I recently was perusing a book about Ancient Greece. It is a 1965 Time-Life book in the Great Ages of Man series and was written by CM Bowra, a professor of classical studies at Oxford University.
This book is a broad overview that you could read to learn about the general nature of Ancient Greece. It had ten paragraphs about the philosopher Plato (429 BC – 347 BC) and after reading these paragraphs I realized that Plato represents my thinking since he was, in essence, a conservative. He laid the philosophical groundwork for Christianity which did not appear institutionally until almost 700 years after his death.
Plato first of all believed that the highest human quality is goodness. With this truth I immediately recognized that I am a Platonist. What could be more sensible, or more Christian, than the concept of goodness? What could more significantly be the basis for human progress?
Plato believed in one Supreme God (monotheism) at a time when pagan Greeks worshipped many gods. Obviously he had been strongly influenced by the monotheistic beliefs of the ancient Jewish faith and its prophets. Professor Bowra writes:
“…Plato believed that all matter, however various it appeared to the eye, was governed by a few basic laws. The multiplicity of things perceived by the senses was merely ‘appearance’; reality, the ‘real’ world was a world of Forms, or Ideas. It is the Form, or Idea, of a thing which gives it meaning and substance. This world of Forms must be sought through contemplation… it was far more important than the world of the senses on which the Greeks set so high a value…”
This is wonderful because Plato was setting out the bedrock philosophical principle that actions must not be random or chaotic or based on desire or whim, but must be based in rational contemplation. This is yet another aspect of the physical, social and economic “order” that the Greeks considered crucial to a stable culture, that only “order” can produce human stability, prosperity, intelligence, creativity and happiness. Meanwhile the converse truth is that chaos destroys.
Centuries later Christianity demonstrated how orderly thinking based in the written guidebook of the Holy Bible and the structure of the Church under God will lead to good actions and social stability and morality. Christianity proved it by leading Europe out of the chaos of the Middle Ages, also known as The Dark Ages. In short, none of us would be here without Christianity. Professor Bowra also wrote:
“When Plato set out to show that the physical world, too, must obey certain rules, he dealt a cruel blow to science. To Plato, these rules were God-given. God was the great artificer. Physical phenomena were to be explained not by looking at them, but by speculating on why God had made them so.”
Friends, I almost fell out of my chair when I read this last sentence and I thank professor Bowra for summarizing Plato so well. Because we must all realize that God created the earth, that God represents the ultimate order, wisdom, goodness and morality, and that only by following God and His order can we be saved from chaos and destruction.
To prove that God created the earth and created all of us as part of His order, consider these coincidences that simply are far too significant for any other conclusion:
*Our world just happens to be suspended in the void of space just far enough from the magnificent, life-giving sun to give us light and to power the photosynthetic forces of nature that sustain us, but not too close to burn us up, or too far to freeze us.
*The human brain allows us to reason while the human eye is the most precise camera ever created. Together they allow us to see, contemplate, create and build the world.
*We have two hands and ten fingers, perfect for doing every task. This is not a coincidence. That is the perfect number of hands and fingers. Not too few, and not too many. Just right.
*We have man and woman, each contributing in complementary ways to the sustenance of the world. And under natural conditions half of the babies born are male and half are female. Coincidence? No. Intelligent design? Yes.
*God gave us nature which gives man matchless beauty in the mountains, plains, canyons, forests and deserts, and in flowers and trees. Nature gives us bounty and resources like wood, oil, copper and uranium. Nature gives us oceans and clouds and rain and a system of streams, rivers and lakes that offers us fresh water recycled over and over and over, never running out, in a magical loop. Nature gives us soil in which our trees and crops flourish. Nature gives us food crops that grow with the power of the sun and provide us our nourishment. This is not all a coincidence. This is part of an intelligent design.
*We have night and we have day, and man has to work but also needs to rest. So the cycle of night and day is ideal. Meanwhile the ongoing transition of the 24 hour period from night to day and back in a never-ending progression offers us balance and even adds interest to our existence. Imagine if every day were just 24 hours of bright sun. Or that it was dark all of the time. I think that we all would go mad. So God gave us the gift of night and day, and broke it into 24 perfect hours, with all of its drama and variety (sunsets, dawn, starry nights, twilight, the moon, etc.).
