Thanks a lot,Plato!

A few days ago I was reflecting on something that happened many years ago. At that time I worked as a sound tech for a Christian band. The band was pretty good and we played fairly regularly in our region of the country. There was always plenty of energy and I made sure that no one had any trouble hearing it. (Oh, yeah…play loud!) Before every show I had to take time to make the sound fit the house. I would use a pink noise generator and ‘pink’ the room to set the system equalization. Then, because pink noise generators are stupid and can’t hear, I would play various songs from CDs I carried in order to get the EQ just right. I chose music that had a wide dynamic range so that I could make the necessary adjustments across the frequency spectrum. I did not choose the songs for their content. My ears didn’t care about content, they cared about frequencies. One time before a show, one of the guys told me that I should use “Christian” music for that. After all, we were supposed to be a “Christian” band and someone might be offended by Chick Corea. This posed a dilemma for me. Would I do my job with the tools I was familiar with…that would give me known results? Or, should I follow the suggestion of my friend?

This is a small example of something that has been troubling me for years. What is the so-called secular/spiritual dualism that we seem to accept without question? Where did it originate? Is God behind it?

These questions cannot be completely answered in a blog post. But, perhaps I can throw some wood on the fire in order to cast some light on our considerations.

As I understand things, the Semitic worldview that spawned the Jewish and Christian scriptures, and into which Jesus was born, was not a dualistic worldview. For them, creation was a single whole. God had created it for the enjoyment of all of God’s creatures and it was good. God was One unity. There were no other true Gods, and God was not divided. The most important part of a Jewish prayer service is called the Shema. It begins, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” To suggest that God could be divided would have been blasphemy to them. Humanity, likewise, was considered a unified whole. In the beginning of their story, God formed a human from the “dust of the ground” and breathed life into it, causing it to become a “living soul.” No division…a singular living being. So, how did we wind up with so much division, and factions, today?

I think that the root of this can be traced to the ancient Greeks, particularly Plato. Plato was perhaps the greatest thinker of his age. Living from 429–347 B.C.E., his influence has transcended the centuries. One of his chief tenets was that what we see and understand here, in the visible universe, is not true reality. When we see a tree, it is a somewhat defective representation of a ‘real’ tree that exists in some perfect realm. This idea is especially important when we consider more abstract concepts like ‘goodness’ and ‘beauty.’ Things that we consider good and beautiful derive these characteristics from the truly Good and Beautiful. What’s important to see here is that the so-called ‘ultimate’ object that we cannot see is perfect and superior to the derivative and defective ‘penultimate’ object that is visible and understandable to us. Ok, enough philosophy 101…my head hurts.

The early Christian church grew out of Judaism, to be sure. But, its development was deeply embedded in the Greco-Roman worldview of that time. Its roots grew deeply into the rich soil of the northern Mediterranean region where Greek culture and philosophy fertilized the tender shoot. It was inevitable that Platonic thought would influence the Church’s development.

“Ok, Helbert…so what? What does all of that have to do with playing Chick Corea?” I’m glad that you asked! Platonism, or more accurately, neo-Platonism is the life-blood that courses through the whole of Western thought and culture. We have learned to quantify and qualify our entire universe. We have the ability to mentally compartmentalize every facet of our lives. All thanks to our friend Plato. What interests us here is that Plato provided a qualitative aspect to our existence that, I don’t believe, actually exists. His premise seems to rest on the fact that the ‘ultimate’ is good; the penultimate is defective. For us, that translates into that which is spiritual/godly is good; that which is earthly/fleshly is bad. We can then make judgments between the spiritual and secular that are, at best, distorted.

In the beginning God formed a unified whole. Yes, there were many parts. But, there are many parts to any single system, be it a human being or a butterfly. For those who want to keep the spiritual and the secular separate, just remember that there is only One Who is good. That One is Yahweh. Everything else is created. And, Yahweh declared that it is all good.

Mine is only one opinion. What do you think?



2 thoughts on “Thanks a lot,Plato!

    • Sure. It happens all the time. The point is that God did not create that which is not “good.” Neo-platonism assumes that the penultimate is by its very nature not “good.”
      We can’t have it both ways. I side with how I understand God on this.

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