Paul or Plato – Part II…

This is a continuation of the post about two distinctive worldveiws so prevalent in our society today. Let me say up front that even with violating my self imposed 500 word limit on posts this will only very lightly touch on the matter of good or evil. Lets pull a couple of quotes from yesterday’s post to concentrate on here.

Still, the distinction is real and important — and its implications touch on areas of our cultural life far beyond criminal justice. It helps to explain, for example, the very different ways that Platonic liberals and Pauline conservatives approach sex — with the former willing to trust in the power of rational sex education to help shape behavior, and the latter much more concerned about their children succumbing to sinful temptation no matter how many rational arguments they’re exposed to. 

SOURCE:  The real fault line in the culture war isn’t race or sex. It’s sin..

Different world views depending on whether you are a Platonic liberal or a Pauline conservative is an interesting concept.  I don’t necessarily agree with the liberal/conservative tags added but be that as it may. I will acknowledge that most people can probably be classified as one or the other of these groups. And then there are people like me, and I hope many others, who might look at it from a different angle.

As I always like to point out this issue is not black/white, Plato/Paul but instead shades of both. As the quote from yesterday said it is too simplistic that one view holds people as good and the other as people are evil because they are always sinful.  Let’s look at Paul and his teaching first.

In order to understand the words of Paul so dominant in the Christian bible you must look at his life’s experiences to see how his philosophy was shaped. Paul was first and foremost a Jewish scholar. He was all about rules. Rules on how to live, what to eat, how to pray, rules about everything. These rules are to keep you from sinning. Paul’s education and everything about him was jewish. When he saw his vision on the road to Damascus it made him realize that he had part of  it wrong. But only part. Since he was a very educated man he wrote much about his new-found faith but intertwined it with his jewish beliefs of rules and sin. I am one of those who align with Thomas Jefferson’s thoughts that Paul took the simple messages of Jesus and made them complicated.

Plato on the other hand generally believed in the goodness of man. He believed that this innate goodness came from our creator and was deeply embedded in us. He was more about shedding off faulty traditions than about rules. Plato was a very complicated guy but for this discussion his idea of innatism is at the center.  Innatism is a philosophical doctrine that holds that the mind is born with ideas/knowledge, and that therefore the mind is not a ‘blank slate’ at birth and that knowledge is generally about wanting to become one with your creator. Therefore he, unlike Paul,concluded that man is at his foundation good as it comes from God who is good.

Plato or Paul?  To me these are two different interpretations of how to live our lives. I personally gather some insight from both but probably align more with Plato. As my Quaker friends say I believe that “there is the light of God in all of us” and that light was given to us by our creator. But I also recognize that temptations are always there. So am I a Platonic liberal or a Pauline conservative?  I am a shade of grey somewhere in between.

3 thoughts on “Paul or Plato – Part II…

  1. I would suggest that man is neither inherently good or evil . Humans are, however, inherently social. Concepts of good and evil or sin do not exist outside of the society that instructs us. Every society has different ideas about what constitutes proper or improper behavior. In other words, there is no”absolute ” standard of good or evil apart from the social traditions. We see this most readily in the study of anthropology.
    Paul and Plato and their philosophies are, in the end, products of the societies in which they were born and lived. While interesting to discuss I question whether either has much to say to us in a truly scientific and highly mechanized world in which we live. Except as an intellectual exercise (which I like, by the way) do their ideas really hold any merit today?


    1. Thanks again for the comments. I disagree with idea that it is totally up to what tribe we belong to if we are defined at good or evil. I believe there “is” an innate quality to all of us that is part of nature. Nurture does not have a total lock on man and neither does nature. As usual iI believe it is a combination of both. The ratio of that combination is mainly what is at question for me.

      You can say that philosophy and anthropology are not sciences if you believe in “only what I can touch and feel” branch of thought but I think they are inextricably linked if not the same in many regards. Should I invent something that I know will result in the annihilation of man kind? Is that not a valid question for a scientist? I think so.

      I spent ten years studying different theologies so I too like to talk about these types of issues as an intellectual exercise. Come back often with your comments. It is always good to look at life from different angles.


Share Your Thoughts..

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s