Friday, 11 December 2015

Reading Peter Kreeft

Muslims and Christians face almost similar challenge of making God’s word intelligible in a world that has been decisively impacted by Marx, Darwin and Freud.

One of the greatest tragedies that have befallen the Muslim world is forgetting its great heritage in human and divine sciences crippling them in the face of modern challenges that require a philosophical idiom to comprehend and respond. Muslims have hardly learnt from Christian and Jewish counterparts. Great names in Judeo-Christian thought in the modern world are mostly philosophers or theologians who take full cognizance of the challenge from secularizing thought currents. It is a Christian philosopher who has written one of the most celebrated texts on secular age titled A Secular Age. It is such brilliant Jewish philosophers as Buber, Heschel and Levinas who have presented some of the most compelling ethico-mystical visions for the modern world. It is Paul Tillich, a Protestant philosopher, who has given us one of the most compelling approaches to God that modern minds finds irresistible. It is a Catholic philosopher Maritain who has given us some of the most  brilliant analyses of the modern malaise of disbelief from a Christian or more traditional viewpoint. A study of his works like Art and Scholasticism and The Range of Reason shows how shallow are the ideologies that veto God from the rational and artistic consciousness on which the modern mind bases its key claims. Christian thinkers have not hesitated to deeply engage with atheistic or pagan or other secularizing thought currents and in the process it has become possible to be a perfectly rational Christian in the face of not only such rather shallow band of new atheists from Dawkins to Harris, but also such seemingly deadly foes of Christianity like Nietzsche and Lyotard.
      Muslims and Christians face almost similar challenge of making God’s word intelligible in a world that has been decisively impacted by Marx, Darwin and Freud. While the post Sir Syedian Muslims world has largely chosen to avoid, with proper philosophical idiom, encounter with the West with such exceptions including the likes of Iqbal, Nasr, Fazlur Rehman, Abu Nasr Zayd, Arkoun, Jabiri and some lesser known scholars from Izzatbegowich to Shabir Akhter to Jamal Khawja, the Christian world has been quite upto the challenge culminating in such figures as Peter Kreeft whom we today study. Kreeft illustrates virtue of being a philosopher and a first rate theologian. He has the courage and wit to write wonderful and insightful dialogues between Socrates and Sartre, or Socrates and Nietzsche. In choosing both the Greek philosophical and Christian theological and mystical heritages to approach the challenge from Modernity while mastering a great style, he emerges as one of the most accessible thinkers on a large variety of questions that are asked by new generation fighting disbelief and nihilism. Muslim scholars have, generally speaking, banked upon Western responses to disbelief and keep referring to it for instilling confidence in the audience which lives and breathes in an atmosphere of scepticism. Popularity of such books as God Arises by Maulana Wahidudin Khan and The Quran, Bible and Science by Maurice Bucaille evidences dependence on Western sources to fight disbelief in God and scripture respectively. The fact is Muslim religious authorities have, generally speaking, avoided squarely facing  the challenge from newer thought currents and thus need to bank upon those Western advocates of religion who have squarely faced “ilmi jaded ka challenge.” Today some points from Peter Kreeft to introduce his overall approach and relevance, especially for a sceptical audience.
      First his remarks about philosophy that one needs to contrast with attitude towards it in Muslim seminaries and in popular Muslim imagination that is deeply suspicious of philosophy as such. “Philosophy is not an esoteric, specialized, scholarly, technical, and dull affair but rather a thing so natural and so universal and so important that it is one of the fundamental purposes we were created for: "the love of wisdom." . Philosophy is important to every person because philosophy is about the meaning of the life of every person, and about the right conduct of the life of every person.”
      About his choice of Socrates as the philosopher and his protagonist (recalling some Muslim thinkers for whom he is indeed inspired and a soul mate): “Socrates got under my hat and has not left, thank God. He is the philosopher I should be, the philosopher we all should be. But no one is. Socrates was the greatest philosopher; that's why he wrote nothing. He didn't need to. He lived his words.”
      It is on prayer that I find, after Frithjof Schuon’s Prayer Fashions Man, the most profound  deliberations in recent times in Kreft’s work. Just one remark here: “No one who ever said to God, ‘Thy will be done’ and meant it with his heart, ever failed to find joy—not just in heaven, or even down the road in the future in this world, but in this world at that very moment, here and now.”  This recalls Ghazzali’s and other Sufi explications of  the station of acceptance (Maqam i Raza).
      We have heard so many, mostly unconvincing, answers to the question regarding sexual morality and houris for women. We have also not been receiving convincing reasons why lust is proscribed with such vehemence in religions. The best treatment regarding this question I have come across in modern times from Kreeft: “God is love, man is fulfilled in love. Lust happens to man as does craving for food. Craving can’t be an end; love is an end in itself….The highest pleasure always comes in self-forgetfulness. Self always spoils its own pleasure. Pleasure is like light; if you grab at it, you miss it; if you try to bottle it, you get only darkness; if you let it pass, you catch the glory. The self has a built-in, God-imaging design of self-fulfilment by self-forgetfulness, pleasure through unselfishness, ecstasy by ekstasis, "standing-outside-the-self". This is not the self-conscious self-sacrifice of the do-gooder but the spontaneous, unconscious generosity of the lover.”  Kreeft recalls in us Islam’s view of sexuality, when enjoyed in proper framework, as sacred and one recalls Ghazzali who said it gives a foretaste of paradise. 
      One may write on paper the questions about religion or rationale of certain do’s and don’ts of religion and compare the answers from popular preachers on TV or books available in the market to the answers philosophers like Kreeft or Nasr give and one can decide why modern world reserves the first place for philosophers and why they shake our hearts and minds and command our reverence. It is illumined philosophers borrowing their light from the “Niche of Prophecy” who have been considered the greatest and most influential scholars of respective traditions. Hujjatul Islams, Philosophers, basically interpret the world though some help change it (we first need to understand the world we wish to change, as has been remarked by a great philosopher.) Poets who are in a sense poet-philosophers are indeed our unknown legislators as Shelley said.

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