JTS: Intro to Phil
Session 8: Briefing Note
GEM 03:11:26

 Philosophy, the Church and the Caribbean



1. Virtuous Enlightenment vs. Vicious "Endarkenment"

2. "For Such a Time as This"

3. Towards Action: Philosophically informed, Prophetic Leadership

For Discussion or Reflection

References & Readings


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INTRODUCTION: Having explored the nature, tools and major topics of philosophy, in the context of the challenge of prophetic Christian intellectual and cultural leadership in and beyond the Caribbean, the natural final topic is the outlook for philosophy in the church’s ministry in the region in the century ahead. To do so, we will first use the concept of epistemological virtues to highlight the importance of appropriate concerns, visions and habits as a gateway leading to true enlightenment based on godly wisdom. In this light, we will then be able to appreciate the issues and challenges now confronting the church and the wider region.

1.         Virtuous Enlightenment vs. Vicious “Endarkenment”

Over the past several centuries, given the corrosive impact of Descartes’ radical skepticism and associated trends such as positivism and the emergence of modernity asnd post-/ hyper- modernity, epistemology has been the dominant theme in the Western philosophical tradition. As a result, two key intellectual issues -- (1) What do we know rather than merely believe or imagine? (2) How do we know that we know, how reliably? – lurk just below the surface of the Western-influenced mind.

So, in an era in which “enlightenment” and “progress” are still powerful appeals, Jesus’ warnings about counterfeit enlightenment – what we could for want of a better word call “endarkenment” -- have telling force:

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is that darkness. [Mt 6:22 – 23]

No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead he puts it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eyes are bad, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your whole body is full of light and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp shines on you. [Lk 11:33 – 36]

Paul[1] applied this light/darkness pattern of thought to the challenge of personal and cultural  renewal and reformation through moral enlightenment by the power of the Christian gospel:

. . . you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.  You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness . . . . For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.  [Eph 4:17 – 24, 5:8 - 10.] 

Thus, the Christian worldview has always closely tied the ability to discern and know truth to moral transformation; by way of contrast, vulnerability to deception is tied to culpable moral disintegration and chaos, at both individual and community -- or even civilization -- levels. In Paul’s words “[the Gentiles] are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.”

Such robust warnings that one’s intellect may be darkened through moral failure find an echo in the classic -- and largely (but by no means exclusively) Christian -- intellectual virtues approach to epistemology, which in turn strongly reflects the moral themes that lurk just below the surface in Plato’s justly famous 4th Century BC Allegory of the Cave.[2] As W. Jay Wood summarises[3]:

Intellectual virtues . . . include character traits such as wisdom, prudence, foresight, understanding, discernment, truthfulness and studiousness, among others. Here too are to be found their opposite vices: folly, obtuseness, gullibility, dishonesty, willful naiveté and vicious curiosity[4], to name a few. Certain excellences and deficiencies, then, shape our intellectual as well as our moral lives. An epistemology that takes the virtues seriously claims that our ability to lay hold of the truth about important matters turns on more than our IQ or the caliber of school we attend; it also depends on whether we have fostered within ourselves virtuous habits of mind. Our careers as cognitive agents, as persons concerned to lay hold of the truth and pursue other important intellectual goals, will in large measure succeed or fail as we cultivate our intellectual virtues . . . . Careful oversight of our intellectual lives is imperative if we are to think well, and thinking well is an indispensable ingredient in living well . . . only by superintending our cognitive life (the way, for example, we form, defend, maintain, revise, abandon and act on our beliefs about important matters) can we become excellent as thinkers and, ultimately, excellent as persons.

If we fail to oversee our intellectual life and cultivate virtue, the likely consequences will be a maimed and stunted mind that thwarts our prospects for living a flourishing life. 

