Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Divine Callings, but One God

Divine Callings, But One God
            The story of Mary and Martha was popular in the Middle Ages and was used to compare the active versus the contemplative life. Gregory writes, “Those two women well signify these two ways of life, viz, Martha and Mary, one of whom was cumbered about much serving but the other sat at the Lord’s feet and heard His words. But when Martha complained against her sister because she neglected to help her the Lord replied saying: ‘Martha, thou art careful and art troubled about many things; But one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part which shall not be taken away from her’(Lk.12:41-42, GT, 239). Gregory adds, “Martha’s part is not censured but Mary’s is praised” (GT, 239). Gregory seems to present a balanced perspective of these two ways of life, the active and the contemplative.
            Paul states, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not have the same function. . .” (ESV, Rom.12:4). In Corinthians, he writes, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” (ESV, I Cor. 12:4). These two scriptural references support the idea that there are a variety of callings, but the same God. The question is--are the active life and the contemplative life different callings or are they different aspects of a person’s life? St. Thomas Aquinas states, “It is necessary for the perfection of human society that there should be men who devote their lives to contemplation.” Aquinas seems to think that the active life and the contemplative life are different callings.
            Before taking a position on whether or not the active and contemplative life are different callings we must define these two concepts. Gregory writes, “So the active life is to give bread to the hungry, to teach the ignorant with the word of wisdom, to set aright the lost, to recall a proud neighbor to the life of humility, to care for the weak. . . (GT, 238). In contrast, Gregory says of the contemplative life, “Truly the contemplative life is to hold fast with the whole mind, at least to the charity of God, our neighbor but to abstain from external action; to cleave to the sole desire for the Creator, so that the only recourse for the spirit is, scorning all cares, to burn to see the face of its Creator. . .” (238). Gregory warns us of two dangers. The first danger is to falsely think that busyness is a characteristic of the active life. The second danger is to abandon doing good works.

            It is true that all Christians need to pursue an inward, contemplative life reflecting on their relationship with God. Second, it seems true that all Christians are called to practice good works. Most Christians, probably, lean closer either to the active or the contemplative life. In addition, at different times in the Christian journey either the active or the contemplative life will be more prominent. Finally, it is true that some Christians are called to pursue the contemplative life, and others, the active life. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Why Choose the Liberal Arts?

Mark William Roche, Why Choose the Liberal Arts? Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010. 198 pages. ISBN 978-0-268-04032-1

Mark William Roche is the Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, C. S. C., Professor of German Language and Literature and Concurrent Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. From 1997 to 2008, Roche served as dean of Notre Dame's College of Arts and Letters. Roche, in Why Choose the Liberal Arts?, presents three overarching reasons for liberal arts education: "First, its intrinsic value, or the distinction of learning for its own sake, the sheer joy associated with exploring the life of the mind and asking the great questions that give meaning to life; second, the cultivation of those intellectual virtues that are requisite for success beyond the academy; a liberal arts education as preparation for a career; and third, character formation and the development of a sense of vocation, the connection to a higher purpose or calling" (10). These three reasons serves as a sort of road map for the book. In part one of the book the author argues that a liberal arts education engages the great questions of life. It asks questions about the purpose of life. In part two Roche shows how a liberal arts education cultivates both intellectual and practical virtues. He suggests that a liberal arts education "helps students develop formal virtues, such as the ability to listen, analyze, weigh evidence, and articulate a complex view" (52). Forming character is the focus of part three. The author states, "Often neglected within a culture that elevates critical thinking is formation, the goal of helping students develop virtues, build character, and gain a sense of vocation, the moral and social purpose of education" (102). A holistic education is the subject of the final section of the book. According to Roche, "The threefold value of a liberal arts education involves an experience of intrinsic value, the development of formal skills and capacities, and a recognition of greater purpose and service to others, including a modest overestimation of one's abilities, with the recognition that one must stretch to reach one's potential" (149). Roche believes that a liberal arts education "entails the goal of educating the whole person" (6). The author believes that a liberal arts education will not only prepare the student for a career, but even more important, it will help them to fulfill their personal calling.

