Doable Deeds

Thinking philosophically reaches to wisdom

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Faith Philosophy

Dysfunction is the order of day, and at every level. Each of us, I’ll wager, wants to tell someone  “get your act together.” Plenty of people think that I need to hear the same message. And someone, no doubt, thinks that you, gentle reader, need to as well.

Of course, it’s one thing to give the message, another to hear it, and a third thing altogether to act on it. Here’s the problem. If one hasn’t already got one’s act together, how’s one to do so now? There’s no effective agency. So doable deeds seem few and far between. Worst-case scenarios are experienced often: dysfunctional individuals and families, dysfunctional companies and workplaces, dysfunctional politics and countries.

Fortunately, though, having one’s act together is a matter of degree. So it is that life goes on, however fitfully. What, then, can help us be more effective agents? What can make our lives more likely to flourish and less likely to fall apart?

A key factor is coming to have, at every level, a sense of the whole. For a start, we need a sense of what makes a person whole. Since we are rational beings, we also find ourselves wondering about what constitutes, for example, the family as an integrated whole. If we can’t achieve a sensibility about the family, we’re not likely to get very far.

What is this thinking about what makes us and our families and (shoot for the moon!) our cultures and countries whole? It’s philosophical thinking. In thinking this way, we go beyond expertise and adding to our skill sets. There’s also more to it than the exercise of our intelligence, though intellectual it surely is. Thinking philosophically aims at understanding parts in relation to wholes and wholes in relation to parts. Everything is what it is, and everything is in relation.

But there’s still more to come. Thinking philosophically reaches to wisdom. We see such thinking in the Wisdom Literature of Scripture. We also see it anywhere people, while immersed in the everyday, look beyond the everyday to that which gives meaning to the everyday.

“Where there is no vision,” Scripture tells us, “the people perish.” Why? Because without wisdom nothing makes much sense. The everyday becomes little more than a rat race. There is no effective agency. Dysfunction is the order of the day. Indeed, the order of the day is an established disorder. Restoring right order depends on two realities.

First comes the natural. By nature we are rational, and so it is that we come to understand our existential predicament. We can think beyond an environment of crisis in a way that is not open to animals. But we must do so together, and this calls for a habit, as it were, of public philosophy. We are not limited to exhibiting behaviors. We can engage in the doable deeds of building a world that points to the Kingdom for which we pray.

The second reality is God’s gratuitous grace. It both heals our fallen nature and, in redeeming it, shows us that we can come to share in Divine life. This redemption is God’s ongoing and doable deed. Call it salvation’s history—past, present, and to come.

 

Jim Hanink is an independent scholar, albeit more independent than scholarly!

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