Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Thomas Hart’s “Reading”

I attempted to respond to Thomas Hart’s blog note on “Reading” but his blog wouldn’t let me; so I’ll respond on mine. The first difference I noticed is that Hart’s reading program is much more organized than mine. Also, he seems to have mapped out the reading he expects to do in the next ten to twenty years he expects to live (barring accidents). I haven’t any such schedule but my doctor leads me to believe I can expect to accompany Hart through most of the next twenty years – barring accidents and illnesses such as cancer which doctors can’t always anticipate.

Hart is a Carmelite secular, we read in his note “About Me” at . He maps out the books he expects to enjoy through his remaining years which savors of monastic order, and a resting in secure belief. I on the other hand am Presbyterian, of a denomination consistent with the early American Presbyterians whom George III accused of starting the American Revolutionary War. The early Presbyterians were Calvinists and it was Calvinism, according to Max Weber, that gave rise to the “Protestant Work Ethic.” I didn’t become a Presbyterian until I was in my early 40s, but I always had something like the Protestant Work Ethic. I wouldn’t have been out of place in Pre-Revolutionary America.

I have a library like the one Thomas Hart has in his basement. Perhaps we have some of the same books. I have a substantial number of Catholic Theologians on my shelves, but perhaps not the same ones that Hart has. I had a very brief interest in Aquinas after having been called a Thomist by a Process Theologist (Process Theology was derived from the Process Philosophy of A. N. Whitehead). At the time I knew little about Aquinas and nothing about Process Theology. In the course of debating this fellow I rectified my lack of knowledge about the latter. My counter arguments caused this fellow to resort to insult in lieu of anything better. I set out on a mild quest to read Aquinas, but in the absence of a strong incentive my interest waned. I respect Aquinas and have nothing against him. I would probably have studied him at greater length were I Catholic. I recall that Martin Heidegger was offered a permanent position if he would agree to being a Thomistic philosopher. He rejected the offer believing it would confine him too much. I had no such worry in my own study of theology. I was doing it on my own without oversight.

While I haven’t too terribly much about theology on my blog, I studied it for about eight years back in the 80s. When I retired to San Jacinto in 1998 I may have had one of the largest theological libraries in town. Mine was larger than the pastors of the Presbyterian churches we were members of. I came to Presbyterianism because it was closest to what I believed not because I was brought up in it. I was never interested in restricting myself to Presbyterian writers. On Church history I was very impressed by Jaroslav Pelikan, especially his five-volume series on The Christian Tradition. In an on-line discussion at the time a Professor at Westminster Theological Seminary (the seminary which educates most of the conservative Presbyterian pastors) asked me why I spent so much time with Lutherans so I asked him for the names of some alternatives. He mentioned Heiko Augustinus Oberman. I appreciated Oberman but I appreciate Pelikan as well. As to Catholics, I have appreciated among others Aloys Grillmeier’s series Christ in Christian Tradition, although I have not read Grillmeier in a systematic way.

My theological presuppositions, a la Cornelius Van Till, were centered on the canon. I accumulated a wide variety of points of view on each book of the Bible and would pit them against each other as I studied. After several years and numerous debates, the aforementioned professor asked me why I kept on. I wasn’t going to be a pastor or teach in a seminary, so why did I keep studying? I didn’t have a good answer.

Later I thought the best answer was that I was a sort-of lower-case polymath who believed in the ethic presented in Proverbs which isn’t inconsistent with the Protestant Work Ethic, “whatever thy hand finds to do, do it with all thy might.” I haven’t just studied theology. I mastered engineering well enough while working in aerospace. At one time I was interested in geology and went on rock and mineral expeditions in Southern California. At another time I was interested in astronomy and cosmology. I had an even greater interest in archaeology and anthropology. Later I became interested in genetics. I am very interested in European, Medieval, and Military history. All the while I have been interested in writing. I have written a good deal of poetry and seven novels, although I haven’t tried in any more than a perfunctory way to get any of them published.

Unlike Hart, after 9/11 I studied Islam, Islamism, and the histories of the most of the Muslim nations. I tend to do everything with “all my might”; which sometimes translates into a great deal of thoroughness.

Most recently I have taken up an interest in photography. One can see a number of these photographs at A few people asked if I intended to become a “professional photographer.” I understand that to be asking whether I intended to sell any of my photographs. I told them I did not. I am pursuing photography with the same intensity I have pursued everything else. Perhaps because of this I have become a better photographer than most people are willing to become, but so what? Christians are taught not to compare themselves with others but to compare themselves with themselves; which I take to mean an evaluation of one’s gifts and then a determining through self-examination whether one is exercising them to the fullest extent. I haven’t the comfort of a Carmelite framework. When I expire during the next twenty years, I hope to be “about my father’s business.”

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