Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
February 22, 2010
Christian philosophy unites faith, reason
Newman philosopher questions relativism, says human rights and dignity have rational foundation
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
SHERWOOD PARK - In the modern age, studying philosophy is more important than ever.
Fusing philosophical ideas with the theological doctrines of Christianity is an area of interest for Jason West, a philosophy professor at Newman Theological College, which is temporarily housed in Sherwood Park.
"Particularly in this day and age, studying philosophy is crucial because many of the controversial problems that we have are largely philosophical ones, issues about relativism and truth," said West.
"Pope Benedict, before he was elected pope, just after John Paul II's death, referred to relativism as the greatest danger to the faith today."
Truth relativism is a concept arguing that no one can ever know the truth about anything. That view states that there are no absolute truths, and what is true for one person is not necessarily true for another. For West, he said what is under attack is reason itself.
"Theology is reflecting on God and our life in light of faith that's been revealed. What the philosopher tries to do is look at what we can know about God and human life ethics. These are various areas from the point of view of our natural ability to understand things," said West.
FOUNDED ON REASON
The Christian philosopher would draw his inspiration from the Bible, but he must have good reasons for his viewpoints, and he must mesh the sometimes-divergent views of Christianity and philosophy in a coherent way.
West has served as president of the Canadian Society for Christian Philosophers since 2008. It's a non-denominational community of scholars with an interest in Christianity and philosophy. Members, primarily university teachers and a handful of graduate students, present their research at an annual conference in May. This year's conference is in Montreal.
Studying philosophy at Newman is far different from other technical training that students would get through more standard courses. In philosophy courses, the focus is on research, publication and the exploration of complex problems relevant to the modern day.
"We would really be missing something if we just went through textbooks from 10 years ago. We'd be sending people out unprepared to deal with the problems of our world," he said.
Starting in the 1930s, there was a big debate over the difference between philosophy and Christian philosophy. Some view Christian philosophy as nothing more than a means of using philosophy to defend one's own doctrines of faith.
"When you really place your thought and your life in the context of faith, there are certain issues and certain approaches to them which come to light that you wouldn't have discovered otherwise.
"When we reflect on the fact Christ is God-become-man that tells us something quite striking about the dignity of the human person, which the philosopher can then meditate on. We can develop our notion of human rights."
West argues that human rights have a philosophical basis. Historically the world would not have discovered those rights without Christianity, or at least not in the form that we have today. Christianity focuses its attention on certain types of problems that might not otherwise get any attention if we lived our lives in a different way.
"By reflecting on what God has revealed to us of plans for our lives and plans for the world, we can then take that in light of our own experience and knowledge, and it gives us clues as to how to discover our own world through philosophy."
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