No one thinks in a vacuum. Ideas have a history, and I want to know that history. I want to know why I think like an evangelical conservative Christian. I want to know how my worldview developed. How did I come to think about liberty, property, democracy, eschatology, and theology the way that I do? Moreover, how did the masses of people who think like me or unlike me come to think as they do?
We would all like to think that we think rightly. But regardless of whether our thoughts and assumptions are aligned with truth, who brought that way of thinking to light and how did it get packaged in such a manner that I think it today? I find the history of ideas fascinating.
Just as one could trace a style of art, a musical composition, or a style of clothing back to its origin, we can trace ways of thinking to their originators. Thoughts come from thinkers. Most of our thoughts are not our original creation. Thoughts are adopted collectively, but originated individually. Once they arrive at the popular level of thinking they are often a diluted version of their origin, but they still bear the signature of their author.
On the red carpet we hear the interviewers asking the actors and actresses who they are wearing. I do not pay enough attention to recite the designers’ names. But I do wish to know the designers of ideas.
Who are you thinking? Is it Kant, Hume, Nietzsche, Marx, Jung, Darwin, Derrida, or maybe Augustine, Luther, or Calvin? Is it Jesus, Confucius, Mohammed, Buddha, or Gandhi? Do your ideas spring out of liberalism, conservativism, postmodernism, modernism, communism or socialism? Do they have a national or regional signature? Do they conform with Christianity: Catholic, Protestant, evangelical or one of the many other variants or streams?
We may be surprised to find the answers. We may attribute ideas to the Enlightenment philosophers that are truly biblical in origin. The ideas may have been reintroduced to the West by Protestant thinkers. Or we may attribute ideas to the Bible that are influenced by other non-biblical thinkers.
Many people will not do the work of researching out their own ideas much less the ideas of other people. They will not develop a worldview, but will be content wearing hand-me-down thinking of unknown origin. I find that the more we understand where ideas come from the less mysterious and conspiratorial the ideas of others become. We get behind them and see how they developed and then realize that the philosophical war has been fought on many stages well before we were born.
I love to read. In my reading I find a trail of bread crumbs tracing the history of a way of thinking. I retrace the steps searching to gain greater understanding. One book leads me to another as I investigate the trail further. Sometimes I have to wade through a lot of dry information before it begins to provide me with enough knowledge to garner understanding.
Who are you thinking? Do you know? Do you want to know?