This I Believe

Bixler, Julius Seelye

  • Julius Bixler explores the tension between faith and reason and explains why skepticism falls short in comparrison to faith and experiences like love, friendship, family and the goodness of people.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Dr. Julius Seelye Bixler is president of Colby College in Maine. Most of his life has been spent as a student and teacher of philosophy. Many of his lectures at Harvard and Yale have been published in book form. These include Religion for Free Minds, and Conversations with an Unrepentant Liberal. It is not surprising that Dr. Bixler’s personal philosophy should be influenced by the thinkers of the past.
It must be distressing to others, as it certainly has been to me, that two interests have been at war in my nature ever since I was a child. Where the heart is concerned I am the kind of person who
has strong attachments to the family and friends he loves with all the hopes and faiths they imply. But when the head enters, I become a skeptic. In recent years this would have troubled me even more than it has if I had not found our great contemporary Albert Schweitzer saying that he suffered from a similar conflict.
Because much of my life has been spent teaching philosophy, I have naturally gone to thinkers of the past for light on this question. It has come most clearly from two writers with very different points of view. William James has taught me that whether we like to think so or not, we do continually live by our feelings and the beliefs that stem from them. At the root of all faith is the instinctive feeling
that we must carry on and take what comes. Yet there is another tradition, represented most ably in Plato, which shows that the head has its own unshakeable convictions as truly as the heart. Through his mouthpiece, Socrates, Plato explained that the rules of straight thinking are unquestionable in the sense that the person who doubts them expresses them in his own doubt. The attempt to argue them away only establishes them more securely. To follow Plato’s reasoning through is to see with him the fixed stars that stay with us as we journey across the hills and plains of life. Our mistakes in taste and conduct, like those of thought, can be shown to come from failure to keep these fixed points of reference in view.
Now it seems to me that these two lines of argument bring an effective answer to the one who questions. Up to a certain point, skepticism is a healthy thing. But practically, it cannot do the job, and as theory, it fares no better when we see what reason really requires. Both heart and head thus point to religious belief. Our deepest feelings bring the conviction that life is good and that the world which produced it is godlike. To supplement this, the claim laid on our minds that we think consistently provides its own reasonable evidence of a power not ourselves by which we are judged. A person of my type finds life absorbing, therefore, both because of the joys of love and friendship and also because of the chance offered through creative ideas to work for the kind of society where these joys can be
more widely shared.
Poverty and prejudice are still with us, it is true, but the war against them was never waged more skillfully. A teacher likes to remember that the battle which will have the most results in the long run is being fought with the weapons of the mind. The hope that he may be able to contribute to its success is what gives fascination to his work.
That was Dr. Julius Seelye Bixler, a native of New London, Connecticut, who is now the president of Colby College in Maine.