A Brief History of Thought

July9


*Editor’s note: This book, written by an French secular humanist, does not fall in our normal devotional content. We have included it in the Summer Reading Series to frame the assumptions of contemporary culture and offer context as you converse about faith with friends and coworkers.

Excerpt from Chapter One: What is Philosophy

I am going to tell you the story [of] the history of philosophy. Not all of it, of course, but its five great moments. In each case, I will give you an example of one or two transforming visions of the world or, as we say sometimes, one or two great ‘systems of thought’.

I suggest that we accept a different approach to the question ‘What is philosophy?’ and start from a very simple proposition, one that contains the central question of all philosophy: that the human being, as distinct from God, is mortal.

I will show how religions have attempted to take charge of the questions [the need for salvation] raises. Because the simplest way of starting to define philosophy is always by putting it in relation to religion.

Faced with the supreme threat to existence – death – how does religion work? Essentially, through faith. By insisting that it is faith, and faith alone, which can direct the grace of God towards us. If you believe in Him, God will save you. 

The religions demand humility, above and beyond all other virtues, since humility is in their eyes the opposite – as the greatest Christian thinkers, from Saint Augustine to Pascal, never stop telling us – of the arrogance and the vanity of philosophy. 

Philosophy also claims to save us – if not from death itself, then from the anxiety it causes, and to do so by the exercise of our own resources and our innate faculty of reason. Which, from a religious perspective, sums up philosophical pride: the effrontery evident already in the earliest philosophers, from Greek antiquity, several centuries before Christ.

Unable to bring himself to believe in a God who offers salvation, the philosopher is above all one who believes that by understanding the world, by understanding ourselves and others as far our intelligence permits, we shall succeed in overcoming fear, through clear-sightedness rather than blind faith.

In other words, if religions can be defined as ‘doctrines of salvation’, the great philosophies can also be defined as doctrines of salvation (but without the help of a God). Philosophy wants us to get ourselves out of trouble by utilizing our own resources, by means of reason alone, with boldness and assurance. The quest for a salvation without God is at the heart of every great philosophical system.

Summer Reading Series
A Brief History of Thought
Luc Ferry
Harper Perennial, 2011

Today’s Readings
Joshua 11 (Listen – 3:52)
Psalm 144 (Listen – 1:56)

Summer Reading Series
Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

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Life Together

July8

*The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

Excerpt from Chapter One: Community

The Christian cannot simply take for granted the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. In the end all his disciples abandoned him. On the cross he was all alone, surrounded by criminals and the jeering crowds. He had come for the express purpose of bringing peace to the enemies of God. So Christians, too, belong not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the midst of enemies. There they find their mission, their work.

It is by God’s grace that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly around God’s word and sacrament in this world. Not all Christians partake of this grace. The imprisoned, the sick, the lonely who live in the diaspora, the proclaimers of the gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible community is grace.

On innumerable occasions a whole Christian community has been shattered because it has lived on the basis of a wishful image. 

Every human idealized image that is brought into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be broken up so that genuine community can survive. Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.

God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idealized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others, and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands, set up their own law, and judge one another and even God accordingly. They stand adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of the community. They act as if they have to create the Christian community, as if their visionary ideal binds the people together. Whatever does not go their way, they call a failure.

When their idealized image is shattered, they see the community breaking into pieces. So they first become accusers of other Christians in the community, then accusers of God, and finally the desperate accusers of themselves. 

Because God already has laid the only foundation of our community, because God has united us in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that life together with other Christians, not as those who make demands, but as those who thankfully receive.

Summer Reading Series
Life Together
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible
Fortress Press, 2004

Today’s Readings
Joshua 10 (Listen – 7:23)
Psalms 142-143 (Listen – 2:35)

Summer Reading Series
Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

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Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work

*The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work | Summer Reading Series
Excerpt from Chapter Nine: A New Story for Work

The particulars of how the gospel works out in each field are endlessly rich.

What are some of the idols of business, for example? Money and power certainly top the list. But remember that an idol is a good thing that we make into an ultimate thing. 

Corporate profits and influence, stewarded wisely, are a healthy means to a good end: They are vital to creating new products to serve customers, giving an adequate return to investors for the use of their money, and paying employees well for their work. 

Similarly, individual compensation is an appropriate reward for one’s contributions and is necessary to provide for oneself and one’s family. But it is not our identity, our salvation, or even our source of security and comfort. 

The Christian worker or business leader who has experienced God’s grace — ­who knows “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20) ­is free to honor God, love neighbors, and serve the common good through work.

At one level, this should all seem to go without saying. The idea that businesses should advance the social good has been regaining its proper place in the last decade, helped along by the string of business scandals in recent years.

Yet despite this growing consensus, it is probably fair to say that the implicit assumptions in the marketplace are that making money is the main thing in life, that business is fundamentally about accumulating and wielding power, and that maximizing profit within legal limits is an end in itself. 