What are the liberal arts? The author explains that its origin is found in the ancient world. Roche writes, "The term has its origin in the medieval concept of artes liberalis, the seven liberal arts that were appropriate for a free man in contrast to the artes illiberalis or artes mechanicae, which were pursued for economic purposes and involved vocational and practical arts, which prepared young persons to become weavers, blacksmiths, farmers, hunters, navigators, soldiers, or doctors" (5). The seven liberal arts were made up of the trivium--grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic--and the quadrivium which was made up of geometry, arithmetic, music, and astronomy. These areas have been expanded in our own time. Roche states, "In contemporary liberal arts education, in contrast to the specialized orientation of professional or technical curricula, students receive a general education that is a broad grounding in the diverse disciplines" (5). In other words, a liberal arts education is not professional training, technical training, nor training for a career. It is the cultivation of the mind and moral character. Education is in some sense should make us human. Roche asserts, "the liberal arts ideal entails the goal of educating the whole person, which presupposes a meaningful community of learning and a rich residential experience. Its success demands intensive intellectual dialogue among students and between students and faculty across the diverse spheres of human inquiry and concerning the highest of human values. The formal dimensions of discussion and active student engagement are as much distinguishing characteristics of a liberal arts education as is the curricular content" (6). Let us try to unpack these ideas. First, he suggests that the goal of liberal arts education is to educate the whole person. This seems to imply educating the mind, soul, and body. This idea has been an emphasis in the Jesuit community since its founding. There is a tendency among some who want to say education is only about educating the mind. However, historically, liberal arts education has emphasized educating students intellectually, morally, and religiously. Second, he argues that education does not only occur in the classroom. It is something that occurs outside of the classroom in conversations between students and faculty, and students with students.

A liberal arts education is built upon Socratic questioning and active learning. Roche states, "For Socrates it was clear that we learn effectively when we pursue questions ourselves and seek the answers ourselves" (6). This is what is called active learning. The author writes, "The student is actively engaged in the learning process, asking questions, being asked questions, pursuing often elusive answers in dialogue with others" (6). The learning is actually taking place inside of the student. Some people false believe that education is knowledge being "poured like water from one larger container to an emptier one" (6). This reminds me of a conversation I had many years ago in Tastee's  Donuts. The owner's wife that many of my students were making bad grades. She was wondering why I was not learning them. I could not because learning is a personal responsibility. To learn anything we must be actively involved. Socrates second principle is that active learning take place when it is meaningful to the student. This happens when students "are engaged in meaningful discussions, asking questions that will determine who they are and what they think about life's most significant issues" (6). What is a person? What is life's purpose? A third principle beyond active learning and meaningful learning is "engaging great issues through a question-and-answer format" which prepares the student for "further learning" (7). To know something means more than the ability to repeat what the teacher said which seems to be a common practice in formal schooling. Instead, it is to be "able to give reasons and arguments for that truth; this level of reflection ensures that the student will be able to defend a view against the arguments of future opponents instead of simply succumbing to their persuasive rhetoric; will be ready to apply knowledge in changing circumstances; and will be equipped to build on existing knowledge and extend it, via the same principle of searching inquiry and rational reflection, into new areas" (7). This is why indoctrination is not real education. True education helps the student to think for themselves. It provides them with the tools to be life-long learners. Education means to "lead out, to bring out from within" (7). In Montaigne's essays on education he encourages students "not simply to listen and receive wisdom based on authority, but instead grasp the value of doubting, learn to own knowledge independently, and to be able to apply it in new and unexpected contexts" (7). Many studies have documented that students "learn more when they are themselves existentially engaged and active in the learning process, and when they themselves generate their own questions" (8). This is the type of education pursued in liberal learning. Roche asserts, "Liberal arts students are frequently engaged in those activities that involve student-centered learning, such as small discussion classes, seminar papers, discussions outside of class with peers, service learning, study abroad, and independent research projects, including senior theses" (8). This type of learning is most prominent is small residential liberal arts colleges. However, liberal learning can take place in other contexts. This type of learning can even "resurface" in graduate schools which emphasize the great questions and "foster a community of learning" (10).


