Oz, not the Doctor, and Bacon, not the Food

When teaching on the three ways Man tries to know the True God and fails, philosophy, mysticism, and moralism, I appeal to Oz and Zhivago. Perhaps I should substitute or at least add bacon to the latter.

First, I refer to this as the Wizard of Oz lesson. Philosophy seeks to find God as the Scarecrow does with a brain. Mysticism seeks to find God like the Tin Man did with his heart. (Can’t you see his tears now?) And, my personal favorite, the Cowardly Lion seeks to find God with his brave deeds. Oz of course purports to help them. I show, however, these are doomed to failure because man is by nature since the Fall spiritually blind (I Cor. 2:14), so his intellect and rationality are blind to true spiritual things. He’s an enemy of God (Rom. 5:6-10), so he can’t feel good toward the true God, but on the contrary can only hate Him. And he’s spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1-5), so not all the self-control and moral discipline in the world will bring him back to spiritual life.

Second, I refer to a quote from Doctor Zhivago, “I think a little philosophy should be added to life and art by way of seasoning, but to make it ones specialty seems to me as strange as eating nothing but horseradish” (407). Actually, I paraphrase it saying: philosophy makes a great condiment but a lousy entrée. However, I find myself redirected, as I often am, by Chesterton.

Well, it’s a reference of his to Francis Bacon, and perhaps it’s not too much to say that by it he has saved my bacon. He references this Baconian gem: “It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion” (Francis Bacon, “The Essays Or Counsels, Civil And Moral”).

You see the problem, don’t you? I’m championing a little philosophy being okay while much is not. Chesterton approves of the Baconian principle that a little is the dangerous thing. And what virtually 99.9% of even college graduates have is a little philosophy. Say, just enough to make us aberrant or at least unclear thinkers.

Chesterton would treat the rejectors of Christianity based on philosophy the same way he does those rejecting based on doubts. “In dealing with the arrogant asserter of doubt, it is not the right method to tell him to stop doubting. It is rather the right method to tell him to go on doubting, to doubt a little more, to doubt every day newer and wilder things in the universe, until at last, by some strange enlightenment, he may begin to doubt himself” (In Defense of Sanity, 99).

So with the philosopher: push him deeper and deeper into the harsh horseradish of philosophy till he comes up gasping and gurgling for something firm, certain, satisfying. And it won’t be the Bible until he has plumbed the depths of what Paul tells Pastor Timothy to turn away from: “godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Timothy 6:20). It’s kind of like warning children of deep water. It doesn’t really take till they’ve stepped off thinking they could, would touch bottom, but don’t.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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