All human affairs can be looked at from an “inner” and an “outer” perspective. Consider, for instance, a young couple taking out a life insurance policy. They obviously expect to be paid a specific sum of money upon the death of the insured person, usually the husband, or that other events such as terminal or critical illness trigger said payment. If it really made sense to take out this insurance will only be seen once the insured event has occurred and the money will or won’t be payed out. For now, our young couple simply has to trust on the solvency and the integrity of their insurance company. Such an insurance however also has an outer perspective (or an “outer dimension”) that is independent from whether the couple’s trust was or was not justified. For example, a sociologist could examine if Christian couples are more or less likely to take out a life insurance policy than secular couples; or if couples with a female breadwinner take out life insurance policies as often as couples with a male (main) breadwinner; or in how far having taken out such an insurance influences the stability of their relationship, how it influences their willingness to takes risks, to consume, to have children and so on. The “outer perspective” provides a great many new informations, but it depends on the inner perspective; if the couple hadn’t been convinced that the insurance company is willing and able to pay out the benefit, it hadn’t taken out the policy to begin with, and all further studies would be pointless.
In the same sense, St. Paul writes that “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:14). The Christian religion too can be looked at from an inner and an outer perspective. From an inner perspective, it is our faith on the Lord Jesus Christ and our hope not to perish but to have eternal life with the Father (John 3:16). As long as it is a living faith, though, it fulfills specific social and psychological functions; it influences one’s lifestyle, one’s political opinions, and one’s state of mind. But it cannot be defined from only looking at these effects and results only. If you only see people dance without hearing the music they dance to, you won’t be able to fully understand the movements they perform. Likewise, he who doesn’t share the Christian faith will tend to explain and to define it through something other than the truth of its object. Understanding the Christian faith however, he will not. The Christian, living in the inner perspective, will follow the words of St. Paul again, “The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.” (1 Corinthians 2:15) If you are however unable to look at Christianity from an outer perspective, in which it is a religion among others, and a world view among others, you risk becoming a sectarian, a fanatic. (Which usually implies that you have more zeal than you have endurance, and that your small boat of thought is “tossed here and there” [Ephesians 4:14], tossed about by the waves from one extreme to the other, from Jesus to Islam, from fascism to liberalism, and so on. Most fanatics never stick anything out…)
In 1994, historian Mark A. Noll, a Reformed Christian himself, wrote about the “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” (i.e. evangelical anti-intellectualism) that, “the evangelical predilection, when faced with a world crisis, to use the Bible as a crystal ball instead of as a guide for sorting out the complex tangles of international morality was nowhere more evident than in response to the Gulf War in early 1991. Neither through the publishing of books nor through focused consideration in periodicals did evangelicals engage in significant discussion on the morality of the war (…) wealth formation throughout the world, the history of Western efforts at intervention in the Middle East, or other topics fairly crying out for serious Christian analysis. Instead, evangelicals gobbled up more than half a million copies each of several self-assured, populist explanations of how the Gulf crisis was fulfilling the details of obscure biblical prophecies.”
I believe that this is exactly what happens when you’re unable to integrate in your “philosophy” both an inner and outer perspective. Islam, for instance, is obviously a religion (and from a Christian perspective, it is obviously a false and wicked religion that is from Satan and leads straight to hell) but it can also be seen and then, combined, better understood and explained, if it’s seen not so much as a religion but as a tribal phenomenon, that is a cultural and an ideological glue, holding various mixed-raced ethnicities more or less together. (Excluding a couple of million Bosnians, most of the world’s roughly 1.6 billion Sunni Muslims are pretty much 50 shades of mix-raced brown. This might also explain why Hispanic Americans, having more of a cultural, ethnic and religious identity of their own, have voted far more often for Donald Trump than Christian African-Americans, despite Trump’s former campaign being more focused on Hispanics in the US than on African-Americans.) The conflict between “moderate” and “radical” Islam often looks like the conflict not so much between those who hold more or less “liberal” views regarding, say, homosexual activity, but like the conflict between those who treat Islam as a kind of cultural glue, and those who treat it as a religion that gives funny looking Western converts with ugly beards the right to murder brown infidels, rather than having the white guy killed to take his money, his land and his blonde daughter.
Be that as it may, I believe it is imperative for us as Christians to be able to look at the world from these different perspectives; we need to be able to have a perspective in which we say Jesus and which we say “our Lord”; one in which we talk about “Catholics” and one in which we talk about “Papists”. Generally speaking, the question is in how far these perspectives must be at war with each other, in how far Pascal’s “god of the philosophers” even is any other god than the one true God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Plato lets Simmias say to Socrates that one should “take the best and most irrefragable of human theories, and let this be the raft upon which he sails through life—not without risk, as I admit, if he cannot find some word [logos] of God which will more surely and safely carry him.” (Phaedo 2.65) – To which Augustine replied that the only thing that distinguishes “us” (=Christians) from the Platonists is the belief that there is indeed such a Logos that became flesh (John 1:14).
Of course, all of this still depends on the idea that there is indeed truth, that there is indeed a truth, THE truth, and not just opinions and perspectives, with “objective truth” being an evil invention, evil “construct”, of the the evil white man. But that’s another post for another time! It’s such a beautiful day outside and I sit here and write about Plato! Ah! All mistakes are mine, all glory belongs to God. Amen!