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Faith and Learning

John of Salisbury, The Metalogicon

Faith and Learning in John of Salisbury’s The Metalogicon
            Some Christians are suspicious of Liberal Arts Education, Higher Education and the life of the mind. Others see an unbridgeable gulf built between faith and liberal learning. Some Christians think that believers should only read Christian books. I was told by friends that going to a public university might endanger my faith. Personally, I experienced a separation between the life of learning and the life of faith as a college student. It seemed that my church emphasized the life of faith; while, the university emphasized reason. I spent most of my undergraduate years bringing these two worlds together--the life of the mind and the life of faith. Has this conflict between faith and learning always existed? Tertullian did say, “What does Jerusalem have to do with Athens?” However, this was a minority position in the Christian Church. The release of a twelfth century work on education, The Metalogicon by John of Salisbury provides an example of the relationship of faith and learning in the Middle Ages. McGarry states that this work might even be the birth of modern pedagogy. The Metalogicon was originally completed in 1159 and it is basically “a defense of logic in its broad sense” (xvi).
John of Salisbury (ca. 1115-1180) studied with many of the greatest scholars of the twelfth century. John served as an aide for Thomas Beckett, a friend of the papal court, and secretary to Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury. He was befriended by Louis VII and appointed to the episcopate of Chartres. The Metalogicon  is a defense of the liberal arts. McGarry asserts, “In theology, its concept of the cooperative relation between faith and reason suggests the maxim of mutual corroboration accepted by thirteenth-century thinkers” (xxvi). It is amazing how conversant its author was with both pagan and Christian writers. In this work, the author argues the compatibility of both faith and learning. In addition, John thinks moral education is as important as intellectual education.
Even though the author was quite busy with “administrative concerns and trifles of court life,” he thought it was necessary to answer Cornificius who “claimed that logical studies are useless” (9). John describes Cornificius, “Barring no means in his effort to console himself for his own want of knowledge, he has contrived to improve his own reputation by making many others ignoramuses like himself” (9). It seems that Cornificius discouraged people from studying the liberal arts. The author states that Cornificius and his followers “preferred remaining foolish to learning the truth from the humble, to whom God gives grace. Having prematurely seated themselves in the master’s chair, they blush to descend to the pupil’s bench”(17). In other words, they are not teachable. They lack the virtue of humility. John repeatedly makes the point that the intellectual life needs the moral virtues.  In addition, he discouraged people from learning eloquence. John writes, “I consequently wonder (though not sufficiently, as it is beyond me) what is the real aim of one who denies that eloquence should be studied; who asserts that it comes as a natural gift to one who is not mute, just as sight does to one who is not blind, and hearing to one who is not deaf; and who further maintains that although nature’s gift is strengthened by exercise, nothing is to be gained by learning the art [of eloquence], or at least that the benefit accruing is not worth the effort that must be expended” (9). John is strongly opposed to this idea arguing instead, “Just as eloquence, unenlightened by reason, is rash and blind, so wisdom, without the power of expression, is feeble and maimed. He believes that the end of education is wisdom and eloquence. This idea was also believed by Greek and Roman writers, including Cicero.
John also argues for the importance of effort in our studies. The student must help nature by “use and exercise” (28). In addition, they must curb their appetites. He thinks it is important that a student has an aptitude for learning, but talent without hard work is useless. He uses Scaurus Rufus as an example. He “was far from naturally bright, but that by assiduously employing his meager natural talents, he became so accomplished that he even called Cicero himself a barbarian” (30). In other words, students can improve their minds if they put forth the effort. John argues, “just as natural ability easily deteriorates when neglected, so it is strengthened by cultivation and care” (30). In the rest of book I he discusses logic, grammar, and the liberal arts. John states, “The nature of art, the various kinds of innate abilities, and the fact that natural talents should be cultivated and developed by the arts” (33). In other words, art is the means for developing the intellectual virtues. There are different types of art. In describing the liberal arts, he notes, “The liberal arts are said to have become so efficacious among our ancestors, who studied them diligently, that they enabled them to comprehend everything they read, elevated their understanding to all things, and empowered them to cut through the knots of all problems of solutions” (36). The liberal arts enables the student to acquire knowledge and the skills of reading, writing, listening, speaking, and thinking. John states that grammar “is the science of speaking and writing correctly--the starting point of all liberal studies” (37). Grammar is the foundation, the beginning of all learning. Liberal studies provides the tools for lifelong learning. The author asserts, “Furthermore, do not our forefathers tell us that liberal studies are so useful that one who has mastered them can, without a teacher, understand all books and everything written (63)?” There is a close connection between books and learning as stated by Schall in The Life of the Mind.
Book II defines logic and reasoning and shows how it is valuable to “all fields of philosophy” (74). He defines logic as “the science of argumentative reasoning which provides a solid basis for the whole activity of prudence” (74). Prudence is practical wisdom and it the “root of all the virtues” (74). It seems prudence is both an intellectual and a moral virtue. It connects the moral and intellectual virtues together. The author says that the most desirable thing is wisdom, “whose fruit consists in the love of what is good and the practice of virtue” (74). He believes that the “human mind must apply itself to the quest of wisdom” (74). He shows how the moral and intellectual life are related in this part of his book. This is a theme that is prominent in The Great Tradition.

