Saturday, March 02, 2013

Turning East

I'd like to recommend to anyone who is of a philosophical bent a new book published by St. Vladimir Seminary Press entitled Turning East: Contemporary Philosophers and the Ancient Christian Faith. It is a collection of 16 essays written by 16 different--really different--contemporary philosophers who have become Orthodox Christians as adults.

Each essay shares with the reader personal and philosophical factors that influenced each particular philosopher's journey to the Ancient Christian Faith. The stories vary wildly. Atheists, doubters, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Baptists and Buddhists. Philosophers from all sorts of religious and personal backgrounds who have found their way into the Holy Orthodox Church. However, as diverse as their personal backgrounds are, their philosophical perspectives are even more diverse.

I have to admit, this is what most surprised me. I had expected to find an obvious philosophical commonality among these converts. I expected to find reoccurring themes, a well tread philosophical path. But this is not what I found. I'd like to list here some of the different philosophical schools of thought the various authors adhere to, but I had better not. I've actually never had a class in philosophy, and I'm afraid that I would really botch it up if I tried to match the authors with the actual names of their schools of philosophy. I'm no philosopher, just a curious onlooker.

It is probably somewhat of a backhanded complement that an armchair philosopher like me would recommend this book. I'm sure real philosophers will enjoy it even more than I did--if they are willing to ride along with some philosophers whose assumptions and perspectives they may philosophically reject. My advantage here is that I am sufficiently ignorant to be in awe of all of them. I have just enough understanding to follow the gist of each story--even if I'm not sure about some of the words--but I am blissfully ignorant enough not to have an opinion of my own. Each philosopher's reasoning seems convincing to me.

If there is a unifying theme among the essays, it is not philosophical. It's experiential. In most of the essays, the philosopher recounts some significant experience(s) with mystical reality that is crucial in his or her journey. These encounters make all of the difference.

Reading these essays, I have thought a great deal about the twelve Apostles. Each Apostle is so different. Peter is brash and confident. Andrew, the quiet leader. Thomas, the dour doubter. John, the gentle mystic. Philip, the practical one. All of the Apostles encountered Jesus, and that's what made the difference. How Jesus spoke to each one, and more importantly, how each one heard Jesus, is different.  Words do not have just one meaning (which, I realize, is a specific philosophical position--even if I don't know what it is called). Jesus speaks, and each hears as he or she is able, as he or she is willing. Some, at least one of the Twelve, don't hear at all.  

Each journey to Christ is different, as different and unique as is each person. The encounter with Christ, however, is essential. At some point, we each must in some small way touch the mystical, spiritual reality of things. Some of us are pretty dull. Some of us need a sledge hammer-like encounter. For others, a gentle wind is sufficient. We each may have different reasons, different ways of talking about it; but at the end of the day, Orthodox theology is not about words or concepts or reasonings. Orthodox theology is encounter with God. Orthodox theology is experience, experience that may or may not submit to conceptualization (or even allegorization), may or may not be put into words, may or may not fit into this or that or any philosophical framework.  

The stories and reasonings of these 16 philosophers are worth reading not only for the challenging mental exercise each puts the reader through, but also for the sheer joy of seeing how the Holy Spirit calls and leads 16 very different and very smart people to Christ in the Holy Orthodox Church.


Ostensive Lyme said...

Dear Fr Michael;
It's looking like you need a stronger spam blocker. :(

I think it's a sign of popularity that you're getting these junk comments. so there's that at least. :)

Thanks for the tip about the book- I would like to check it out.

Rose ASL said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I can't wait to read it!