“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” We all remember this phrase from the fairy tale Snow White. Mirrors that could tell us what we want or what we envision, whether true or false, would probably sell out quickly at the local retailer – if they existed. But this was a common theme throughout A Brief Guide to Ideas by Raeper and Edwards.
In this wonderful survey of philosophical thought from ancient times to the present, the authors highlight how Christianity is modified, changed, or perceived through the philosophical lens of each historical period of time. Our characterization of God has changed from an early Hebrew God to a God filtered through the lens of Greek thought and philosophy.
Just a month ago, I stood under a statue of Alexander the Great while in Macedonia. I had landed at the Alexander the Great airport, was conducted by taxi on the Alexander the Great expressway into Skopje and ate at the Alexander the Great restaurant with friends! That should have been a precursor to this book, enlightening me to the importance of Greek culture and philosophy and how it still affects our thoughts and perceptions today!
Feuerbach says that God is a projection of ourselves (123), Schleiermacher put forth that Paul had changed the religion of Jesus to a religion about Jesus (219) and that we see Jesus as a perception of ourselves in a mirror. Latin American, Asian, Women and Black theologies portray a God through the lens of their prescribed perspectives. Kant stated that God can only be known from our own point of view (258) while Wittgenstein says we interpret the forms of life as “we have learnt and understood it from childhood” (266).
Not only did this book highlight the tension of creating gods to justify our beliefs, but it also showed the struggle throughout the centuries of understanding how we fit into God’s universe. I am comforted by the fact that questions and doubts I may have today have been questioned and doubted in the past, and through it all, God seems to be big enough to carry on and love us in spite of ourselves.
Many parallels in the book are seen in contemporary society. Plato’s Republic is the forerunner of one of my favorite youth books, The Giver. The thoughts that Jung wrote about, reflect Half Time, the book for executives looking to make a difference in the second part of their lives. Heidegger’s feelings on how to stand for oneself, as the crowd becomes a person’s soul, setting limits to that person’s possibilities (110) rang as a challenge for me and touched me deeply.
I also love Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith” and how it was so well illustrated in the Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, but the writings of Bonhoeffer hold a special place near to my heart. As a young seminary student in California, I had taken a weekend with some friends to camp on a beach overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The only book with me besides the Bible was The Cost of Discipleship. My world was turned upside down as I contemplated a “religion-less Christianity,” to be able to speak about God in a secular way. I resonated with each page and felt I had found my soul-mate.
We know we see God in our own image, as if in a mirror, but if we can at least recognize that fact, we have accomplished a first step in understanding who we are and why we worship this God that has been scrutinized and challenged through the centuries.
Who do you resonate with as you seek to explain the God you worship?