In Book III he speaks of the need for temperance in the moral life by saying that not every disputable issue should be debated. He writes, “Many subjects do not admit of disputation. Some transcend human reasoning, and are consecrated entirely to faith” (201). This agrees with what Thomas Aquinas taught about the relationship between faith and reason. Some things can be known by reason; other things can only be known by faith. In addition, John says faith and reason are different things. He would argue that the student needs both faith and reason in the quest for wisdom.    

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Dante and Divine Calling

Divine Calling
            Many people search for meaning in their life.  I tried to find this meaning in different things like the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes. I always felt there was something missing in my life. When I was eighteen I became a Christian and it gave me meaning and a purpose for living. Not long after, I believed God was calling me to be a preacher or a missionary. To fulfill this calling, I needed a college education. The college degree would a stepping stone to ministerial education in Seminary.
Dante in the third part of the Divine Comedy encounters Picarda in the first circle of heaven. He asks her why she is in the first circle of heaven. Picarda told him that she had made a commitment to join the order of Clare of Assisi. She stated, “Following her (Clare of Assisi), when young I fled the world and donned the habit of sisterhood” (Canto 3. 103-104). However, she was taken from the monastery and forced to marry. Beatrice further clarifies Picarda’s choice, saying, “In such a case I’d have you understand that will and force commingle and prevent excuse for the offense. Unto the evil, absolute will refuses its consent, but when contingent will yields to the fear of falling to worse harm should it withstand, will does consent” (Canto 4.106-112). Beatrice seems to be saying that Picarda sinned by not staying faithful to her calling. In addition, it implies that we have a choice in the type of life we live.
Understanding God’s own call in my own life has been difficult. God reveals His calling to different people in different ways. Charles Martel in Dante’s Paradise says, “The Good that turns and soothes with fullest peace all the realm you’re climbing, lends these grand bodies the power to form what It foresees, Providing for the natures of mankind, with all that’s fit to make them whole-- for that is also in that perfect Mind. So all the powers this heavenly bow may shoot must fall well aimed to strike the end foreseen, just as a thing directed to its goal” (Canto 8. 98-105). On the one hand, it seems we have the free choice to respond freely to God’s calling; on the other hand, God is guiding us through providence to the mission He has for our life. One of the ways He does this is by giving us gifts that will enable us to do what He wants us to do. Second, He places a desire in us to do this very thing. Third, he provides opportunities to carry out His mission.
As previously mentioned I went to college with the purpose of getting a piece of paper that would meet the educational requirement for seminary. Along the way something occurred  that changed my focus. I started off college seeing it as a means to another end. About halfway through I discovered that education was both a means and an end. I learned that education was an end in itself. I discovered in myself a passion and love of learning. By the time of my last semester in college I sensed a call to pursue the intellectual life. However, since I had planned on going to seminary I went to seminary. I soon discovered that seminary was not the place for me. So I returned to my college where I earned an undergraduate degree in history to pursue a graduate degree in history. I felt right at home.
How does one actually find his calling? There are different ways that God reveals His will to His servants. In Canto seventeen of Dante’s Paradise, Dante’s ancestor discloses Dante’s future calling. He reveals to Dante that he will be exiled from his homeland. However, these adverse circumstances will enable to pursue God’s calling for his life. Cacciaguida tells Dante, “For if your words are sharp at the first taste, they’ll leave behind a living nourishment when they have been digested at the last. This shout of yours will batter like a gale that pounds the tallest peaks with greatest force--and of its worth that’s no small argument” (Canto 17. 131-135). Dante’s calling is to be a writer, a poet, someone who works with words.
The discerning of my calling has been a slow, gradual process. In God’s providence I have been led to the vocation of librarianship and working as a college librarian. I worked in the library while I was a student in college. After finishing my graduate degree in history I was offered a job as a school librarian. The school librarian wanted to return to the classroom. I accepted the librarian position and the school paid for me to get a graduate degree in Library Science. My vocation as a librarian has enabled me to pursue my true calling, the life of learning.


