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Why I am a Theologian
It must become evident to any perceptive reader of this set of essays that I do a great deal of thinking.
I do not, however, pretend to be a Philosopher. A Philosopher, I suspect, thinks a great deal more deeply, constantly and in an organized manner than I do. True, she or he might have more trouble communicating those thoughts; deep thinking does not guarantee good writing.
In fact, one of the reasons that philosophers are often such poor communicators is that a lot of their thoughts are so very close to the margins of human cognitive ability that there may not be words for them, yet.
But the body of work is there, and if one takes the trouble to delve deeply enough into the canon of just about any of the great philosophers, one will see that it's all of a piece, like a carefully woven carpet. .
I can't be bothered to do that much careful work, even just in my head. I tend to be content with hitting the high spots, and leaving the valleys (some canyons, I suspect) unexplored. Unfortunately, I also cannot be bothered to try too hard to understand some of the more obscure philosophers. So not only am I not a Philosopher, I am not a very learned Philosophy Student.
And I am certainly not a scientist; not enough discipline, energy or patience. I greatly admire scientists, because of their discipline, energy and patience, but I do not envy them, because - except for a few brief moments in my youth - I never actually aspired to do what they do.
Avidly, I want to learn what they learn, but I can do that without the pain and stress they put up with.
Scientists publish everything; even their mistakes. They aren't really trying to communicate with me, but with each other, so they usually don't go out of their way to make their results easily understandable.
But there are enough people like me that the popularization of science is a big journalistic endeavor. One can, with only a smattering of mathematics and modern physics...and very little actual chemistry at all...become a perfectly respectable Science Buff.
I am not a philosophy buff because I simply don't respect the work enough. Having myself some superficial experience in the process of building intellectual edifices, I think I can at least see how it is done, and the process doesn't impress me.
In the first place even a cursory study of the history of philosophy reveals that the discipline has been a colossal failure, according to its own aims and definitions.
Theoretical philosophy, at least, has solved none of the great problems it has undertaken and answered none of the more intractable questions it presumes to ask. We have no clear idea why we are here, for one thing; or what we are supposed to be doing; or what is true; or good; or even what is real.
This is because philosophy has this one great, glaring weakness, which renders all its conclusions suspect; and that is the uncertain nature of all First Premises.
However carefully a body of philosophy is constructed, it is always - at its foundation - built upon thin air.
For example, most of the (post-Greek) respected philosophers of Western Civilization have historically been Christian or Jewish men.
Though a few of them were not Believers or Observant, the origin of their patterns of thought lay in Judeo-Christian culture, which means they held certain unthinking and often ill-explored attitudes about non-Judeo-Christian thinkers; and about the women who made up roughly 50% of their own culture; which indelibly stained their conclusions about some of the most fundamental elements of humanity.
I have somewhat the same cavil against "Oriental," "Native American," and the various tribal philosophies I become aware of. I find some interesting ideas in non-Judeo-Christian philosophies; interesting chiefly because the latter do not treat these ideas, so they are fresh and attention-commanding.
But the Great Flaw of the First Premise haunts them, as well. (It's Turtles all the way down!)
And I suspect that philosophy, as a discipline, is far too enamored of vocabulary. Indeed, there seems to be in philosophy a prejudice that the human animal cannot even think without words.
Now, as a profound word-head, myself; whose only possible art is literature; I understand this prejudice. And as a person who is in contact with a great variety of other artists, I understand all too well that it is a prejudice, and a blind one.
I have a son who is a photographer and magazine art director and a wife who is a ballet choreographer. Some philosophers would say that what they do is "pre-literate."
I would prefer "extra-literate." After all, the walls of Lascaux and Altamira illustrate a sophistication of mind in some members of the human species tens of thousands of years ago which we still have not found words for...
So I fear that I am not in awe of philosophy.
A caveat, here: For me, a philosophy based firmly in science is an order of magnitude more respectable than one based in pure metaphysics; or even one based in some abstract definition of "objective thought."
At any rate, it becomes readily apparent that I am too disrespectful of philosophy, and too lazy to do the work of science, so my best alternative is to be a Theologian.
Now some people will object that I cannot be a Theologian because there is an implied oxymoron in the fact that I do not believe in god. No Theos, no Theology.
I submit that the various concepts of god throughout human awareness are so different -- often mutually exclusive -- that my nomination of The Great Unknown, the Universe, itself, as as much of a Theos as any of the more conventionally metaphysical deities, is both logical and undeniable.
True, I have said that I do not personally believe that the Universe is God.
But if there had to be a god, The Unknown , plus a small and admittedly changeable body of Objective Fact, would have to fill the bill for me.
And since I realize how tenuous and ultimately unprovable any of this is, I am a Theologian.
I am not selling rationality; that is the province of Science and of Scientific Philosophy.
I am selling a Rational Religion. It is based in Science and Scientific Philosophy, but it is still a system of belief, outside the practices of science and philosophy...
And it carries a heavy component of aesthetics, which is as profoundly metaphysical as you can get.
I attempt to define this system of thought and occasionally even to refine it. I am therefore a Theologian; a reluctant one; but a Theologian, nevertheless.