9 1/2 years, one wife, and 3 boys later, i have finally finished my bachelor’s degree. last wednesday i turned in my final paper to complete the requirements for a b.a. in philosophy from the university of missouri-kansas city.
when asked what my major is, i respond “philosophy.” inevitably the inquirer then says, “oh.” so for all those wondering, this is why i have spent so much time studying philosophy and theology. why i have committed my life to learning and thinking philosophically and theologically. why i spend countless sleepless nights wrestling with ideas and myself. why i have chosen to become impractical. here is the reason:
philosophy and theology are for wounded souls. indeed those of us who take up the study of any of the humanities, of language and literature, history and art, philosophy and theology, or any of the natural sciences, have been pierced to the heart by something precious, beautiful, deep, and enigmatic that leaves us reeling. we know that the doctors are not telling us everything, that the wound will not heal, that we are not going to recover. we have suffered a blow that has destroyed our equilibrium; we have been shaken by a provocation, by something that has left us breathless, pursued by questions that we cannot still. we have been visited by some affliction that results in tremors (that is how it “presents itself,’ as the medical textbooks say), but also has this other oddity about it–this disorder induces an affection for our affliction, so that the patients have no wish to be healed, to close this wound over, to arrest these tremors. for we live and breathe in the trumulousness of our lives, exposed to the questionability of things, made vulnerable to love’s wounds, visited in the night by questions of elemental power, shaken to the core by voices that will not be stilled.
we are nourished by the depths that spread out before us, luring us on like sirens. life, we think, is like a star that shines all the more brilliantly the darker the night. it is the darkness that gives things their depth, and we are prepared to give the darkness its due, not because we are obscurantists but because we love the brightness of the stars. the dark ring of ambiguity around life is a crucial ingredient in its richness; it is not something to be dispersed so that we can lead unambiguous lives. on the contrary, the ambiguity provokes interpretation, like a classic text that has invited centuries of commentary, forcing us to come to grips with depths that elude our grip, that will not succumb to our grip. in responding to this provocation, in offering such interpretations as seem plausible, we reach a certain self-understanding, even if that is the understanding that we can never quite understand who we are and that there is no one final interpretation. the opposite of all this, the result of turning our backs on the enigma of our lives and embracing unqualified and unambiguous clarity, is the superficial life, a life made artificially easy be facile answers and too easy acquisitions.
|| john d. caputo, philosophy and theology