Class Warfare Blog

August 15, 2018

Greek Philosophy in Christianity

We are told over and over that Christianity is based upon holy scriptures. Apparently this included the holy writings of Plato (born 428/427 BCE, died 348/347 BCE).

I have been reading a fascinating book, which I will report upon later, entitled Aristotle’s Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Middle Ages written by Richard E. Rubenstein. In the excerpt below Rubenstein is commenting upon the inspiration Augustine of Hippo drew from Plato, Augustine being a major architect of Christianity.

But his (Plato’s) most important contribution, from Augustine’s point of view, was to insist that the world of appearances—the world of “facts” apprehended through sense impressions—is a kind of watered-down and distorted reality, a universe of imperfect copies rather than originals. The originals, of course, exist forever in what Plato called the realm of Ideas and Christians called the Kingdom of Heaven. To this doctrine Neoplatonists like the great third-century philosopher Plotinus added the notion that the universe that proceeds originally from God yearns actively to return to him. Humans can therefore connect with the Absolute by meditating on the multiple things of this world and sensing their unitary, divine origins. Augustine was greatly attracted by the mystical implications of this doctrine …

I was drawn to one phrase in the excerpt that to me is quite telling, namely “Humans can therefore connect with the Absolute by meditating on the multiple things of this world and sensing their unitary, divine origins.”

I work with athletes and one primary topic is always how to harness one’s mind to support the kind of athletic performance one is looking for, So, I have studied that topic a great deal. One mental tool that athletes use is affirmations, which are first person comments about who one is as a person, e.g. “I am calm and under control no matter how much pressure seems to exist in a competition.” If this were true already, it would not need an affirmation to make it true, so these are things one wants to be true and one can make them true by repeating them over and over and over.

So, if humans are told that we can “connect with the Absolute by meditating on the multiple things of this world and sensing their unitary, divine origins” and we want that to be true, what exactly is going on? What is going on is we are taking something we wish to be true, but cannot be (otherwise we would not need to “make it so”) and we are making it true for us by self hypnosis.

We can shape the way we look at the world. Consider how we (Americans), as a culture, have created the situation where a sizable fraction of Americans see a Black person and think they are in danger (Look they are barbequing, right out in the open in this park! Hey, those Black people are in a Starbucks waiting for a business associate; they must be up to no good!).

The ultimate in religious experiences: self-deluded, self-reinforced. As I keep saying a religion that doesn’t coerce the behavior of the masses to serve the interested of the religious and secular elites doesn’t last long. Getting people to convince themselves of the “truths” in their religion is a high cost-effective and efficient structure for a religion.

Note This was not even the most influential effect of Plato on Augustine. More on this coming.

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