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A Public Faith

Miroslav Volf, A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, Brazos Press, 2011. 174 pages.

Miroslav Volf and Ryan-McAnnally-Linz, Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity, Brazos Press, 2016. 240 pages.

Miroslav Volf is the Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School and director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. He is a native of Croatia. He leads in ecumenical and inter-faith dialogues. He is the author of over fifteen books. Some of his books are Work in the Spirit and Exclusion and Embrace. Linz was a doctoral student and research assistant under Volf.

In A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, Volf explains how theology can be applied in a pluralistic world. He asserts, "Unlike those who think religion should stay out of politics, I will argue in this book that religious people ought to be free to bring their visions of the good life into the public sphere" (x). He argues for a religious political pluralism and against religious totalitarianism. Volf's goal is to "sketch an alternative to totalitarian saturation of public life with a single religion as well as to secular exclusion of all religions from public life" (xiv). He believes that there "is no single way in which Christian faith relates and ought to relate to culture as a whole" (xv).

Volf thinks that Christian faith can malfunction in two ways. The first way he calls the "idleness of faith." One way it fails is by not shaping the lives of Christians and their "social realities." For faith not to be idle it needs to be applied to every area of life. The second malfunction Volf calls the "coerciveness of faith." Faith may seem oppressive when it is not. The author observes, "Those who affirm contemporary social polytheism will deem oppressive any faith that claims that God is the God of all reality, and they will do so no matter how the faith tries to bring God to bear on all aspects of life" (17). In addition, Volf states, "From the perspective of people who believe that faith should shape their vision of human flourishing and of the common good, speaking in a religious voice is not oppressive but salutary; they would betray themselves and make their faith malfunction if they were silent or did not give religious reasons for their positions" (17). This term "flourishing" is very important to Volf. Some Christian thinkers refer to the same idea by the term Shalom. It means a wholeness to life. Every area of life prospering and healthy. One way it is coercive is when Christians use their faith to legitimize violence. Another way is when Christians justify ungodly means for godly ends. A third way is when they force their faith on others. Volf asserts, "A coercive faith-a faith that seeks to impose itself and its way of life on others through any form of coercion" (xvi).  He believes that Christians contribute to human flourishing "not by imposing on others the vision of human flourishing and the common good but by bearing witness to Christ, who embodies the good life. All these topics are presented in Part I.