In light of such stark observations, the essential intellectual and moral shabbiness of typical modernist and post-/ ultra-modernist skepticism and cynicism about the truth and the right stand shamefully and painfully exposed. For, at heart, their controlling concerns and visions – skepticism, rationalism, empiricism, positivism and now radical relativism -- lead them to suspect rather than treasure those inevitably morally based intellectual virtues that would make them most likely to achieve the truth they desire.

Thus, we see the opportunity for virtuous enlightenment, and the threat that otherwise, our region will suffer vicious “endarkenment” by a false light that is in reality only darkness in the clothing of an angel of light. Consequently the door to effective prophetic intellectual and cultural leadership now swings open: sound and fair-minded thinking is at root a MORAL issue, one open to prophetic concerns for truth and right – indeed, one may often discern truth from error simply by attending to the question of whether intellectual virtues or vices are manifested in the way in which the thinking involved in a particular concept or proposal has been developed.   

2.         “For Such a Time as This”

Traditionally, the Caribbean church has simply ignored intellectual challenges and issues – perhaps, pausing to warn members against Campus radicals, skeptical scholars and pundits,  and morally destructive music and media --  instead, concentrating on preaching the “simple gospel.”

However, as the steady drip of criticism of the church, the gospel, and traditional canons of morality has continued to mount up into a series of tidal waves, such critiques have moved from College seminar rooms to the home, street and office, especially through popular culture themes, events and public issues being debated in the local and international media. Consequently, the environment in which we have to proclaim the gospel and call for individual socio-cultural transformation towards what is right, just, truthful and fair has subtly begun to shift towards polarizing many people against the “simple gospel.”

For, when a community’s core concerns, assumptions and visions for what the world is and should be change, contrary messages appear to be wrong-headed, meaningless or even perverse. So, unless the church in the Caribbean develops a strong capacity to engage such concerns, presuppositions, visions and agendas, we will become culturally isolated, marginalized and increasingly rejected without serious consideration; regardless of the actual merits of our case. (Our TV screens show us how this is already happening in North America.) Thus, a critical mass of the church needs to develop a strong capacity for philosophical analysis and advocacy in the marketplace of ideas – as Paul so powerfully did in Athens and the wider Greco-Roman culture. 

Four trends are especially important to developing this capacity, entailing the cultivation of philosophical, as well as socio-cultural and even geo-political concerns and analytical skills. This reflects the current three-way contest for the global future: the West’s secularists, neo-pagans and apostates, the Middle East’s Islamic challenge, and the ongoing southern Christian Reformation that currently sweeps across Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and much of Asia:

  1. Secularists, and secularization: Europe, North America and the global intellectual culture have been strongly shaped by the agenda of radical skepticism, the rise of Science and associated modernist and post-/ hyper- modernist thinking. The main religious effect has been to discredit the Christian Faith in the eyes of many in the West (and those influenced by it), so that for the first time in history we have had large numbers of atheists in human culture. Even though the underlying assumptions and claims bristle with serious, even crippling difficulties, the lingering perception that the traditional orthodox Christian Faith is discredited, has also set the context in which man’s insatiable spiritual hunger has led millions to open themselves to neo-pagan and/or radically altered apostasies of the Christian Faith – even here in our region.   
  1. Neo-pagans: Closely allied with the secularists are the post-Christian pagans, ranging from the esoteric speculative teachings of many secret societies, to spiritism and associated revivals of ancient paganism (e.g. Wicca, a modernized witchcraft – cum - animism), to the new age movement and at least some Afrocentrists, who look to traditional African religions especially Egyptian and West African ones. (NB: Because of the close parallels to classical paganism in Greece and Rome, and the intent to rewrite traditional morality and family values, the radical gay-lesbian movement can also be viewed as functionally being a neo-pagan movement.) These movements, in the Caribbean and elsewhere, seek to redefine spirituality and morality in a post-modern age, in the main on a pantheistic and/or animistic base that is in effect a repackaged form of Hinduism blended to varying degrees with spiritism and pagan survivials.  It especially appeals to highly educated people who reject traditional faiths, but sense a hunger for spiritual reality.
  1. Apostates: Given the impact of the secularists and the neo-pagans, many in the church have been decisively influenced by the above forces.  Consequently, over the past two hundred years, some – including a significant band of leading theologians -- have sought to revise orthodox Christian faith to align it with the claims of secularist and/or neo-pagan worldviews. To the extent that such realignments sacrifice the historic, biblical core of Christian Faith, they may –- however painful it is to have to do it -- accurately and legitimately be described as apostasies and/or schismatic heresies. (The current debate in the Episcopalian Church of the USA in connexion with the ordination as a Bishop of an openly practicing homosexual man who left his wife and young daughter to take up an open homosexual partnership, is a classic example.) As a consequence, although it is still popular in the region, traditional evangelical faith is at a steep discount in many church, government, institutional and community circles, especially among those influenced by liberal/ liberationist theologies that have been shaped by Historical-Critical methodologies and assumptions.
  1. Islamists: Over the past 100 years, Islam has seen a considerable global resurgence, and is now embarking on a global Missionary campaign to islamise the world, the Dawah. A large and quite dangerous fringe of this movement is the resurgence of the classic form of jihad, military struggle to subdue the house of war – anywhere not currently under Islamic rule and law -- under the domain of submission to Allah (and his warriors).  In both cases, the ultimate aim is to reduce all nations under sharia law, and so Christians and people of other faiths would be at best dhimmis, subject peoples with diminished civil rights designed to induce people to gradually adopt Islamic faith. In this pursuit, Islamic apologetics targets the core elements of the gospel, denying the Incarnation, the Atonement, and indeed challenging the church with shirk – idolatry by promoting the prophet Jesus and his mother Mary to false deity alongside the true God, Allah.[5]  Of particular interest in the Caribbean is the tendency to ally orthodox Islam with the North American-based Black Muslim movement, which serves as a gateway to full Islamic faith for many blacks. In Jamaica, there has been an effort to rewrite our religious history, by making the so far poorly substantiated claim that the roots of the majority black population are Islamic rather than animist.[6]

It is fair comment to summarise that few Christians in the Caribbean are currently equipped to focus on, understand and analyse the claims and arguments made by adherents or advocates of these major movements, including the majority of those who man our pulpits. So, for the first time in the history of the Christian Faith in the Caribbean, it is confronted by powerful, well articulated worldview challenges that seek to shift the frame of thinking of the population as a whole away from the traditional, Bible-based faith that has dominated the region over the past 150 – 200 years.

But equally, the new contenders for the hearts, minds and souls of our region’s peoples are based on philosophical frameworks, whether religious or secular, and they are therefore not without their own  significant, even crippling,  philosophical and/or moral and factual difficulties:

Such difficulties, however do not mean that these alternative worldviews ways will not be attractive to many in our region, or that the church can afford to ignore their claims and efforts and/or simply conform to their proposals for “reformation.” Thus, we see the need for the church to become philosophically informed, and effective in responding to challenges to the gospel message that now abound on the campus, in the classroom (and textbooks), on the streets, in our media, and even in our workplaces, churches and homes.

  1. Towards Philosophically Informed Prophetic Intellectual and Cultural Leadership in the Caribbean

An effective response to the above challenges will require that a critical mass of the church in the region becomes philosophically informed and willing to engage issues and challenges in the community.

This will be quite a challenge:

For the church to change so that it may effectively meet that challenge, classic organizational theory tells us that as a rule there may well need to be the emergence of a new generation of leadership, through a wave of crises that threatens the regional church with extinction. That of course needs not be so, but the question is whether the leadership will be able to act in time to avert the crises that even now are beginning to mount up.

If they are, then a strong response may be mounted based on existing institutions. If not, new leadership will have to emerge in the face of crisis, requiring that people begin preparing for such courageous prophetic intellectual and cultural leadership from now.

In either case, there is not much time left.

