I know what may possibly come to mind hearing such a topic: a famous song by English song writer Ed Sheeran, whose single peaked to number one status on the charts in the UK in Late 2014; smooth and mellow lyrics complemented by the guitars introspective tones. Close enough.
This title speaks to what the songwriter is doing, but also what we all do at times, ‘think out loud’. We have daily musings that we give vent to, to try and make sense of possible jumbled thoughts and we do so out loud. Consider the all too common retort when we are heard saying something and present company thinks we are conversing with them, with the response being, “Oh, I was just thinking out loud”.
We also do this on a grander level, where our thoughts are given ventilation. How do I do this you may ask? Through the words we promulgate via different mediums and platforms. Peter Hitchens in his first things article, ‘The Fantasy of Addiction’ makes a salient point, “Words are congealed thought - in some cases, very congealed indeed. Some words are congealed lack of thought. When we use words badly, it is because we are too lazy, or too hurried, to think about what they mean.”
When we use words whether orally or written, we ‘think out loud’, we use words as the engine to drive our train of thinking to the minds of an impressionable audience. As such, Hitchen’s quote is not just a statement to the obvious, but a cautionary word about how we use words, especially on a public platform because words convey thoughts. Thoughts convey ideas and ideas have implications and consequences. They are behind revolutions, counter revolutions and schools of thought, they are powerful and indelible.
Someone may say the sense being communicated may be restricted to an academic context. After all, aren’t they the purveyors of ideas? I would argue otherwise and so would noted Christian apologist, Ravi Zacharias, who speaks along the same line. He makes the point that philosophy or ideas comes to us on three levels.
The first being theory, where ideas comes to us from writings such as Plato and Aristotle etc. Along the lines of the above concern as it relates to ideas but Zacharias does not rest there. He further states that ideas comes to us on a second level that is a bit more sweeping. It finds its place in imagination and feeling and may come to us through plays, novels, movies and music. Lastly, it comes to us by ‘kitchen table talk’. According to Zacharias, much of our moralising in life goes on through casual conversations.
I say all this to say that ideas are not restricted to one particular context. We are all philosophical in one way or another, and thus we share ideas on multiple levels and especially on the last level. So in point of fact we all ‘think out loud’. That being said; I want to share a couple of points for us given the sense of the topic.
Power of ideas and consequences
Firstly, we must understand the power of ideas and the fact that they do have consequences. Consider church history, when leaders found a view by an individual to be heretical, not only did they burn them at the stake, but also burnt their books at times. Machiavelli when he wrote the Prince was not allowed to circulate his books initially, because the catholic church found his views to be both immoral and destructive. As a result they were banned.
Consider even in the book of Acts after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, as chronicled in the book of Acts, and the warning the leaders of Jerusalem gave in Acts chapter 4, verse 17, “But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.”
People understood and understand that ideas are powerful. They germinate and bear fruit once planted in impressionable minds. They not only understood the power of ideas generally, but the consequences of bad ideas - whether real or perceived. As such they went to great lengths, whether the means was legitimate or not is a separate matter, to ensure that not all ideas were given a public platform.
This brings me to the second point about how we think out loud - the need to be responsible thinkers. There are times when given the appropriate platform, men tend to promulgate ideas, especially with the all too common caveat “freedom of expression” with little or no regard for checking the appropriateness or the truthfulness of what is shared.
Consider this point that Dr. Tim Morris makes about this same concept in his foreword of Athanasius’s work, ‘On the Incarnation’. He says “If you believe you are failure, you will never succeed in life; or if you believe you cannot trust others, you will never have meaningful relationships. It does matter what you believe, there is the truth about someone and there are lies. If people believe lies about you it does matter”. Ideas and beliefs matter. As such, men need to be responsible as we ventilate our thoughts publicly, understanding that they are not idle and necessarily harmless in its impact.
As such we need also to be honest thinkers as well. Let me recount for you a thought that occurred to me years ago. I remember watching an interview with a popular artist answering the question of what motivated them to pursue music. The answer was rather quickly, “I want to influence people”. Years later, the same artist in a separate interview was questioned about the appropriateness and truthfulness of an idea shared in their music and the response was simply, “People have a responsibility regardless of what I sing”.
I couldn’t help but feel the unbearable weight of the contradicting statement bouncing around in my mind. It called into question the very basis of the motivating factor for doing music. Now people have a personal responsibility mind you, but why pursue a vocation that allows one to ‘influence’ minds and people and then espouse a view to the contrary? We must be prepared to commit to what we say and believe as people who think publicly and “follow the argument where it leads”. As the Socratic thought implores us to do, there is a great need for us to be honest in our thinking both privately and by extension publicly.
Lastly, but as equally important as the other points, we must be respectful as we convey our thoughts to attentive and impressionable listeners. In many cases, we will not all agree on a thought, granted, but the manner in which we disagree speaks volumes as well.
There are cases in which ideas and attacks against ideas are personalised. The recourse visited upon whomever is done in such a manner that is brutal and uncalled for. At some point, it can be less about the truth and more about feeling vindicated. In the public space the proverbial “glove comes off” to indicate the manner in which the discourse is about to be handled.
We must remember, especially as a Christian, that the manner in which we engage matters just as much as what we say. Consider the posture of Augustine in his famous work, “Confessions” as an example to note. “So someone asks, what did God do before He made heaven and earth? I would not answer flippantly that He was preparing hell for those who pry into mysteries. That would set aside the gravity of the question. It is one thing to answer inquiries and another to make sport of inquiries. That is not a proper way to answer. It is better to respond, I do not know regarding matters that lie ultimately beyond our imagination, than to poke fun at the one who brings up deep things”.
I close with this exhortation in light of the cautions indicated above, that above all, please THINK. Please do so and continue to do so publicly because as C.S Lewis once said in his essay, “Learning in War Time”, “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered”. We need to Hear Good Philosophy out Loud.