Thursday, 23 August 2012

Platonism versus Christianity

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I am re-reading, for something like the fifth time, The Place of the Lion (PotL) by Charles Williams

http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0601441.txt

Several previous re-readings - and yet I had the experience of reading the chapter The Two Camps as if I had not seen it before. It seemed to throw light, indirectly, on the distinction between Platonism and Christianity.

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PotL is a spiritual thriller about the Platonic archetypes 'invading' this world, and reabsorbing all the entities, including people, over which they have primary influence.

For instance, a woman who is primarily snake-like gradually becomes a snake, and would be reabsorbed by the snake archetype.

If the process was to continue to completion then this world - a imperfect world of change, decay, corruption - a world of Time - would be reabsorbed by the eternal and unchanging world of forms.

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In a chapter called The Two Camps there is a discussion between Foster who sees this resorption as 'a good thing' - and who is himself joyfully being reabsorbed by the lion archetype en route to complete assimilation; and the hero Anthony who wants to stop the destruction of 'this world' of Time and people.

Foster says that there is only one choice: to acknowledge, accept, and enjoy resorption into the archetypes, or misguidedly to resist it - in which case one will be hunted by the archetype, which will inevitably track you down and overpower you. (This almost happens to Quentin.)

The choice, for Forster, is therefore between enlightened cooperation, and an ignorant and futile resistance. He regards the archetypal world as obviously superior in its perfection, and - anyway - overwhelmingly stronger than any creature, any human.

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Anthony understand this but he nonetheless intends to try and stop and reverse the archetypal takeover, and save this (corrupt, decaying, tragic) world.

Anthony's reason is essentially - but not at all explicitly - Christian: he wants to save the world essentially because of his love for his 'girlfriend' Damaris and his best friend Quentin.

Anthony wants to save the world because of love for specific individual persons and their individual consciousness - albeit these persons are temporary, flawed, corrupt and all the rest.

Anthony does not want these people absorbed-into and extinguished-by 'perfect' eternal archetypes of vast power - because that would be an end of that which he loves.

In essence Anthony perceives some necessary value in individual human life in this world of Time.

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Christianity contains much Platonism, and Platonism is a wonderful thing - the best philosophy. But without Christianity, Platonism has no place for individual persons, no need for this world in Time.

For a Platonist, the soul is the person, the body a decaying encumbrance - there is no good reason to be alive in this world once one has understood reality and can agree to assimilation to it. This world in time is like a mistake - it is just a temporary delay en route to static eternal bliss.

Christianity is about incarnate God, God with a body, who came into this world of time and change as an individual Man: Christianity thus validates this world, and validates individual Man, and validates the body (without which Man is incomplete - hence Christians believe in the need and reality of  'the resurrection of the body' - restoring the body to the soul).

Christianity thus regards this world as vital, and as a forum for love of firstly the individually incarnate God and secondly other individual incarnate persons.

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Thus Anthony's attitude is Christian, while Foster's is Platonist; and the contrast shows the problem with pure, non-Christian Platonism - that Platonism is inhuman, anti-human, anti-life-itself.

For a Platonist, the quicker we can get-out from individual conscious life in Time, and become absorbed into eternity with annihilation of consciousness, the better.

And what stands between us and this is firstly: love of God incarnate as a Man, on earth and in Time; and secondly love of neighbour, love of other specific individual persons.

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NOTE: I am not against Platonism, far from it; I am myself a Platonist - because in the first place it is more-or-less built in to Christian theology; and also because when subordinated to Christian theology Platonism allows some kind of comprehensible and rational answer to many vexing pseudo-problems of theology such as prayers for the dead, salvation of ancient virtuous pagans, prophets, and children. In a nutshell, the Platonism of Boethius - to about that level and extent - is of great value to intellectuals who are better at coming-up with questions than answering them. It was and is, I think, the loss of Platonism from Christian theology that led to many of the worst aspects of the Reformation and the consequent continuing fragmentation of The Church. It is noteworthy that the greatest cross-denominational Christian apologist of the past century - C.S. Lewis - was himself very much a Platonist, as can be seen in his book The Discarded Image - indeed all through his work. 

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