Mike Popovich

Mike Popovich

Everyone is looking for the truth. Not just a subjective truth but truth that gives results in our lives.

To not believe in something outside of yourself is not a lack of belief; it is to believe only in yourself above all else.

Some would say that is a good thing, admirable even.

OK. But how is that working for you?

The philosophers of old — Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Hume, Kant, Barth, Russell and so on — pursued wisdom and the answers to the great questions of life like, what is life, what are we here for, what is our purpose in living and what does the future hold?

The result the philosophers were looking for when contemplating an answer to the questions was “Does it give me peace of mind? Does it ring true?”

Isn’t that interesting that the pursuit of philosophical truth, or just truth leading to wisdom, is measured by the impact to our inner spirit.

Is peace what we all are looking for? Is peace what you are looking for? A sense of well-being, purpose, accomplishment, peace?

In a recent article, the author gave justification for denouncing Christianity regularly in his articles.

I would suggest he convince us on the benefits of his religious belief in atheism and how it produces peace in his life.

I can’t help notice that his belief in atheism is a word formed by two words “a-theism” meaning "no God." He believes in something that is not.

It is not a positive statement of values but a belief in a void. Would not humanist state his position in a positive manner? One of the doctrines of humanism is that there is no God. Then he could highlight the good he finds in people.

I thought it interesting he referred to his "religious position" as an atheist. Then later he said, “My intolerance with regard to religion is philosophical and scientific, not personal.” If the purpose of philosophy is to search out the truth of the universe it doesn’t get more personal than that. And he is intolerant with every other religious position except his own.

However, I am not opposed to the dialogue. While we may not convince each other of our positions, we entertain others and cause them to consider their own.

With reference to being scientific, that is usually cited to mean my position is based in fact and yours is not. Most people today would think it odd that science is birthed out of philosophy. The philosophy of science began to emerge as a distinct discipline in the early 18th century.

Let me quote a passage from The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, volume 6 page 218: “Science, it was argued, can tell you only what the world is like and how it operates, whereas philosophy can tell us what life and nature ‘mean,’ what value or purpose they have. The various branches of philosophy, according to this view are concerned with the ‘meaning’ of a particular form or activity or class of a thing: the philosophy of history is concerned with the meaning of history, and the philosophy of law with the meaning of law. In its most general form, philosophy elucidates the meaning of the 'universe as a whole.'”

This is an introductory statement about the meaning of philosophy and its value that not all philosophers would agree with. But if philosophy is not the search for meaning, do we really think statements that denounce attempts to illicit meaning is helpful? How does that bring us peace? I would think it would do the opposite.

So what is the difference between philosophy and theology? Basically it is about the source from which we seek understanding. Plato would say philosophy is that department of knowledge which deals with ultimate reality. The philosopher looks at the world and looks for reason, purpose and truth.

Theology is the study of God. Because most all religions consider God transcendent, not of this earth or universe, we rely on God communicating with us. The Bible is a collection of writings by 40 authors over a period of 1500 years that declares to be the Word of God. Theology is the study of and application of that word to our lives. Before you dismiss the Bible as a collection of fairy tales, it is the most scrutinized writing of all history. There is not a work with more extant manuscripts to clearly establish what the author wrote.

If you consider Homer’s "Iliad" and "Odyssey" (roughly 8th century B.C.) valid as a work of Homer, know that the earliest copy of his work is 1,600 years after the fact. There exists 1500 papyri (portions of writings on reed paper) of the "Iliad," and there are 190 medieval (non-papyrus) manuscripts, dating from the 9th to the 18th centuries C.E.

The Bible has over 25,000 extant manuscripts from portions to whole books to major sections of the Bible dated to the early second century for the New Testament writings. The Dead Sea scrolls moved the date of extant materials back to the second century B.C., over 800 years older than anything we had at the time of their discovery.

In all that material there is no significant difference in the writing to cause doubt in even one doctrine of Judaism for the Old Testament and Christianity for the New Testament. A manuscript of a portion of the book of John in the New Testament in a German museum dates to the early second century. It is possibly a first copy of the original writing of John dating to within 60 years of the original. Historically speaking this is a blink in time.

All that to say, the study of the Bible as a source of God’s word and his interaction with humanity is the source of the statements of meaning Christianity offers to the world.

Philosophy is man’s attempt to determine meaning without that source. Even the philosophy of religion is a study of people and their religious practices without the belief in their doctrines. It is an attempt to understand all religions including atheism.

Philosophy and theology seek to formulate a clear, articulate and discussable system of ideas and principles that will stand up to scrutiny and cross-examination.

It is one thing to denigrate a person or a group’s actions and then dismiss the belief system they may represent. That is not the same as making a study of that system of belief.

It is one thing to denounce a belief system; it is another to present a belief system upon which you believe people ought to live. In the end we all live with what we believe. The question then is does what we belief in give us peace?

Mike Popovich is a graduate of Utah State University and holds a Master of Divinity degree from International School of Theology, a Doctor of Ministry degree from Northern Theological Seminary in Chicago, and is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Pocatello.