Sunday, May 18, 2014

Plato on his head

There are some things that need to be said. 

One reads things about Plato here and there.  But I've read some Plato for myself.  I have been trained to go to primary source material whenever possible and I am not scared of it. A secondary source can turn everything on its head, and we don't even know it because we are trusting the interpretation.  I usually trust my own mind and have generally found it pretty good.  Wherever I have gone I have received academic awards; and  I like to read and I can read fast.  (So much for bragging.) The more obtuse the stuff, the more easily it is digested in my head.  However, if we try him for ourselves, Plato is not obtuse whatsoever.  He is very easy to read.  Actually, he is a fantastic writer and, for that reason most likely, we still read him.  There is some good wit and as Chesterton would say Plato has broken out with "innovative lectures", though he has also said "many silly things".

Indeed, Plato said some very silly things, such as the advocating of men keeping women and children in common.  (We talked about that a while back.)  You do wonder what he was inhaling, or how loose his own morals were in this regard.  Plato turned his very own fine ethics on the head, there, we must observe. 

Alright, Plato, in my reading was about ethics and justice:  most unhappy are those who are tyrants, gluttons and selfish, indulging themselves and their friends, hoarding up wealth and women.  He tries to show this rationally and by arguing with people.  It does seem somewhat circuitous, and belabored;  Jesus would have been able to clarify the thing with a sermon and several parables. Luther, too:   he straightened out things with several sermons, and the uprising stopped.  Moses would have had a tablet written by the hand of God only a few sentences long.  BUT, Plato being a Greek, and living in a heathen land, and suffering under the vagaries and caprices of the Greek Pantheon,  the gods behaving not much differently from the politicians, really suffered a great handicap. We must give him very much credit for trying to transcend both the messy Greek politics and the messy Greek gods' shenanigans.  He really, really, really does try.  He does it by looking beyond, looking into what is higher both than the politics, the favoritism and the gods' quarreling. He quite strongly advocates censorship to get a grip on the problems in the culture and the myths. (I hardly think our modern so-called Platonists would concur with this call for censorship and government control.)

Nowadays, however, you find that academics want to promote a Plato who is completely beyond the realm of the physical and what's "real".  Their Plato is all words, poetry and rational arguing, nothing but mind and world soul.  He is practically disembodied.  It is as if Plato's concern was not to improve the conditions in the State.  It was.  Christ, of course, is Word incarnate and dwelt among us.  His ethics deal fairly with all things physical as well as spiritual, the spiritual being more important and primary. Everything flows from the fear and love of God as most important. 

My hypothesis is that Plato (or perhaps rather Socrates), through the travels and the wars they were involved with, had contact with the Jewish religion.  There is NO way that important Greeks had heard nothing about it.  NO WAY.  There were only a few more years before they went down and conquered the whole land. In  333 B.C. Alexander fought at Issus.   Plato died in 347 B.C.  That is just 14 years prior!  (Modern education does not deal with dates, though, only patterns and process.  So this is not immediately obvious to those who have not studies this.  I happened to have learned this in grade 7, as we had a history class that actually started in antiquity and worked itself up the centuries in chronological succession.  Thankfully, Wikipedia comes to the culture's rescue.  We have facts at hand, after all.)  I venture to say that Plato got his idea of the higher life from the Jewish faith:  ethics is something other than sycophantism;  the gods can't be these selfish and sexual monsters.  In fact, they are rather ridiculous.  Surely the Divine is something else!  It MUST be.  To be good, to be just, is something other than what we see in the world and what we see in the myths about the gods.  The Greek gods are not just.  The heathen world was becoming ripe for the Christian message.  Plato's call for a King also echoes the stories about King David and the Messiah, in my mind. 

When I first came from Germany, I had a Social Studies teacher in grade 11, who fancied himself something of a Socratic dialectitian.  He also was imbued with a particular interpretation of Socrates, now that I think about it.  He tried to tell us, and we hear this still, that Christ is some sort of poster boy for the Greek ideal.  That the Greeks had the right idea much before the time--as if there had not been thousands of years of Judaism, scripture, temple worship, awaiting of the Messiah, the King, son of David.  The priority of Socrates over Christ is surely utter nonsense.  If there was an ethical ideal, and a message about God and his nature, it was there first in the Jews.  

Here is an idea that keeps getting put on its head all the time, too.  The Hebrew God is actually not nice.  He is really horrible. So much for ethics.  God has no ethics. --  "God was so terrible, how could he..."  How could he ask Abraham to kill is how son?-- griped a friend on FB, this weekend. -- It falls to housewives and teachers of little children, like me, to explain to grown men and professors that they have no clue.  (There is something else put on its head.)  It is so simple if you have a reading of the scriptures and history, but many limit themselves to some quoting mechanism, avoiding primary sources, again.  

Abraham lived in a time of immoral inhumanity.  The surrounding people, cultures, and barbarians of all times have offered sacrifice of their children and behaved in cruel ways.  But the God of Abraham substitutes a Lamb, and Himself in Christ, foreshadowed by the animal.   On the other hand, we see debased behavior in the story about Sodom and Gomorrah;  we see it in accounts where other cultures offer their own children as sacrifices to the gods.  Come to think of it, even the elevated Greeks offered their children to the gods.  Remember the Greek Agamemnon and Iphigeneia.   The mess of Agamemnon's life reminds one of the mess of Herod the Great's life, murdering their own families.  But Iphigeneia was properly sacrificed so Agamemnon could have his wish, i.e. a manipulation of the gods and the affairs of the world.  Do we hear about this?  No.  But Abraham who was not actually required to sacrifice a son, gets the great spot light put on. --  So, the fact is that in Jewish faith, ethics and the law were paramount all in relation to the living God, Creator and King of the universe.  The Greeks served their little tyrannical gods, kings of lightening and woods and whatever little sphere of the created world.  No wonder Plato was not in favor.  Time for these gods to move aside. 

It is preposterous to say that Judeo-Christianity was indebted to Greek thought.  

It is also preposterous to now make Judeo-Christianity ethics something inferior to Platonic higher thinking or thinking out of the cave, or out of the box...   Plato tried to rationally approach an ideal without the benefit of Revelation.  He got some things right and some important things wrong.  In the end he fell into many self-serving edicts according to his own tastes, also, coming up with some good stuff and with many "silly things". 

This supposed aligning oneself with Plato is just a bunch of hogwash.  It is simply a doing away with Christ and calling oneself more elevated and logical, in a self-flattering way and indulgence in pride and arrogance.  I am afraid that God will not leave it unpunished.  They should know better. I am depressed to think about it and how many are led astray.   Would God be immoral if he slew the whole lot of us for our immorality and baby killing? 

On top of this, they try to have a type of muddled thinking stand for Socratic dialectic.  It is an insult to Socrates and Plato.  See this sample of modern thought of university graduates--another turning things up on its head.  

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