Philosophy, ideally, is a way of life rather than an academic discipline. To be philosophical means that one’s life is centered on the pursuit of wisdom, such that the way one lives is consistent with such a pursuit and with one’s understanding of the truth. I agree with Augustine that there is no conflict between philosophy and Christianity, because the Christian life is a pursuit of Jesus, who is the wisdom and power of God–the logos of God by which the world was made and the illuminator of every mind.
It is not easy to live philosophically. In the USA, we are largely encouraged to pursue sensual satisfaction as the highest good – hence the glorification of sex, material security, and entertainment in our society. Habits of self-discipline, self-denial, stillness, contemplation are hard to develop and to maintain. We like to think that we can live more or less worldly lives and yet still be carriers of the cross of Christ. In the professional academy, one must navigate intense pressures to be productive in scholarly output, to master languages and material quickly, to meet the demands of students and administration, such that the ivory tower can become but another rat race.
I know several people that seek to reject the false values of mainstream American culture by reviving an older agrarian model of life. Inspired by the writings of Wendell Berry, they try to live an integrated and simple life, seeking to be closer to the natural world and to center their lives on their homes and family life. Instead of pursuing material wealth, they want to work the earth. Rejecting the American tendency to always move about, seeking what is novel, they want to be rooted, to know a place intimately. Rejecting the idea of the home as a place of entertainment and consumption, they seek to build productive, even self-sufficient homes, in which a family can be fully present to itself.
I admire these friends very much. In many ways, I think that they are more philosophical than I am. They whole-heartedly pursue a vision of the good life that resonates with classical virtue. I also generally agree with their criticisms of industrialized food production, though my knowledge of such things is quite superficial.
Yet such a path and such a life are not for me. My heart is not stirred by the idea of being in one place, of doing the same things day in and day out, of working the land. I do not consider any one place my home (though obviously some places are more familiar than others) and I love to see new places – mountains, islands, rivers, cathedrals – and to learn different ways to see the world. I once read an article in the Front Porch Republic , in which the author said that he and his wife decided to leave the rootlessness of professional academic (moving from place to place for education and for jobs) after they realized that they had no idea where they should be buried. My response to that question is that it does not matter – it is not I who will be in the ground and the Lord will be able to raise my body wherever it be.
In thinking about the rootlessness of my life and of my chosen profession–a rootlessness that I have been made aware of through my friends that have chosen to take up farming and intentionally simple living–I wish not to reject it or to live in a halfway house, but to bring my rootlessness into line with my Christianity and to make it a part of my pilgrimage rather than a form of modern dislocation. I want to reject material security and sensual satisfaction and worldly success as false idols, but in a manner that fits my own calling as academic, as a philosopher/historian of ancient and medieval philosophy. I want to live in conformity with my professed belief that this world is not my home, that I am a stranger moving from shelter to shelter seeking after a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
And so I will travel with my family to Papua New Guinea, pitch my tent there for a time, teach philosophy to the national seminarians, work on my dissertation, and try to be more myself, a pilgrim with a penchant for Plato and Plotinus. I do not leave my home for jungle, rather I go to Papua New Guinea to find it.
[PS – It is a sorrow that I will be away from my family and friends, but there is no perfect way of living in this life. Also, I have made most of my friends precisely by moving about for my education–there was never any assurance that we would live in the same place for long. You can always reach me by e-mail and letter, and I will always write back!]