In contrast, why was man not brought into being on a lifeless, featureless ball of dirt like Mars?
Answer: Because God is good.
At the same time secularists claim that the earth was created out of nothingness and chaos in the Big Bang theory. This is not physically possible; the Big Bang says that the whole universe exploded out of a microscopic particle. Yet this is possible only with God. So even the secularists believe in God without even knowing it.
In fact the world’s premier atheist, a Briton named Richard Dawkins, says that there is a small possibility that God exists. This alone proves that we believers have won the great debate.
Now think about a perfect big cube made up of small wooden cubes neatly stacked. A thinking person can stack the little blocks into a big cube (order) but then an earthquake (chaos) can knock the blocks down. But the earthquake (chaos) cannot build the cube, nor can an animal or a tree.
This example shows that great things, like a Christian cathedral or a computer, cannot be made out of the chaos of nothingness. There has to be a grand plan created by an awesome intelligence called God. Professor Bowra then writes:
“(Plato) believed that action was less important than thought, that personal success in itself had no value, that political liberty was a fancy name for disorder. He turned men’s attention away from the world of the senses and the life of action to a transcendent, invisible, abstract world.”
Does this not all sound like Christianity? Doesn’t Christianity stress humility and frown on personal aggrandizement before God? Does it not ask us to contemplate our mortality and our place in the universe rather than acting on our senses and our desires?
Plato declared that the senses could not be trusted. He even considered the artistic achievements of the ancient Greeks to be a hollow substitute for a life of contemplation about transcendent issues such as our own existences. He opposed the decadence and materialism of the sensuous life of Athens. Thus let us first consider the flip side of this, that beauty (the arts) is crucial to human progress and is a positive facet of society that always has existed.
But Plato would argue that beauty is irrelevant, that temporal literature and art is extraneous while the Bible is the only great written work that leads to goodness and to social and economic progress, that it is the most “beautiful” thing of all. So why do we need the paintings of Raphael, or the plays and poetry and novels of Euripides, Dante and so forth?
Plato’s reasoning seems to be that if temporal (non-Christian) architecture, art or literature occupies us then we will be diverted from God, as we are diverted by the temporal world every day. Plato probably would have accepted that Christian cathedrals represent the greatest architecture and that no other transcendent architecture is necessary. But then he surely would have gone further in arguing that Christian worship services could be held in rectangular warehouses and that the message would not be diminished one iota, that the Form (Idea) of God and His perfection, wisdom and order is what matters, not the physical surroundings.
But then we run up against a paradox – that the striving for God-ly perfection and order naturally drives some humans to create the highest and most transcendent art and architecture and other types of beauty in every field like jewelry, furniture, clothing, ironwork, gardens, stonework, etc. And that man is uplifted by this beauty. And thus this beauty cannot then be bad or decadent.
Or is it? It is an interesting debate point and worthy of much contemplation.
Today the civilized world appears better off than it has ever been before, with the gift of technology to give us plentiful food, clean water, shelter, heat in winter, air conditioning in summer, cars, fuel for our cars, etc. But that gift is slipping away because increasing prosperity and materialism is bringing us increasing God-less-ness as our gadgets and our pleasures take us farther and farther from the perfect order and truth. At the same time our churches are emptying or being corrupted by nonChristians posing as religious leaders.
Now look at these four sentences from professor Bowra:
“Plato had no liking for the time in which he lived. Far from wishing to revive (classical) Athens he aimed at an ideal far from it. The accomplishments of men like (military leaders) Miltiades and Themistocles and (the legendary Athenian mayor) Pericles meant nothing to him; they had ‘filled (Athens) with harbors and dockyards and walls and tributes instead of with righteousness and temperance’. Even their political ideas (pure democracy) seemed to him false, for he believed not in political liberty but in order.”
This is stunning – a great Greek thinker who opposed democracy. Yet we are supposed to think of pure democracy as one of the Greeks’ highest achievements.
