Hebrew Mind vs. Greek Mind
PLATO - THE BEGINNING OF THE END
by Brad Scott
As we begin to enter the "Hellenistic" era of the evolution of Western thought, we come to the basic fork in the road. Socrates' most famous student is going to take Greek philosophy to it's most respected heights. Socrates was not adept at winning friends and influencing his enemies. Actually, up to this time, Greek thinking was rather tame and friendly with Scriptural thinking. But Plato is about to take it to a new level. This is where we will spend some time revealing what we really mean when we speak of Greek thought.
Plato lived from 428-348 B.C. Most history books and encyclopedias credit Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle for being the most influential people in Western history. Their philosophical views sprang forth from Homer's great mythical heroes. This led to the ultimate philosophical goal of excellence which led to the various social structures of Greek life. Plato, of course, was a member of the social elite. This was part of the background of his most powerful contribution to religious thought, the dualism of man. Plato taught that man consisted of two parts, the "soul" and the "flesh". He taught that only the soul was good and good is what all men seek. The flesh was evil and could do no good. The body was only one passing phase of our cosmic existence. Only the soul was involved in the future, and only the soul could do any good, so what the body did was virtually irrelevant. The people who were able to grasp this concept were in the highest class called the "guardians". These were the educated class which were trained to live in shared houses, to eat in the same mess halls, their children were to be raised as a group in a common environment by special caretakers (public schools). Only this ruling class possessed the knowledge to determine policies and make decisions determining who is allowed to mate with whom to produce the best children, with intellectual excellence as the goal. Plato brought to the world the nation of "thinkers". Knowledge was the key to everything. This, we will see, led to the era of Gnosticism which continues today under other names. Multitudes of mystery cults would come forth from this philosophy. Life was intellectualized, and only for the initiated. Life became abstract, metaphysical conceptions. This is why I am personally very skeptical of turning simple commands of God into abstract concepts. Why? Because one cannot prove or disprove these concepts. This is why the students of Plato would argue for days in the great theaters with no results. They would stand by themselves in empty theaters and argue against fictitious opponents with imaginary audiences. These great debates were designed to cause our minds to conceive the demiurge, or ultimate mind, around us and to ignore the realities of the world we live in.
The demiurge was the dualistic god that created the world. He was the cruel god of battles and bloody sacrifices. The world was cruel and could not have been created by a "good" god, since all matter is evil. So this cruel demiurge sent a son called the logos who was the good god. The Tanakh (Old Testament) was a cruel book of laws, judgment, and death. The New Testament was the result of the incarnation of the god of the gods, the mind of the gods, called the logos. We will get into much more detail on this later. This demiurge, literally worker of the people, was whimsical and could change his mind or desires at any time. He would require certain demands on his creation at any time and withdraw them at any time. Laws and commands were spontaneous. The whole idea of the one God was no different than the images of all the gods. They were always subject to limitations and foresight. And, of course, god was only interested in the invisible, spiritual world as the physical world was evil. When the body performed an evil act it was simply seen as the natural thing for an evil, material body to do. This thinking would eventually lead to some of the same kind of behavior we see today. Quoting Plato from his Symposium:
"I believe that the greatest good for a youth is to have a worthy lover from early on and, for a lover, to have a worthy beloved. The values that men need who want to live lives of excellence lifelong are better instilled by love than by their relatives or offices or wealth or anything else ..."
In the Greek social life of his time, homosexuality was common love. Greeks, by this period, found it natural for an older man to be sexually aroused by the physical beauty of a boy. Physical immorality was not to possess eternity, only the soul.
Plato also began the era of the sophists. These philosophers continued in Plato's teaching that matters of the physical are matters of human relativism. Matters of family, government, education, customs, or law, were all relative because they were all outside of the soulish area. Truth was determined by persuasiveness. Whoever had the best argument was the purveyor of truth. Truth was determined by man's own will. Since the gods were to be worshiped and revered and had no instructions for man, man was left to determine them for himself. Therefore, some things were good and some were bad, some things were good and bad at the same time. When potential governors would debate, the same subjects would be argued year after year, for there was no absolute. Sound familiar? Plato introduced the world to many philosophies that shaped the world we live in today. He would soon produce another student who would be the most influential man in Alexander the Great's life. We will discuss this man in our next lesson.Take Test Number One
Shalom Alecheim! ◊