I had a moment's glimpse last night of a great philosophy class for our time. The danger for me and people like me is that I love the truth. I love the truth whether it has any obvious immediate benefit or not. There are students who want that and I hope there continue to be places where those students can get it, dreamy places where thinkers and students can sit together by the river Cam and think deeply.
But what most people need in a philosophy course at a Christian university are the tools to think truly and coherently about the life most of them are going to live. Philosophy in the majority of the academy should be about learning how to think logically and learning how to engage the issues of the day in a helpful and profound way. For a Christian college or university, it should help them consider Christian ways of thinking about the world, recognizing that there is often more than one way even a Christian can process things.
Last night, after a mid-term, until the thunderstorm warning went off, we pondered a little the philosophy of history. It struck me how relevant this topic was, because there is a narrative of decline assumed among most American conservative Christians. Maybe it is true but it is an interpretation.
I immediately felt guilty. I had put this topic in a backwater of the course, the mindless time in the second half of an evening class after the mid-term. But this was one of the most important topics of the course. What skills are needed to be discerning about interpretations of history?
We interpret history all the time. I'm not so interested as a philosophy teacher that a student adopt my interpretation but I want them to know that they have inherited an interpretation. Are the things you hear about Thomas Jefferson in the public school lies, as David Barton says? Has the Western world been on a decline since Aquinas? Since the Reformation? Since the Enlightenment? Since they took prayer out of the public schools? Or is it all up, up, and away, until there will be no cats in America and the streets will be paved with cheese?
For just a moment, I had a vision of the philosophy course the American Christian college needs...