Notes on Christianity
and Ideas

Issue 24
September 2005

Myodicy homepage

Published by Theodore Plantinga

In this issue ....

Does the reformational movement (Runner, Dooyeweerd and the like) have an understanding of its own history that springs from a uniquely reformational understanding of history? Click here to read the first installment of Theodore Plantinga's informal history of the reformational movement, in which such matters are discussed.

Is the planned abolition of mandatory retirement (in Ontario and other jurisdictions as well) to be applauded or deplored? Is it a way of telling seniors that they must sink or swim on their own? Click here to read "The Right to Be Poor: Reflections on Mandatory Retirement."

Are Christians -- even when gathered for worship on Sundays -- afraid to be different and unique? Click here to read "No More Zorro Outfit."

Evan Runner never did write that introduction to philosophy book, but from some student notes we can gather what sorts of topics he would have discussed in it. Click here to read "Runner's Introduction to Philosophy -- I."

Can the creeds of the churches keep a Christian college from drifting off course? Click here to read what Revs. John Hellinga and Raymond Sikkema have to say on the subject.


Don't take the term literally. I don't plan to turn pages for you. What I mean to do in this space is comment on materials in the world of the printed page -- brief book notes, observations about periodicals, and perhaps a comment on an event.

Selfless selves. Have you ever wondered what difference all the blather about "postmodernism" is supposed to make to life as lived by people who pull on their pants one leg at a time? Have you been tempted to dismiss the whole business as a minor quarrel between professors? Before you let yourself off the hook in such a comfortable manner, I would urge you to read Walter Truett Anderson's book The Future of the Self: Inventing the Postmodern Person (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1997). I read it recently, and although I thought I knew all that stuff, I found it a very illuminating review.

And where does it leave us? Can we truly live without considering that we are selves -- or perhaps that we possess selfhood? Can we throw away our identity like a Vietnam-era war resister burning his draft card? Can we adopt enough new identities to water down the current one to insignificant proportions?

Anderson seems somewhat ambivalent about the abiding spiritual and philosophical value of postmodernism. At times he seems to indicate that we can't fight city hall, and at other times he longs for the verities that have long undergirded our civilization.

I must say this about him: he leaves no stone unturned in his search for alternative ways of thinking about what we used to call selfhood and identity. He reviews the Julian Jaynes hypothesis and also meditates on the message of Buddhism. And he writes in a style that make the ideas he discusses seem almost too simple.

So where does he leave us? The question is easier to ask than to answer. Perhaps I should say only: Almost trembling. Perhaps there is nothing more to say than: "O brave new world, that has such unpeople in it ...."

A useful major. "So what can you do with a philosophy major?" I get asked this question from time to time. The obvious answer is: teach philosophy. But an equally important answer is that training in philosophy is useful for many different challenging endeavors in our world. Take the case of Paul Martin, Canada's current prime minister.

His image is that of a businessman, for he pursued quite a successful career in business before turning to politics. But prior to embarking on that business career he was a philosophy major at St. Michael's College, University of Toronto. You can read about it in John Gray's book Paul Martin in the Balance (Toronto: Key Porter Books, 2004, see pp. 40-41).

Most of Gray's book deals with Martin's work as Canada's Minister of Finance, where his record earned him respect around the world. The bureaucrats in the Finance Department were not used to a Minister getting so deeply involved in budget-making. Gray reports that Martin was not afraid to ask bizarre questions and insisted that all assumptions be rethought (see especially pp. 118ff). He also felt very free to change his mind. To me, it all points to a sound philosophical training and again illustrates the value of philosophy for various pursuits in what many people call "the real world."

Dissing the boss. Christine Todd Whitman, two-time governor of New Jersey, also served as cabinet secretary for the Environmental Protection Agency under the current President Bush, although she did not persevere to the very end of the first Bush term. In her memoir of her years in office, entitled It's My Party Too: The Battle for the Heart of the GOP and the Future of America (New York: Penguin Press, 2005), she applies her own creed concerning clean campaigning (no personal attacks -- stick to the issues) to her substantial differences with her former boss, President Bush. She doesn't mean the first one, who is an old family friend (p. 207), for she calls him "a moderate Republican if there ever was one" (p. 62). Her target is the second one, who has departed from the tried-and-true Republican path.

She words her criticisms carefully, focusing on policies rather than persons. Like many others in her party, she is deeply opposed to the Bush economic policies and writes: "We must rededicate ourselves to the proposition stated in the 1960 Republican platform: `Government that is careless with the money of its citizens is careless with their future.' The return to deficit spending under a Republican president and Republican Congress is contrary to everything the GOP has always stood for." [Page 233] Proper economic policies simply are not high on the agenda of the curreent administration. Whitman complains: "The nearly one-hundred-page Republican platform of 2004 contained only ten paragraphs (about one and a half pages) concerning the importance of fiscal discipline, a principle every Republican can agree on ...." [Page 235]

On the Irag situation, she essentially repeats the Bill Clinton criticism of the current president and allies herself with Colin Powell. She appeals to what she calls "radical moderates" to take back the party that is rightfully theirs: note her title. And so we are left to suppose that there are, in effect, three parties in Washington contending for two major presidential nominations that will be open in 2008. The Democrats will surely field a candidate. And then there will be another candidacy open to be seized either by Whitman's "radical moderates," who are really just the Republicans we used to know, the ones who practiced prudence in both fiscal management and foreign affairs, or by those who side with George W. Bush, a group for whom Whitman has no name.

Is it possible to diss the boss and remain a lady at the same time? Whitman shows us how.

General information

This electronic journal is my way of keeping in touch with friends, colleagues, former students, and so forth. It does not have a regular publication schedule. Feel free to download it and pass it around. You may even wish to send me a comment; I do not guarantee a response to each communication. If you wish to repost anything in this journal, please let me know. If you care to print something in paper form, this can also be arranged, provided that I retain the copyright so that I will remain free in my use of the material. Please regard the materials in Myodicy as copyrighted by me, except in the case of articles written by someone else. What is written in Myodicy should not be regarded as reflecting any official position or policy of Redeemer University College.

Theodore Plantinga
E-mail: [email protected]

To read Myodicy:
Please pass on this address, or include a link to it in something you have posted yourself.