In the second part the authors analyzes an engaged faith. In chapter 5 he speaks of Christians identity and difference. He shows tow inadequate responses to pluralism is accommodation and separating from the world. The author offers a third way. He says that the best way to change the world is by engaging the culture. He believes Christians need to engage all "dimensions of culture" with their "whole being." In chapters 6 and 7 Volf describes two ways to engage culture: "witness to non-Christians and participation in public life." In chapter 6 Volf discusses that Christians are called to share wisdom. They also receive wisdom from non-Christians. One way to share wisdom is through love and forgiveness. In chapter seven he speaks of engaging publicly. The author argues for support of pluralism as a "political project." He argues that people of faith should practice "hermeneutic hospitality" to one another's sacred texts. We should allow frredoms for others that we want for ourselves. Last, it is wrong to coerce others in regards to religion and faith.

Wolf's first book was mostly about theory. It was about how Christians can  exercise their faith in the public sphere. In the second book, Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity, gives instruction on how to pursue the common good in the public sphere. The authors state, speaking of the first book, "It sketched a vision of a publicly engaged Christian faith that affirms pluralism as a political project, and it argued that the Christian faith's deepest convictions support just such an approach to public engagement" (ix-x). The second book picks up where the first book left off. It "explores what kind of virtues and commitments should inform the public engagement of the followers of Christ" (x). The book is divided into three parts. In the first part it discusses the commitments needed for public engagement. The second part discusses the convictions for public engagement. It is the biggest part of the book. The author discuss many of those issues that are discussed publicly: wealth, the environment, education, work and rest, poverty, borrowing and lending, marriage and family, new life, health and sickness, aging life, ending life, migration, policing, punishment, war, torture, and freedom of religion. This is a very helpful section for the reader. The author helps the read to see the essential points of each issue. He tries to take a position that is fair to all sides. In addition, he offers areas where there is room for debate. Lastly in each of these chapters there is an annotated bibliography for both introductory reading and advanced study.

In the last part Wolf describes the virtues needed to participate in the public sphere. He has a chapter for each virtue: courage, humility, justice, respect, and compassion. For example, the chapter on respect, the author asserts, "Every society is divided by strong disagreements about the important issues of its common life, from tax policy to immigration. Further complicating the picture, most people today live in pluralistic societies with numerous ethnic, religious, and class groups. People with different and sometimes clashing visions of the good life have to live with one another" (202). Besides, they have to live with the injustices from the past. For example, the current divide over police and racial profiling and the killing of unarmed persons. Disrespect to others just makes the situation worse and it does not conform to the character of Christ.

Wolf's two books on Public Faith are a gift to the Christian reader. The Christ is often confused by the rhetoric used on all sides. In addition, they are not sure how the Christian faith applies to these issues. It is even more confusing because there are Christians who represent all sides on the political spectrum. Currently, you often hear of a cultural war between red and blue states. It seems war is not the best metaphor since it might increase hostility. These two books will make the Christian believer more informed on these issues and how to better engage their culture.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

What Does it Mean to be Educated?

