Michael W. Austin

Ideas that Matter.


I am not a fundamentalist, but I am a Christian. I’m also a philosophy professor at a state university. And I agree with David Niose that anti-intellectualism is a very deep problem in America. (I also agree with Ravi Chandra, as I believe that another major issue is the rampant self-centeredness present in our culture.) Here I’d like to give my perspective on issues related to anti-intellectualism. It is connected to some fundamentalisms, but the problem is much deeper and more widespread in our society.

We may read more now than in the past. We read a lot of blog posts, tweets, and the like. We may read a few books, too. But we don’t read enough complex books, and we don’t read well.

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The Dude Abides: Redeeming Free Time

The Dude abides. I wouldn’t suggest a life of bowling and White Russians, but there is something we can take from The Dude. We should question the culture of activity, where work seeps into and sometimes takes over the rest of life, where actual leisure time is non-existent. We focus on getting things done rather than who we are and who we are becoming.

There is an entire industry dedicated to “getting things done.” I’ve found some very useful ideas and practical tips that have made me more efficient, productive, and better at my work.

However, Josef Pieper asks in Leisure: The Basis of Culture,

“Is there a sphere of human activity, one might even say of human existence, that does not need to be justified by inclusion in a five-year plan and its technical organization? Is there such a thing, or not? (p. 38)”

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Ideas that Matter: Seeking Wisdom for Everyday Life

I became a professional philosopher because I was convinced that ideas matter. I’m more convinced of that now. I’ve always approached any text, thinker, or idea in the hope that I could find some truth or wisdom. I believe that we should welcome truth and wisdom, wherever they can be found.

When I first launched this website and blog back in 2015, my plan was to focus primarily on ideas from a particular Christian philosophical perspective. However, many people associate the term “Christian” with much that is very un-Christian these days. Yet there are many ideas rooted in the historic Christian faith that can be very useful not only for those who are Christians, but others as well. This is true whether one has different religious commitments, or none at all.

There are ideas to be found in many religious and philosophical traditions that are helpful for our growth in moral and intellectual virtue as well as our pursuit of wisdom and happiness, and there is a tradition within Christianity of appropriating such ideas (for instance, see Acts 17 where Paul quotes Cretan philosophers Epimenides and Aratus).

With this in mind, I’m expanding the scope of this blog to include an exploration of such ideas in ways that people will hopefully find to be both interesting and helpful. That’s my hope, at least. If you’re a Christian and read this blog for particularly Christian ideas concerning life and the formation of character, I’ll still write about such themes. But I think you’ll find ideas from other traditions helpful and interesting. They will also help you find common ground with others to have conversations of substance. Here are a few posts to check out:

In that spirit, I welcome any comments and suggestions my readers might have. Feel free to send ideas for topics, thinkers, issues, or any other feedback my way. Let’s try to make some progress in our pursuit of truth, wisdom, and genuine happiness, together.

The 7 C’s of Success: A Strong Confidence

Tom Morris calls the following “The Seven C’s of Success”: a clear conception of what we want, a strong confidence that we can attain that goal, concentration on what it will take to achieve it, consistent pursuit of our goal, an emotional commitment to the value of our goal, good character that guides us along the way, and a capacity to enjoy the process.

I’ve previously discussed the overall approach to life and happiness that the Seven C’s fit within, as well as the first C of success: a clear conception of what we want.

The second C of success, according to Morris, is a strong confidence that we can attain our goal. As C.S. Lewis puts it,

Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already.

Morris is not arguing that we can do anything we put our minds to, nor that if we just believe we can achieve. Rather, he advises us to choose goals or projects for which success is a real possibility. Our goals may still be very challenging, but in some important sense they are still realistic. Given this, we can reasonably cultivate an inner attitude of confidence, which will help us not only pursue but achieve the goals in question.

While such confidence in ourselves is not required for success–we may just get lucky, after all–it has an important role to play. As Morris notes,

A strong confidence is no guarantee of success. But it is among the chief facilitators of it.

Confidence facilitates success because it helps us to persist and persevere through difficulties, reminds us that we chose the goal we are pursuing because it is within our grasp, and enables us to tap into the gifts and abilities that we possess. It may also help us discover new ones along the way, which can further boost our confidence.

The above is drawn from Tom’s entertaining and enlightening book, Philosophy for Dummies.

Spiritual Growth is Slow

For many of us, one of the hardest things to accept about the process of spiritual growth, or sanctification, is that it is often slow. But it is, and that’s okay.

I struggle with this reality. In fact, my lack of acceptance of the slow pace of growth in Christ can undermine my own pursuit of God and of Christlike character. I want instant results, and when they don’t come I get frustrated and my motivation wanes. Related to this, I enjoy reading about the various spiritual disciplines, from writers both past and present. Yet when I do, I become more aware of the vast array of practices that can help us appropriate God’s grace and open our lives to him. I then think I must be engaged in all of these, or at least many of them.

Recently, however, I was reminded in a helpful way of the fact that slowness in the spiritual life is a reality, and that there is no need to fight against it. This past week I listened to an episode of the Renovare podcast, in which Nathan Foster and Australian pastor Andrew Ranucci discuss the value of spiritual retreats and growth in Christ. At Ranucci’s church, they focus on one discipline per year. While this seems slow, in 6 years people will have engaged in and hopefully come to habitually practice 6 different disciplines that foster openness to God and to the process of spiritual growth.

I highly recommend listening to this podcast, especially the second half of it. It is always good to be reminded that in the spiritual life, we ought to take a long-term view as we walk the path of a long obedience in the same direction.

Photo: Photo Monkey, CCL

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