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.

16 January 2007

Proposed Philosophy Syllabus

In an earlier post, I requested help for putting together a syllabus for a little Introduction to Philosophy course I’ll be teaching in March/April. I was graced with many excellent comments & suggestions—thanks! So here I’ll post the course description & syllabus as they now stand (edited for brevity & relevance). I hope to use this blog as a forum for discussion once the class starts.

Advice is still requested!

This discussion, reading, & lecture class will look at the major concerns of philosophy in an engaging, entertaining, & enlightening way. We will ask What is philosophy? and examine the five foundational fields of philosophy: ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, aesthetics, & political philosophy. In other words, we’ll talk about how to determine right & wrong, sources and methods of knowledge, the nature of reality, the qualities of beauty, what is art, how to create the ideal state, what is the best form of government, & other topics of perennial interest. Through lively conversations, varied readings, & examinations of relevant selections from popular culture, we’ll attempt to bring the ideas of the ancient & timeless philosophers to life & to our own experience. We’ll be reading selections from Introducing Philosophy by Dave Robinson & Judy Groves & Republic by Plato. We’ll view selections from The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, Life is Beautiful & other films, & listen to Also Sprach Zarathustra (the theme music for 2001), Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony, “Eleanor Rigby,” “Bridge over Troubled Waters,” “American Dream” by Switchfoot, & other songs/pieces of music that illustrate the application of these big questions. We will spend some class periods working in hypothetical situations & applying the principles we’ve learned to them. These might include role-playing as a doctor, pastor, president, senator, teacher, etc. in ethical situations; creating an imaginary ideal society/government; enacting scenarios of absolute power; and so on. Parents should be aware that the class will regularly interact with big questions & controversial issues. We will plan to close each class with a Biblical evaluation of that day’s discussions, & apply at least one Scripture passage to each topic. The ideal class size would be no more than 15 students—but is there any such thing as an ideal class, & is it achievable in this sublunary sphere?

Week one: What is philosophy?
Definitions of the five foundational fields of philosophy: ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, aesthetics, & political philosophy.
Listen to “Eleanor Rigby,” talk about the meaning of life
Role-play scenarios of absolute power.
Watch selections from "The Man Who Could Work Miracles”
Listen to “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes & Loreena McKennit, talk about what you would do in this situation.

Week two: How to determine right & wrong
Read ___ from Introducing Philosophy
Read Gyges’ ring from Republic by Plato
Selections from Lord of the Rings
Readings from Neitzsche
Listen to Also Sprach Zarathustra
Role-playing as a doctor, pastor, president, etc. in ethical situations
Read Ten Commandments from Exodus 20; talk about the need for an absolute.

Week three: Sources and methods of knowledge
Read ___ from Introducing Philosophy
Define a priori & a postiori styles of reasoning; presuppositions, evidentialism & rationalism, etc.
as you can see, this week is still a little skimpy…

Week four: The nature of reality
Read Allegory of the Cave from Republic by Plato
Selections from The Matrix

Week five: The qualities of beauty, What is art?
Read __ from Introducing Philosophy
Selections from Life is Beautiful
Readings from My name is Asher Lev
Listen to “Bridge over Troubled Waters”

Week six: How to create the ideal state; What is the best form of government?
Listen to selections from Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony
Listen to “American Dream” by Switchfoot
Role-play creating an imaginary ideal society/government

11 January 2007

Intro to Philosophy help required

Dear readers:

In March & April I'll be teaching a six-week intro to philosophy course to high school students, & I'd love recommendations on popular culture media that would be relevant. We'll look at selections from The Republic & some Aristotle & I don't know what other primary texts, but the idea is to make this appealing & "FUN" for teenagers. What thoughts have you?

I'm planning to use The Matrix when we discuss reality & the problem of perception; The Lord of the Rings for I'm not sure what, but I have a book entitled The Lord of the Rings & Philosophy at home to read; & I'd like to add a couple more movies, some songs, & maybe one or two novels or other media. What suggestions do you have? Anybody have thoughts on Sophie's World? What other books/movies/songs most explicitly deal with the the five foundational fields of philosophy: ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, aesthetics, & political philosophy? I'm thinking of My Name is Asher Lev for aesthetics, but it might be too long for such a short course. Any thoughts on the "ideal society" question?

All recommendations welcomed! Thanks very much.

02 January 2007

January Poem of the Month

Sonnet LXIII
Pin Point

When exactly, biologically,
In time and space and in her virgin flesh
Did God’s hand make the miracle occur?
Was it when God joined His seed to hers?
Or did He modify her egg and add
The chromosomal mix to make a man?
It must have been before the cell could halve.
Perhaps her womb contained a different code
Than that of other women, from her birth,
Or from her own conception, or before.
Perhaps her mothers bore it from the first.
I like to see one moment in my mind—
But maybe God worked back the miracle through time.

~ Sørina

© 2005, Sørina Higgins. Do not use this work in any way without permission from the author.

01 January 2007

Musings on art criticism from a student's perspective

The teenage daughter of a friend of mine ponders: "what does a young Christian do who wants to become a good critic, but is trying at the same time to be merciful, generous, and open-hearted? how do we escape from being petty and small-spirited, while at the same time being truthful? if we are looking at the city as one that has the hope of a New Jerusalem, then should we look at art also as having a hope for perfection? if a key part of art is this world's brokenness, then what is the place of art, and criticism of art, in a place that is not yet fully redeemed, but which always has hope? How can artists and critics work to make wonder full 'metaphors' of the many different glints and hues of experiences? do we approach artistic pottery the same way we do a painting in a high end New York museum? or native music in the same way as an opera? how can we differentiate and change our judgment accordingly? is it the usefulness of a thing that makes one craft and another art? is it technical skill? materials? Is it the responsibility of every human to know/understand/enjoy art? is there a place for kitsch, in car windows? where, if it exists, is the place for that dry, insulting wit that critics use so often? in extremity, is art a luxury to be discarded?"

One commenter, Sam Helgerson, replies to her with some words of wisdom:

"Let me encourage you to think of criticism as an element of discernement; we must learn to speak truth in love. I think a righteous critic will:
1) Never attack the artist, merely the art. Personal attacks have no place in responsible criticism.
2) Understand that all art is contextual. My failure to appreciate a particular piece of art may be because I do not live in his/her world.
3) Assess whether the artist is inept. Some artists may not be worth criticizing. Look at other examples of the artist's work and see what they are capable of. The point of criticism, in a Christian setting, is redemptive. If criticism cannot redeem the art or correct error, one might be wise to move along.
4) Stay humble. I have known critics (and, perhaps, I have been critics) who were overly impressed with their critical abilities and the *destruction* of an artist. This helps no one, least of all, the critic.
5) Practice, and be committed to, an art. I believe it was Michaelangelo who said 'Critique by creating.' Remain an artist, foremost, and let one's criticism be an expression of the standards to which any artist ought to aspire. There are artists I respect though I do not like their work (and vice versa)."

I couldn't have put it better myself. Any further thoughts on the questions Hannah raises?