Sunday, December 13, 2009

Occam's Razor

William of Occam (or Ockham, a town in England), who lived 1285-1349, was a philosopher and a Franciscan monk, a pious man who took his vow of poverty very seriously. He lived using only what was absolutely necessary. From his simple life came a powerful idea which later came to be known as "Occam's Razor."

What was his idea? It was a philosophical guide or suggestion which states: when given two explanations for the same thing, the simpler one is usually the correct one. Originally, William wrote his notion in Latin in two parts: 1. Plurality should not be posited without necessity, 2. It is pointless to do with more what is done with less.

Why was the Franciscan's monk's thought called a razor? Because he wrote about it so much and used it so often, like shaving everyday. Thus the tag "Occam's Razor."

Occam's Razor is used in computer programing, medical diagnosis, and scientific research. That his thought is still used in the 21 century is impressive in itself.

I'll apply it to Christianity and the church. To say Jesus lived a simple live is an understatement -- "Foxes have dens, and birds have nests. But the Son of Man doesn't have a place to call his own" (Matthew 8:20). It doesn't get much simpler than that.

The simple Jesus was born in a animal shelter, laid in a trough, grew up in a nowhere village, wore homemade clothes, traveled by foot from village to village followed by a ragtag group of people who depended on the gifts of others for their basic needs. Nothing flashy, prosperous, or affluent about him.

One wonders if the Simple Jesus would feel at home in our affluent churches, ornate temples, and elaborate cathedrals? Maybe it's time to apply Occam's Razor to 21 century Christianity?

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