Woo! We’re half way through the Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology, folks! I say “we” and “folks” but my metrics tell me very few people are actually reading these posts. (Fewer than my usual few, even!) I’m not at all offended or bummed by this. It’s kind of what I expected, for a couple reasons I’ve realized over the past 300 pages:
1). This is not the kind of book that one should read through reviews. Each chapter basically is a review of the relevant sources and schools of thought on each topic, so a review of reviews is like trying to appreciate the Mona Lisa through a sketch of a photograph taken of the actual painting. So much is lost, and so much is inserted (in terms of the writer’s/sketcher’s perspective and selecting of what elements seem to them to be the most important to reproduce). I have a whole reading list that spawned from looking up contributors’ sources, and I think that’s one of the best things about reading overviews of this kind. It should serve to spark an interest, not satisfy it entirely. But a series of reviews of such a book? Not exactly gripping, sparking material.
2). I’m writing these for me, really. If my audience is me, then I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m the only one reading my writing. Ha. I’m writing and thinking my way through the OHPT which means I summarize for me, to give context to my particular thoughts and criticisms and appreciations. I pull out what has the most meaning for me based on my history with the ideas and the religion. This may not resonate with lots of people, who have a very different experience and history with the intellectual aspects of Christianity.
3). This is not a topic that is wildly popular for people looking to blogs for a moment of distraction! Blogs are kind of old-school by now (I hear there’s a thing called TikTok taking the world by storm?). Plus, the topics I’m writing about are not what I would call “popular.” Some chapters are very technical, some are very heavy. I mean, one of the main debates about the existence of a Higher Being is around the Problem of Evil. The Problem of Evil winds its way through or hovers in the background of most of the chapters so far. That means we have to think about real evil, instances of evil, to try to balance the logical and intuitive ethical scales of each attribute of God, or each argument for how God operates (or doesn’t) in the world. I’m not surprised not a lot of people want to join me for a whole year in this stuff.
So yeah, I’m not at all surprised this little series is not lighting my blog readership on fire. But I really don’t mind and I’m still super motivated to continue and finish by end of the year 2020.
Good lord. 2020. What a dumpster fire.
Anyhoodle, even though I don’t have a lot of people reading my thoughts, I’m so glad I have a couple friends and a husband who will talk to me about all this. This work means a lot to me. It’s changing me, has changed me, and what I think about God and religion is deeply important to me. I want to do it right, I want to do it carefully, searchingly, with a commitment to both compassion and intellectual rigor. I also want to do this with people. I need people to challenge and expand my thinking. I need people to help me figure out why something doesn’t sit well, and to bring up additional reasons for good arguments.
So far, the reading of and writing about this book has been so good for my own thinking and believing. Religion used to be make sense emotionally for me, but it never made a lot of sense intellectually. I had huge questions that I knew I didn’t have good answers to. Honestly? This book is showing me how good some of those instincts were.
It’s also showing me how deep the intellectual history of Christianity goes. I was never exposed to this part growing up. I’m not complaining (grace for limited parents and all), I’m just happy to have my world widened now.
A major criticism of the book as a whole: In light of the recent energy around racial inequality and police brutality against Black people, the demographics of the contributors is pretty damning. Oodles of white men, with only an occasional woman to even gesture towards “diversity.” Also, so far there has been no tackling of the sociological and cultural issues coming out of the Bible. How does the theology encourage people to live? Why did the Old Testament approve of slavery and how should that complicate the authority and infallibility Christians give to the Bible? I hope the next editions contain more diverse voices and tackle some of the issues, in a philosophical way, raised by the practices endorsed and commanded by the Bible.
Or maybe that’s coming in the second half! I do have 13 more chapters to go. I suppose there is a lot to cover in the next 200+ pages.
For those who do read this little series, thanks for sticking with me these past 300 pages and helping me feel a little less like a weird sea turtle floating along by myself in an ocean of questions. To those who haven’t, I totally get you, boo. I might not resonate with this project, either, if it weren’t mine. Let’s find something else meaty to talk and argue and laugh about. This world is brimming with amazing ideas and things to be learned. I want to see and learn it all.