All semester I have been looking at this book, sitting on my shelf, thinking to myself, “That looks like fun.” In just writing that, I confess that there is a bit of a nerd in my soul. (And there I just used that word “soul”. What is the soul anyway? But I digress …) Raeper and Edwards’ A Brief Guide to Ideas  is a crash course, cliff notes version of every major philosophical thought over the past 2500 years. From Socrates to Carl Rogers, Raeper and Edwards provide a brief history of each named thinker, and a quick summary, complete with bullet points, of their primary ideas.
Ideas. So many ideas. Who is God? Is there a God? How do we know what we know? Who is man? What is the purpose of man? What is truth?
Raeper and Edwards state in their introduction that philosophy, which they define as “the love of wisdom”,  is about more than how we think and what we think, but that it is about how we live. “What we think is true affects our view of ourselves and how we treat people and the world.” 
I teach my students one of my mantras: if you understand how a person thinks, their behavior makes sense. This is the last week of classes at Concordia, and today my students in my Spiritual and Cultural Diversity Skills class presented their final projects. They worked in partners to create digital stories about an important part of their identity; something that they would want people to know about them that might help others to understand them more. The twist was that each partner was to tell the other person’s story. My goal was to provide an opportunity for each student to try and capture the other person’s thoughts, feelings and experience.
The results were amazing. I was entirely impressed with both the quality of the work and the insight that they showed. Each video was just three to five minutes. At the end of the class we discussed the experience. Time and again students would say, “Now I understand. Now I get why different people act the way they do.”
Indeed, our worldview informs how we live. But where does this worldview come from? As I read Raeper and Edwards book, at times I would stop as my brain would start to get clogged up with too many ideas, and I would think to myself that these people think too much. They make it too complicated. In my simple mind, I often see the ideas expressed in various theories and philosophical arguments as statements of the obvious; that someone simply put into words what is already known. But even that is a controversial statement and it reflects my own understanding of the world.
As I read, I started thinking about my philosophy, and the things that I think are true. It became clear to me that my whole perspective starts with a single point that guides everything else: God. That fact alone separates me from those who do not believe in God as I do. Yet even among those who believe in a different idea of God will share common ideas with me. As I re-read Plato’s story of the cave, in which people sat in a dark cave staring at the walls, which were backlit, and only saw shadows, I was reminded of what Paul wrote 500 years later. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” (I Corinthians 13:12) Across time, across cultures, across religions, still we often find common ground.
Raeper and Edwards write about western philosophy. They don’t begin to address the many other global and cultural views of wisdom and how we live. Even in spite of this, in the discussion of the postmodern world in which we now live, they address the great challenges of such a pluralistic society. Throughout most of human history, thoughts trickled down slowly from the privileged to the commoners. Today, in our world of information technology and immediate access, information flows out more like a tidal wave. It can be overwhelming and many people struggle to find and anchor, to make sense of it all.
Almost of necessity, meaning is discerned in local contexts alone, as claims of universal truths are almost habitually treated as suspect. Meaning becomes marked by enormous diversity and contingency… Yet in reality there is a danger that the market itself becomes the greatest reality for the growing number in our society, especially in the middle classes, who no longer have a rootedness in tradition or an old-style meta-narrative to make sense of their lives. Consumer choice is often whimsical, unstructured and unplanned… This diversity reveals an underlying desire – a need – to believe in something. 
It is in this point that I find more hope than despair. It would perhaps take a whole book to explain my thoughts along these lines. Indeed, I have struggled to squeeze out a sense of coherence in this brief blog. I would posit that in spite of the global diversity (not just western) and in spite of the volume of philosophical ideas, there remain some common ground points among people. My worldview that God exists informs this idea (He said that He would write His law upon our hearts). But even aside from this, I believe that people who don’t believe in God would struggle to disprove these ground points. I think that:
• people desire peace;
• they long for meaningful connection with other people;
• we know what love is and desire more of it;
• we have a sense of good and evil.
Of course arguments can be made against these points, and I think that these could be countered, but here there is neither the space nor time. And of course, some of these ideas may be lived out in different ways based on the context of the culture. But it is our common experience, our ground points as I have called them, that allows us to create meaningful dialogue. This is what allows us to see the other.
 William Raeper and Linda Edwards, A Brief Guide to Ideas, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997.
 Ibid, 14.
 Ibid, 11.
 Ibid, 335.