I want to have it all

Sometimes two apparently incompatible conclusions both speak to us, and we find ourselves torn.

I remember how I once, as a teenager, spoke to a college-aged friend about his introduction to philosophy class. He made me laugh. “In class I hear all the arguments about why free will must exist, and I’m utterly convinced,” he said, “and then the next day I go to class and learn all the reasons why free will is impossible, and I find them just as convincing! What am I supposed to do?”

If you’ve studied any Christian theology, and not even just at the most introductory level, you’ll probably have seen Christian or biblical thought opposed to Greek philosophy, most often to the detriment of the Greek. Those Platonists hated the body, don’t you know, and couldn’t wait to be released from it, because they didn’t realize that the body is such a vital part of human existence and a good gift from God! Even those theologians who are determined not to make a strawman of Greek philosophy still find themselves subtly drawing comparisons and oppositions, since it is so natural, even unavoidable.

But then what happens to those who love the biblical things and also love what the Greeks thought?

There are two ways to resolve these oppositions within us. One is by the will, and one is by intellect.

It is a mistake to decide these intellectual matters simply by force of will, but it is hard to resist. We know that two things cannot both be entirely true, and we know that we have no intellectual way of deciding competently between them. So then we must pick one or the other, familiarize ourselves with the best arguments for it, and then commit, and become the enemies of whoever has chosen otherwise.

The other possibility , besides arbitrary decision, is to seek understanding of both sides, to grasp them both perfectly enough that eventually one of them clearly and justly is seen to get the better of the other. This must be our choice. This is the only responsible way to settle the conflict.

But in the meantime, we have to hold both sides as possible, as reasonable options.

I’m not in favour of a lazy subjectivism where nothing is ever wrong. I really think we should actually roll up our sleeves and get to work seeing how strong each side of the debate really is. But until we’ve accomplished that, we have to be okay with living in uncertainty.

This may mean a lot of uncomfortable uncertainty. Take the biblical vs Greek question, for instance; in order to adjudicate between these two responsibly, at least several years worth of reading and study would be required. And focusing on that question will mean delaying our investigation of other questions that people love to be opinionated about, of politics and economics and ethics and certain practical scientific debates, among other things. It all takes time! So we need to use our time well, and in the meanwhile, admit that we don’t know the answers and can’t rule out even incompatible options. It’s a lot more fun than it might initially appear.

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