Pictish Stone, Isle of SkyeTobhta/Tote
Clach Chruithnich/A Pictish standing stone at Tote, Isle of Skye

My Spiritual Adviser!

Before publishing my blog, I always read it to my dear friend and Spiritual Adviser. Before long, especially when she hears the name Dooyeweerd, the glazed look appears. And now Troost – double Dutch! By the end I might have to gently shake her shoulder and waken her from a deep sleep! I can by now read her thoughts: ‘Why on earth are you writing that rubbish? Who on earth with a normal mind is going to read that? And what relevance has it got to the Christian life?’ I view her with huge envy. The simple faith, the unglazed vision! I realize with dismay that for many people Dooyeweerd’s philosophy will be like a Pictish stone, a total mystery.

But then I comfort myself with the thought that, despite the total inadequacy of my explanations, (1) his philosophy, or a philosophy very like it, is the philosophy of the future and (2) that it strikes a mortal blow to all kinds of dualism and all philosophies which exclude a Creator. Just because it isn’t widely understood or accepted doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

And I also think, much to my discredit, at least I’m not like the guru in the local rag who also pontificates much in his native tongue but who loves to strike under-the-belt blows at those who work to rescue that very dying tongue. He, the lyrical champion of the croft-hugging underdog, doesn’t seem to realize or acknowledge that it is the very underdogs of the family croft who are abandoning the language in droves. There can be something sordid in praise and dispraise. But enough of my girning lest my muse takes flight and I fall in the same ditch!

Clach Àrd
A description of the above stone

What do you mean?!

For someone who has had a lifelong interest in philosophy, the Andre Troost book, What is Reformational Philosophy? which I mentioned in the last blog is proving to be extremely interesting. For the next few blogs I’ll be commenting on passages from this book, which is an introduction to the philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd, and explaining why (for a Christian) I find it helpful and interesting.

Meaning has always been problematic for philosophers. I remember when I read people – it seems like a previous life! – such as Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein. They seemed to be engrossed with linguistic analysis, but having gone through a myriad of doors with them you felt, like Omar of the Rubaiyat, that you came out by the self-same door as you went in. How delightful then to find in Troost the following explanation of ‘meaning’ when he is explaining the technical terms used in Dooyeweerd’s philosophy:

‘Meaning and its meaning-sides’

‘Then there is the term “meaning-sides.” This term is the most profound one. The view of what “meaning” is and what it stands for is a religious view, a view that expresses what we believe regarding the (1) origin and (2) final purpose or destination of all things, as well as (3) their mode of being before God, in his covenant and under his law, his promises and rule. This existence has meaning … we could also say: existence, reality, is meaning; or: to exist is to be meaning.’
I like that, ‘existence … is meaning.’ But of course this is not existentialism where existence is meaningless (Sartre) unless man creates his own meaning. Troost goes on to explain why existence is meaningful.

Donald Munro, Catechist
A plaque at the grave of Donald Munro, on Eilean Chaluim Chille, Isle of Skye

There is meaning because there are laws

‘As regards created reality, Christian philosophy can build on this “being meaning” by further specifying our temporal mode of existence as a “subjective” (subjected) existence in correlation with God’s laws of creation.’
In Dooyeweerd’s philosophy we have to be careful of the word “subjective.” It’s not used in the everyday sense. There is the law-side – all reality is governed by divine law, and the subject side. I take the subject side to be how humans experience living in the reality whose laws originate with God. He goes on to say:

Our mode of existence

‘Only this mode of existence, this middle part of reality as it exists in time between its divine origin and its ultimate destination, is open to theoretical analysis and the resulting systematic, scientific interpretation of it. Accordingly, even in scientific philosophy the term “meaning-sides” of the cosmos continues to reflect the religious starting point, since the notion of “meaning” contains a reference to origin and destination, both of which can only be grasped in faith.’ … ‘Reality does not exist in any other way than in this correlation with (God’s) laws, stretched between Origin and Destination.’
Life has meaning because there are laws and therefore a Law-giver. Later we will see how their own laws or rules apply to all the 15 modal aspects which comprise our reality as humans.

Bridge to St Columba's Isle, Skye
Bridge to Eilean Chaluim Chille/St Columba’s Isle, Skeabost, Isle of Skye

The alpha and omega

Christ is central and indeed the key to understanding Dooyeweerd’s philosophy. Troost continues: ‘The believer who is versed in Scripture will be reminded rather quickly that Christ, too, is called “the alpha and omega,” the beginning and the end of all things. This provides a religious defence against the historicizing secularism that proposes to look at (“natural”!) reality apart from Christ, a reality that is supposedly “neutral” or of unknown origin (the Big Bang theory for instance).’

I like the reference to the Big Bang theory. I plead guilty to this kind thinking until very recently. The radical nature of Dooyeweerd’s scientific philosophy is that it lets you see the mistake inherent in theories such as the Big Bang, seen in isolation. Such theories depend on materialist presuppositions and that ‘mind’ arose from ‘matter.’ Dooyeweerd’s fully worked out philosophy avoids such dualism. It is a philosophy of Meaning rather than ‘substance’; meaning that arises from and is expressed by a Source.