The Philosophical Baby
The Christmas Story

Dr. Bob Clarke

Dr. Bob Clarke was one of my two undergraduate philosophy professors.  He died on December 16.  You can read his obituary here

The best class I ever had with Dr. Clarke was "Evil and Suffering."  I have had an abiding interesting in the problem of evil and suffering since my father died when I was sixteen.  Dr. Clarke's class was my first thorough introductwion to the intellectual problem and the various theodicies.  We read Hume and Augustine, Plantinga and Camus, Hick and Wiesel, and more.  I was intellectually, spiritually, personally fascinated.

I'll never forget reading and discussing Wiesel's Night in that course.  Dr. Clarke was himself, obviously, deeply moved by the story and its implications for Christian thought.  If God is hanging upon the scaffold does that mean that God is dead as a concept of meaning or that God is present in human suffering?

Though Dr. Wester had the previous year introduced me to Whitehead, Dr. Clarke played a role in my growing love for process thought when he lectured on process theodicies.  His discussion of Whitehead's lure for feeling awakened me to creative theological possibilities, an adventure that continues 22 years later.

Dr. Clarke had studied with the great rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and spoke admiringly of him.  In one of our classes Dr. Clarke said that clearly Dr. Heschel was in heaven and that any Christian theology that said otherwise was wrong.  Still developing my own views on such things, Dr. Clarke's statement was transformational.

He enriched my understanding of ancient and medieval thought and introduced me to the mystics.

My favourite Dr. Clarke classroom moment was in our History of Religions course.  He was lecturing on Zoroastrianism and had listed a number of things on the board before class that were the influences of Zoroastrianism upon Judaism, things like a Messiah, angels, heaven and hell, etc.  As he began discussing this influence of the Persian religion upon the Jewish faith, I could see my mostly conservative Baptist classmates growing nervous (I had encountered this fact already and had already adjusted my worldview accordingly).  A student raised a hand and Dr. Clarke called upon him.  The student asked, "Dr. Clarke, I think I misunderstand you, you're saying that these are ways that Judaism influenced Zoroastrianism?"  Dr. Clarke looked puzzled.  "No, I'm not saying that.  These are influences of Zoroastrianism upon Judaism."  He then turned back to the board and his lecture and you could see an anxious panic spreading across the faces in the classroom and multiple hands went up.  Dr. Clarke turned and saw all the hands and called on someone else who asked, "Dr. Clarke, you're saying that all these ideas come from Zoroastrianism and aren't there originally in Judaism?"

Somewhat exasperated Dr. Clarke said, "Yes.  These are influences of Zoroastrianism upon Judaism.  These ideas came from the Persians.  That's what I've been talking about since class began."  He then turned back to his lecture.  I've never seen crises of faith occur simultaneously across a room of normally rather confident people.  And Dr. Clarke never seemed to notice the impact his presentation was having.

Of course, what I fondly remember of him, was that the sides of his body were usually covered in chalk, as he had a tendency to stand sideways against the chalkboard while writing, which meant he accidentally erased much of what he had already written.

A good teacher and a good man.



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Lauren B.

Robert Clarke was my grandfather, or Papa, as we called him. I remember my mom telling me about this post when he passed away, but I'm seeing it again now and I want to thank you for your kind words about my Papa. Seeing how he has influenced people and left such vivid memories with them warms my heart. Thank you.
-Lauren B.

Scott Jones

Blessings on you and your family.

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