25 January 2007

All Truth is God's Truth

In the previous and penultimate posts, we’ve been talking about how to teach an introductory philosophy course in a Christian high school setting. An excellent topic has arisen, so I’d like to address it here. Several readers have pointed out to me the benefits—indeed, even the necessity—of teaching students multiple perspectives on issues, making them knowledgeable about the basic tenets of various religions & philosophies, or at the very least cultiviating broader minds by making them aware of conflicting interpretations & worldviews. I entirely agree, & wanted to talk about it a bit more now.

I mentioned that I’ll be teaching my philosophy class (if anyone signs up for it!) at a Christian school, so while I may make multiple perspectives available for consideration, I mayn’t teach those perspectives per se in so far as they contradict the Bible. And when we do discuss them, we’ll probably proceed to “debunk” worldviews contradictory to our own. But I’m having more thoughts.

Rosie reminded me that while my school “might have a policy that doesn’t allow you to let kids read any sections of the primary texts from other religions” [I don’t think it does], and “in such a short class you obviously don't have time to present more than just the bare minimum about other philosophies,” “if you do end up teaching the students to consider other religions, be thoughtful what secondary texts you choose.” I agree. Because, she says, lots of Christian books about other religions take cheap shots at them & debunk them too easily, by setting up the other guy’s arguments weakly & then tumbling them down. By making strawmen & then setting fire to them. That’s not real dialogue; that’s not true learning. Thank you for the timely words!

Because, just yesterday in one of my literature classes, my youngest students (ages 10-14), on their own, carried on a fantastic conversation about the Problem of Evil. The discussion leader, an 8th grader, led the class on a great romp through Nancy Willard’s The Tale of Paradise Lost, a prose retelling of Milton’s epic. Well, then this young lady asked, of her own accord, “I have a question. If Heaven was perfect, how could Satan even get the idea to choose evil over good? I understand the whole concept of free will, but how could there even be an option of evil? Where did it come from?” And off they went. I love these kids. And they talked, and debated, and came up with glorious ideas all on their own while I sat silent for a good 20 minutes or so. They made suggestions such as:

- The Bible says Heaven will be perfect in the future, when God makes a new Heaven & a New Earth, but maybe He didn’t make the first one perfect?
- Maybe God has to create balance, like the yin/yang: maybe He had to make even amounts of good & evil in the universe.
- Maybe “bad” isn’t so bad in the long run; at least, this isn’t God’s plan B, but He planned everything to happen the way it did, even Eve eating the fruit & all, & He will work it out for good in the end.
- Maybe God make a mistake when He made Lucifer.
- What is evil? Is it a thing at all?
& many more I cannot well recall. I loved it. & I tried not to offer any answers until the very end; even when I spoke once, I just added more questions or guided the conversation onto tracks not yet trodden. At the very end I offered Augustine’s solution, & reminded them that Christianity excludes dualism.

But I say all this to thank everyone for reminding me of the importance of open discussion. And to encourage myself along those lines as I think about philosophy.

As Rosie said, & Schaeffer said before her, “There are some bits of truth and beauty in other religions, and in all fairness, we have to acknowledge that, even if they are totally misguided about the central figure of our faith and of universal truth, Jesus Christ.” So part of my job is to point out the beautiful & true bits, while teaching my kids how to talk to those who see only the beauty & truth, & don’t perceive the error.

1 comment:

Rosie Perera said...

Wow, I'm very impressed with your students! And with how you give them the freedom to think on their own. When I was in 8th grade, we weren't having discussions like that. We were trying to memorize what the teacher told us so we could do well on the tests. And that's when we were being good...