CONCLUSIONS:  Let us consider: have we come to position for such a time as this? So, why not NOW . . . HERE . . . US?

References & Readings

Stanford online Enc. of Phil: http://plato.stanford.edu/ . Cf. articles on major ethics themes and terms.

Wood, W. Jay. Epistemology: Becoming Intellectually Virtuous. Leicester, England: Apollos/IVP, 1998.

JTS/CGST Public Ethics Lecture, 2002: “Ethics and Development.” URL: https://www.angelfire.com/pro/kairosfocus/resources/Ethics_and_development.htm

A Note on the Sustainability Concept: https://www.angelfire.com/pro/kairosfocus/resources/SD_concept.htm

[1] There are claims that the Epistle is not Pauline, due to its highly “evolved” theology; especially the delayed expectation of the parousia in 3:21. However, not only is it recorded of the very first Christian sermon that the promise of the Spirit is trans-generational [cf. Ac 2:17 - 39 – and given Luke’s detailed, accurate familiarity with the facts, a late date for this work is unwise] but also the Historical-Critical dating process as is commonly applied is itself based on the essentially arbitrary and circular assumption of a gradually evolving, naturalistically originated theology, which on this assumption eventually came to involve the “need” to “explain” an eschatology of delay in the parousia. But, Hebrew culture itself had long had to deal with the challenges of “the already and not yet” in its own prophetic writings. Moreover, works of genius require men of genius – the next true parallel to Paul’s intellectual and strategic level is centuries later! So, we may conclude that the traditional date and authorship are at least as credible as any of the proposed later dates (which have in fact been repeatedly dramatically revised in the past 100+ years); and so they should be given preference on the principle of innocence unless proven guilty.

[2] Cf. http://www.bulldognews.net/cave-parable.html

[3] Epistemology: Becoming Intellectually Virtuous, (Leicester, UK: Apollos/IVP, 1998), pp. 16 – 17.

[4] Explanatory note: “Vicious curiosity” is best understood from a Christian perspective, as the opposite of true love of learning: immoral pursuit of so-called “learning” that seeks to corrupt, deceive, exploit and/or destroy.  Those who are always inventing new ways to do evil [cf. Rom 1:30 – those who pursue weapons of mass destruction for aggressive reasons ever so easily spring to mind here!] are especially in view, but the thought is equally applicable to those who are ever drawn to the novel -- but not in order to learn and live by truth. [Cf. Ac. 17:21.] In a lust-besotted entertainment-obsessed age, the ever-growing fascination with and addiction to the twin pornographies of [often perverted] sensuality and violence is another telling case in point. The rebuke applies to those who would seek and exploit insider knowledge of market conditions to rob those not so priviliged, too. Similarly, for those who would seek enlightenment from the forces of darkness and deception, or who would call evil good and good evil, Is 8:11 – 22, esp. v. 20, 5:20 – 25 and also Eph. 5:11 – 21 & Deut 18:9 – 22 have grim words of warning. In response to such expressions of vicious curiosity, we are encouraged to overturn deceptive arguments and pretensions that block people from the true knowledge of God. [Cf. 2 Cor 10:4 – 5.]  This is a major, and quite legitimate, function of Christian Apologetics, which has long been tasked to give a reasonable account for the Christian hope. [1 Pet. 3:15.]

[5] For details cf. https://www.angelfire.com/pro/kairosfocus/resources/Mars_Hill_Web/Islamism.htm , and also the declaration of principles from the recent Conference on Islam, the Gospel and the Caribbean, https://www.angelfire.com/pro/kairosfocus/resources/Bds_decl_03.pdf.  A theological framework for a biblical response is at: https://www.angelfire.com/pro/kairosfocus/resources/Abrahams_faith.htm.

[6] Cf. https://www.angelfire.com/pro/kairosfocus/resources/On_Afroz_Thesis.pdf.

[7] An observation made by Machiavelli in The Prince.