The reason is that sin runs through the heart of every worker and the culture of every enterprise. The result is polluted rivers, poor service, unjust compensation, entitlement attitudes, dead-­end jobs, dehumanizing bureaucracy, backstabbing, and power grabs. This is why it is so important for us to be intentional in applying the counter-­narrative of the gospel to business.

To be a Christian in business, then, means much more than just being honest or not sleeping with your coworkers. It even means more than personal evangelism or holding a Bible study at the office. Rather, it means thinking out the implications of the gospel worldview and God’s purposes for your whole work life —­ and for the whole of the organization under your influence.

Summer Reading Series

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work  to God’s Work
Timothy Keller
Dutton, 2012

Today’s Readings
Joshua 9 (Listen – 3:46)
Psalms 140-141 (Listen – 2:44)

Summer Reading Series
Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

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Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered

July6

*The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered | Summer Reading Series
Excerpt from Chapter Five: A Question of Size

I was brought up on the theory of the “economies of scale” — that with industries and firms, just as with nations, there is an irresistible trend, dictated by modern technology, for units to become ever bigger.

Even today, we are generally told that gigantic organizations are inescapably necessary; but when we look closely we can notice that as soon as great size has been created there is often a strenuous attempt to attain smallness within bigness. The great achievement of Mr. Sloan of General Motors was to structure this gigantic firm in such a manner that it became, in fact, a federation of fairly reasonably sized firms.

In the affairs of men, there always appears to be a need for at least two things simultaneously, which, on the face of it, seem to be incompatible and to exclude one another. We always need both freedom and order. We need the freedom of lots and lots of small, autonomous units, and, at the same time, the orderliness of large-scale, possibly global, unity and coordination.

For constructive work, the principal task is always the restoration of some kind of balance. Today, we suffer from an almost universal idolatry of giantism. It is possibly one of the causes and certainly one of the effects of modern technology, particularly in matters of transport and communications. 

An entirely new system of thought is needed, a system based on attention to people, and not primarily attention to goods — the goods will look after themselves! It could be summed up in the phrase, “production by the masses, rather than mass production.”

What is the meaning of democracy, freedom, human dignity, standard of living, self-realization, fulfillment? Is it a matter of goods, or of people? Of course it is a matter of people. But people can be themselves only in small comprehensible groups. 

We must learn to think in terms of an articulated structure that can cope with a multiplicity of small-scale units. If economic thinking cannot grasp this it is useless. If it cannot get beyond its vast abstractions and make contact with the human realities of poverty, frustration, alienation, despair, breakdown, crime, escapism, stress, congestion, ugliness, and spiritual death, then let us scrap economics and start afresh.

Are there not indeed enough “signs of the times” to indicate that a new start is needed?

Summer Reading Series
Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered
E. F. Schumacher
25th Anniversary Edition — With Commentaries
Hartley and Marks Publishers, 2000

Today’s Readings
Joshua 8 (Listen – 5:55)
Psalm 139 (Listen – 2:26)

Summer Reading Series
Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

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Just Mercy

July3

*The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

Just Mercy | Summer Reading Series
Excerpt from the Introduction

When I first went to death row in December 1983, America was in the early stages of a radical transformation that would turn us into an unprecedentedly harsh and punitive nation and result in mass imprisonment that has no historical parallel. Today we have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. 

The prison population has increased from 300,000 people in the early 1970s to 2.3 million people today. There are nearly six million people on probation or on parole. One in every fifteen people born in the United States in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison; one in every three black male babies born in this century is expected to be incarcerated.

We have shot, hanged, gassed, electrocuted, and lethally injected hundreds of people to carry out legally sanctioned executions. Thousands more await their execution on death row.

We’ve created laws that make writing a bad check or committing a petty theft or minor property crime an offense that can result in life imprisonment. We have declared a costly war on people with substance abuse problems. There are more than a half-million people in state or federal prisons for drug offenses today, up from just 41,000 in 1980.

The collateral consequences of mass incarceration have been equally profound. We ban poor women and, inevitably, their children from receiving food stamps and public housing if they have prior drug convictions. 

We have created a new caste system that forces thousands of people into homelessness, bans them from living with their families and in their communities, and renders them virtually unemployable. 

We also make terrible mistakes. Scores of innocent people have been exonerated after being sentenced to death and nearly executed.

Finally, we spend lots of money. Spending on jails and prisons by state and federal governments has risen from $6.9 billion in 1980 to nearly $80 billion today.

My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. 

I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.

Summer Reading Series
Just Mercy
Bryan Stevenson
Spiegel & Grau, 2015

Today’s Readings
Joshua 5 (Listen – 2:38)
Psalms 132-134 (Listen – 2:42)

Summer Reading Series
Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

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This Weekend’s Readings

Saturday: Joshua 6 (Listen – 4:47); Psalms 135-136 (Listen – 4:23)
Sunday: Joshua 7 (Listen – 4:58); Psalms 137-138 (Listen – 2:13)

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