Kierkegaard gave words or structure to something I knew already: philosophy and all the sciences lead us to a point where we can no longer humanly find out any more and at that point faith is necessary. The purpose of philosophy is to lead us to that point of decision. It would seem there is no greater governing principle in a person’s life than how much they believe in God’s existence and how God relates to us. Regardless, whatever form that principle takes in a person’s life, that form is based on faith. We cannot prove through direct experience that that belief is correct. So the ideas that God is real, God loves us, God exists but has nothing to do with us, God is nature, God does not exist or does but is negligent and evil, all require faith. And those conclusions require, at least in part, human reasoning which can err.
My faith based position is the Catholic one: God loves us and has always done so. So once again I’ll pray for mercy for my sins against Him and also pray that He would help us all to know Him more and more, in every moment. In the words of Mark’s Gospel ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.’
To answer the title question: Life is about learning and knowing, so that we can make the leap of faith in whatever direction we choose, because there are things we cannot discover by our own powers. If we believe there is no God, it’s about knowing insofar as our capacities allow because curiosity is part of who we are. If we believe there is God, it’s about knowing Him. Choose wisely what you believe.