What Does it Mean to be Educated?
            Schall states that education “is not a thing (Life of the Mind, 32).” He states that education comes from the word educere which “means to bring forth, or to complete something already begun by the very fact that one is a human being” (32). In a lecture given at Faulkner University a few years ago, John Mark Reynolds stated that there are long-road students and short-road students. Short-road students want to get out of college as soon as possible to get to work or start their career. Long-road students see learning as an end in itself. They want to pursue the life of the mind for its own sake. Mortimer Adler in an essay, “Labor, Leisure, and Liberal Education” argues that the “end of liberal education. . . lies in the use we make of our leisure” (2). In this essay he distinguishes between labor and leisure. He believes vocational training is “training for work or labor.” In contrast, liberal education “is education for leisure; it is general in character; it is for an intrinsic and not an extrinsic end; and ultimately it is the education of free men” (4). Leisure is what we do in our free time. Basically, we spend one third of our time in sleep, one third of our time at work, and one third of our time in leisure pursuits. Adler defines leisure activities as “such things as thinking or learning, reading or writing, conversation or correspondence, love and acts of friendship, political activity, domestic activity, artistic and esthetic activity” (5). Adler defines education as a “process which aims at the improvement or the betterment of men, in themselves and in relation to society” (2).
            Adler thinks there are two ways men and women can be improved. First, they can be improved in their functions and talents. Second, they can be improved in the “capacities” and “functions” they share with other humans. These two ways lead to two different kinds of education. One type of education will emphasize in training men and women in respect of their similarities with other people. These two types of education can be distinguished as general and specialized education. Adler thinks we can identify specialized education with vocational education and general education with liberal education.
            If we were only workers or slaves, it would make sense to receive only vocational education or vocational training. It is more accurate to call it training since that is what it is doing. It is training the worker in specific skills for a particular job. What is the problem with vocational training? Adler would probably say nothing is wrong with it, but that it is better done on the job, not in a school. He think schooling is liberal or general education.
            A second problem with vocational education is that a person will change jobs and careers many times in a lifetime. Many people who graduate in a specific discipline work in another field when they graduate. It seems that a liberal education would serve them better than a vocational education. The reason is that a liberal education cultivate skills of writing, reading, thinking, speaking and other skills that would be applicable to many fields. The employee will easily pick up the skills needed for the job with training on the job.
            The third problem is what we are to do with our leisure time. Vocational education does not provide the skills needed for pursuing leisurely activities. Since men and women are more than workers, it fails to prepare them for lifelong development. Many people waste their free time on frivolous things that do not improve themselves. I had a friend who had his days free because of a disability he could not work anymore. However, he could still get around and his mind was still sharp. He was helpful to others, but spent much of his time watching television. I wondered, what if he spent thirty minutes to one hour every day at the library reading on some topic that was interesting to him? What would his life have been like after doing this for thirty years? Maybe, he did not receive the type of education that would have equipped him for life long learning.
            Reynolds did make an important point. The intellectual life is not for everyone. Some are short road students. They want to get out of college as quick as possible and start their career. This is fine. They still need a liberal education to be able to participate in leisurely activities: thinking or learning, reading or writing, conversation or correspondence, love and acts of friendship, political activity, domestic activity, artistic and esthetic activity. Liberal education prepares them to be free men and women. I think of my life as a long road education. My college education prepared to pursue the life of the mind.
            

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Philosophical Reflection from the Book of Ecclesiastees

Philosophical Reflections from the Book of Ecclesiastees
Human Developmentalists divide human life into different stages. Some of those stages are birth, child, youth, young adult, adult, middle age, old age, and death. The philosophical reflections of the author of the book of Ecclesiastees imply some of these stages, but it considers these stages more as seasons. Some of the seasons of life implied in Ecclesiastees are birth, youth, middle age, old age, and death. Besides the theme of the seasons of life, the reader can identify two other themes in this book. The first one is the brevity of life and the other one is to find joy or pleasure in ordinary pleasure. This essay will analyze these three themes in the book of Ecclesiastees.
The philosopher, teacher, or wise man seems to be in middle age or mid-life. He seems to be writing to the youth of his day. He asserts, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die . . . (3:1-2). The author seemed to have  tasted all that life offered in his youth. He tasted the pleasures of wine, women, and wisdom. He is now in middle age and he is reflecting on his experiences. He has certain regrets about the past. It seems his relationships did not turn out well. In his search for wisdom and the meaning of life he experienced much sorrow. He asserts, “So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. For what can the man do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done” (2:12). It seems to him that life is a never-ending circle. Whatever he does has been done before. There is nothing new “under the sun.” In his reflection he is struggling with the idea that life lacks meaning and purpose.
The philosopher reflects on both his past and future. He thinks whatever he does is temporal and it will not last. He understands that the days he has left on the earth is short. He does not seem to have the hope of life after death. He believes that life in this world is all there is. The brevity of life is a major theme of this book. It acts as bookends to the book. In the beginning he asserts, “vanity of vanities, says the preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (1:2). At the end of the book he observes, “vanity of vanities, says the preacher; all is vanity” (12:8). The term vanity seems to imply the brevity of life. No matter, what we do, death hangs over us like a cloud. All we have is today. Tomorrow is not promised to us. How can one find meaning and purpose in this life if all they do is futile, striving after the wind? The author offers hope. He believes that we can find joy in the ordinary, and this is a gift from God.