Monday 30 September 2013

On being a Christian Fox


"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing" - Achilochus (680-645 BC).


A hedgehog is a systematic thinker with one big idea to which all smaller ideas are related - most great intellectuals have been of this kind - and almost all Christian theologians.

I am of the other kind, a fox - who knows many things, but does not subordinate them to one big thing.

The distinction between hedgehog and fox was clarified and popularized by Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), in a essay of that title:

But, whatever the advantages of being a hedgehog, I am not one; not intellectually, and not in my life.

Even after becoming a Christian I remain a fox, and have gravitated towards the most fox-like theology I can find. 

Hence the aphoristic style of this blog - a sequence of detachable points, in a sequence of detachable mini-essays.

Combining them into one-big-thing is difficult, and a task for which I personally am unsuited.


It is, indeed, the secret conviction of a fox that important things cannot always be combined, not without significant (maybe deadly) loss and distortion - and so we leave them either detached; or else placed contiguously: stitched edge-to-edge.



William Zeitler said...

I observe that the Bible itself presents its truths in a disconnect/aphoristic way, and not systematically. I personally am skeptical that we finite humans, and allotted only 3-score and 10 years, can really manage a comprehensive understanding of anything non-trivial anyway.

J. B. said...

I take your self-identification as a fox with a grain of salt. From the outside it appears that you've lately been engaged in bringing many discrete truths together into a coherent system, namely Mormon theology. For instance your post on Tolkien's idea of subcreation. You may be more of a hedgehog than you like to think.

Adam G. said...

Scripture seems fox-like to me, not hedgehog like. That is, the individual teachings are true, but sometimes hard to reconcile with other individual teachings without gymnastics.

I'm not sure that either you nor Mormonism as you understand it is foxy, however. You see everything through the lens of free will and reject doctrines or traditions that conflict with it.

Joseph said...

How does being a Christian Fox play into the Christian idea of a singular "human condition," to which each of our lives relate?

Surely if we are to evangelize, we must be convinced of there being "one big thing" that everyone is able and willing to believe.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jables - cross-sectionally, I am a hedgehog - but longitudinally a fox.

Mormonism is the theological version of Pragmatism, which is the classic fox philosophy. (Or non-philosophy.) Joseph Smith was - of course - as much of a fox as anyone ever has been.

It is amazing (but telling) that the astonishingly paradoxical religion JS founded hangs together so beautifully in practice; since in theory you would never suppose that it would.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AG - You may well be right Since I do not walk the walk, I cannot really know. Perhaps time will tell.

@Joseph - That's how it looks to a hedgehog...!

Wm Jas said...

"O Israel, thy prophets are like the foxes in the deserts." (Ezekiel 13:4)

Hedgehogs, on the other hand, are conspicuously absent from Scripture...