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Sunday, October 18, 2020


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Dr. BV,

do you think your Platonism (i.e. your belief in an unseen order) is motivation more towards quietism in the realm of politics than engagement with it? Contrast this with the Christian position according to which God intends to remake and renew heaven and earth. We do not go off to be in some Platonic heaven at death. Rather, there is, in some mysterious sense, some continuation between this present world and God's future kingdom. God doesn't destroy this world, but will remake it. Doesn't this, then, give the Christian more impetus to be involved here and now, to care about injustice, than the Platonist?

I do see your views as more Platonist than Christian. Though please feel free to clarify/correct my impression.

My working view is that religion has the following traits:

1. The belief that there is what William James calls an "unseen order." (Varieties, p. 53) This is a realm of absolute reality that lies beyond the perception of the five outer senses and their instrumental extensions. It is also inaccessible to inner sense or introspection. It is also not a realm of mere abstracta or thought-contents. So it lies beyond the discursive intellect. It is accessible from our side via mystical and religious experience. An initiative from its side is not to be ruled out in the form of revelation.

2. The belief that there is a supreme good for humans and that "our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves" to the "unseen order." (Varieties, p. 53)

3. The conviction that we are morally deficient, and that this deficiency impedes our adjustment to the unseen order. Man is in some some sense fallen from the moral height at which he would have ready access to the unseen order. His moral corruption, however it came about, has noetic consequences.

4. The conviction that our moral deficiency cannot be made sufficiently good by our own efforts to afford us ready access to the unseen order.

5. The conviction that adjustment to the unseen order requires moral purification/transformation.

6. The conviction that help from the side of the unseen order is available to bring about this purification and adjustment.

7. The conviction that the sensible order is not plenary in point of reality or value, that it is ontologically and axiologically derivative. It is a manifestation or emanation or creation of the unseen order.

So Christianity and Platonism are both committed to the existence of an Unseen Order.

Now if "the sensible order is not plenary in point of reality or value," then engagement with it in the manner of the secularist would be folly. It is a vanishing quantity, not ultimately real, but also not unreal. And because the temporal/sensible order is no illusion, measured political engagement with it makes sense. This rules out extreme political quietism. After all, if this world is a vale of soul-making, then getting killed by commies will cut short the time we need here below to make our souls.

Here is an excerpt from a post in progress.

"I believe in . . . the resurrection of the body and life everlasting." Thus ends the Apostles' Creed. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) addresses the meaning of this article of faith on pp. 347-359 of his Introduction to Christianity (Ignatius Press, 2004). The book first appeared in German in 1968 long before Ratzinger became Pope.  Herewith, some interpretive notes and commentary.

1) Despite the undeniable Platonic elements in Christianity, to which Ratzinger is sensitive, the Biblical promise of immortality pertains to the whole man, not to a separated soul. Some, Lutherans in particular, recoiling from Platonic soul-body dualism, have gone so far as to maintain that the Greek doctrine of the immortality of the soul is positively un-Christian. (347) This is going too far. It is clear, though, that on Christianity a man is not in his innermost essence a pure spirit like an angel; he is, by nature, a corporeal, embodied  being whose ultimate good is to live forever in an embodied, not an angelic, state.  'By nature' implies that we are not accidentally embodied, as on Platonism, but essentially embodied.

2) On the other hand, the idea of immortal (living) bodies, immortal animals, seems utterly absurd given what we know about the natural world, as Ratzinger admits (348).  Schopenhauer mocks this notion as immortality mit Haut und Haar, with skin and hair.  By contrast, the notion of human immortality as the immortality of a simple (metaphysically incomposite) soul substance is not absurd but defensible, even if not Christian. 

So we face a problem. Platonic dualism cannot do justice to our  unitary corporeal nature. It involves an ontological denigration of the body and of materiality in general.  The material world, however, created by God, is good, and not to be flown from in Platonic-Plotinian-gnostic fashion.  The body is not the prison-house of the soul, but something rather more positive: its necessary expression or realization.  But how on earth could the living bodies of humans live forever?

Interesting. Thank-you for laying these out. After reading them, I think there are certainly aspects of your view that are more Christian than Platonist. I don't think a Platonist, at least in the historical sense, would accept 4 or 6. In Greek thought, the Divine did not mix with the temporal. So, 4 and 6 seem to be 'Christian' to me in some sense.

Ok, extreme quietism is ruled out. But it seems to me the Christian view, in virtue of the resurrection and remaking of the natural order, provides more motivation to be deeply concerned about the state of the world than Platonism does. The Platonist's ultimate concern is the state of his soul. The state of the world must be secondary or subsidiary to that.

But the Christian's ultimate concern is the inbreaking kingdom of God and whether or not he will be part of it and whether he will contribute to it. And this kingdom of God is not some ethereal heavenly place but a continuation and renewing of the current world. So, the Christian has more motivation than the Platonist to be engaged politically. Do you agree?

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