He needed certainty or he was lost and this made him miserable and everyone around him miserable. Cartesian disease, the belief that one cannot know without being sure, had infected him like so many moderns and left him with nothing.
This lost man felt justified, because he was reacting to people who did not care about facts, science, or data. They believed what they wished and if they had known the term would have called any problem that disturbed them “fake news.”
He was a religious man, smart, but sidelined, not by doubt, but by the worry about having doubts. He thought doubt was bad, but doubt is natural, the spur to reaching maturity. Children need certainty, but adults thrive in wondering. Even in areas where we gain something like certainty (God’s existence, the love of our family, some ideas in math and science), adults use that certainty for more questions. We are not restless, but adventurous.
We are Bilbo going off without his pocket handkerchief. He did not need it as much as he needed adventure and we need certainty much less than we need good questions that lead to better answers. In a world full of ideas, we get to look and see before settling.
Students often wonder what I think about certain thinkers and a Crown student asked me:
Whom do you side with more Plato, Aristotle, or someone else?
And the answer is: it depends. Plato has a better philosophy of science (Timeaus), but Aristotle understands human weaknesses and this makes his ethics more sensible. Plato is the greater writer, given what we have of Aristotle, but Aristotle’s clarity poses interesting problems. (Metaphysics Zeta!)
And then there is: someone else. I love Quine, even when I do not agree with him, because he is bold and precise. John Locke gets revolution right and helped form the sort of government the best men have yet devised. Burke hesitates over change and defends beauty. Every time I go someplace new, or pick up a new book, I find interesting ideas (LKY!).I cannot pick, though if I must: Plato, always I am drawn back to Plato.
This life of faith seeking understanding is jolly and is possible, because of Jesus. He is (see John 1:1) the Word that (as the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus also suggested) is the ground, the starting point, of our quest. We are not certain of Him either, since He is a person. Nobody should ever take a person for granted. Nobody who meets Jesus will.
Inside a commitment to Him, I find a commitment to faith: the pursuit of the wise, just, and joyful.
There are good ideas out there, many I do not understand, I have committed myself to the One who seems best. We will see, because certainty is not available before death brings the final reality. This uncertain, yet bold trust is one way of thinking of faith. We have faith that justice is better than injustice, even though the unjust seem to get so many of the prizes of life. We are not sure, because of bitter experience, but our reason, revelation, and deep experience of justice teach us: justice prevails, trust, believe.
The just will live by faith.
Thank you, Jesus.