Christianity and the Life of the Mind

1 05 2013

In the first century, Christianity blossomed and developed as a direct result of the concept of the codices (the binding of paper to form books as opposed to scrolls) and the invention of the printing press (in 1450 AD) made possible the Reformation that led to the spread of Christian ideals, thought and debate. Far from being an anti-intellectual movement Christianity fostered a culture in which the ideals of previous generations can be brought into conversation with contemporary cultural and intellectual ideas.

Just a cursory glance at the past will reveal the importance of the Christian contribution to education both through the founding of Monastic Schools (the origin of many Universities today) and later through the ‘Ragged Schools’ movement (a forerunner of universal child education). It is important to recognise that the establishment of these learning communities emerged alongside a depth of Christian thought on artistic, literary, historical, scientific, philosophical and theological ideas. Far from fostering a materialistic worldview that reduces existence to the sum of its elements, Christian intellectual inquiry has opened up a breadth of perspectives through which to learn and appreciate the world in which we live.

The English philosopher, statesman and scientist, Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626 AD), often credited as the father of empiricism (the scientific method), observed that ‘a little philosophy inclineth a man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion’. This is a truth that is borne out in Prof Terry Eagleton critique of Richard Dawkin’s ‘lunging, failing, mispunching’ book, The God Delusion. There the Marxist literary critic is almost certainly right when he quips, ‘even Richard Dawkins lives more by faith than by reason’. In this way Dawkin’s illustrates, Francis Bacon’s claim that ‘the great atheists, indeed are hypocrites; which are ever handling holy things, but without feeling’.

For this reason it is better to offer a positive vision of what we understand of reason, faith and the world in which we live rather than to offer criticisms of a faith half understood.