Spinoza, secularism and the challenge of evangelization

During this Christmas holiday, I’ve been reading Anthony Gottlieb’s breezy and enjoyable history of modern philosophy, entitled The Dream of Enlightenment. Throughout his treatment of such figures as Descartes, Hobbes, Locke and Voltaire, Gottlieb reveals his own rather strong bias in favor of the rationalism and anti-supernaturalism advocated by these avatars of modern thought. Toward the end of his chapter on Spinoza, Gottlieb avers that what he calls “the religion of Spinozism” is more or less identical to the secularist worldview espoused by so many in the West today, including himself.

The death of an evangelical titan

I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Billy Graham preach about 20 years ago in Cincinnati. At the time, Dr. Graham was around 80 years old and clearly in frail health. He came to the podium and commenced to speak, but the crowd of young people, stirred up by the Christian rock bands who had performed earlier, was restive and inattentive. Graham paused, folded his hands, and quietly said, “Let us pray.” With that, a stadium of 50,000 people fell silent. Once a spirit of reverence held sway, the preacher resumed. I remember thinking, “What an old pro!”

Our utmost in dealing with our faith

The complexity of adulthood inevitably puts to death the naiveté of childhood. And this is true too of our faith. Not that faith is a naiveté. It isn’t. But our faith needs to be constantly reintegrated into our persons and matched up anew against our life’s experience; otherwise we will find it at odds with our life. Genuine faith can stand up to every kind of experience, no matter its complexity.

Peter Claver vs. Immanuel Kant

One of the greatest heroes of the social justice wing of the church is, quite rightly, the 17th-century “slave of the slaves,” St. Peter Claver. Born in Barcelona, Claver joined the Society of Jesus and was known, even as a young man, as a person of deep intelligence and piety. Spurred by what he took to be the direct prompting of the Holy Spirit, the young Spaniard volunteered to work among the poor in what was then known as “New Spain.” Arriving in Cartagena, he saw the unspeakable degradation of the captives brought in chains by ship from Africa, and he resolved to dedicate his life to serving them.

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