Plato’s position is easily explained. First, and again, the Ancient Greeks had one core conviction that applied to everything – that only “order” can produce human stability, prosperity, intelligence, creativity and happiness.
Plato saw democracy as far too dis-ordered. Under “democracy” every citizen is involved in, and must vote on, every political decision, which is fine for small groups of people like a church or club but impossible for anything larger. Ultimately it leads to destructive chaos.
Under a “republic” elected officials represent the people in government. This is infinitely more orderly, realistic and effective for towns, cities, states or entire nations. Ultimately it leads to the kind of order that God demands.
It is crucial to remember that America is not a democracy; it is a Constitutional republic.
Plato wrote his great Republic as an example of what an ideal state should be, suggesting that government be led by a wise few especially trained for the task. He called for “philosopher kings” who would be educated until the age of 35, by which time they would be fit to govern. Is it any surprise, then, that American presidents are allowed under law to run for the White House only if they have attained the age of 35?
Now look at the chaos of the Middle Ages in Europe when governments and economies were not yet established. Millions of people suffered greatly. The Christian church then slowly evolved into the de facto religious, political, social and economic organizer of Europe for 1,000 years. It was the only institution with the order and discipline to lead.
Christianity has been the binding agent of Western civilization since the beginning of the Middle Ages when Roman emperor Constantine legitimized the faith in 313 AD. Professor Gerald Simons wrote in 1968 in a book called Barbarian Europe:
The foundations of medieval civilization were laid by a unique political revolution… The new (formative) entity was Christendom, a mystical commonwealth that united all believers across the shifting boundaries of barbarian kingdoms. …No other agency in the West, during or long after the (Roman) empire’s collapse, could have filled the political vacuum left by weak Roman emperors and unequipped Germanic kings. Moved to serve the general welfare by an unshakeable conviction of its own mission to all mankind, the Church took the lead in the West… The Church provided and worked to instill social ideals and moral values… These and other achievements proved so decisive that it is almost impossible to imagine what course Western history might have taken if the Church had fallen along with the Roman empire.”
Consider the role that thousands of Christian monasteries played in rural, unincorporated Europe throughout the Middle Ages. We typically think of monasteries as prayerful places full of monks making wine and bread and seeking an exalted state for themselves. But they also were garrisons of worldly activity that were essential to Western social and economic progress.
They served not only as Christian bastions but as centers of education. Monasteries of the Middle Ages sometimes had rare libraries and were the basis for modern universities like Oxford and Cambridge, and monks were often widely-known scholars. More than 125 Jesuit colleges alone were established across Europe.
Monasteries also acted as banks and as manufacturing and trading centers; as courts, hospitals, orphanages and shelters for the poor; as copying centers for historical manuscripts; and as inns and conference centers. Monasteries were laboratories for innovative technologies in agriculture, nutrition, medicine, mechanics, water systems, animal husbandry and even metallurgy that all served the common good. Monks and bishops acted as local police forces and as judges, and also as road and bridge builders.
It was those devout monastic souls, separated from the temptations of the world and devoted to the order and perfection of God, who had the discipline and faith to lay the foundation for a better world out of war, backwardness and poverty. Later on America was founded by pious Christian refugees on Christian principles. The list goes on and on. In short none of us would be here today without Christianity and thus if you wonder “Why should I go to church?” you have the answer.
Christianity not only assimilated the European people in the Middle Ages and united a continent but it converted the barbarians and made them good in the darkest centuries imaginable. Then again Christianity brought its own light. Because infinitely more significant than its temporal success Christianity is about the individual human spirit which needs to be uplifted over time, person by person, thought by thought. Eternal salvation in the kingdom of God is just the end point of an incomparable journey that starts with a walk through church doors.
What is the sum total of all this?
It is that we need God more than ever. Despite our material bounty we need to re-define what is important to us all. And at the center of it all is the order, perfection, justice and goodness which are made possibly only by God as a role model. Therefore He must be central to all of our lives, and we must not be diverted. Indeed only God can save us.
(If you would like to contribute to Nikitas3.com, please click the link at the upper right where it says “support this site”. Please bookmark this website and recommend this site to all of your friends via Facebook and any other means. Let’s make Nikitas3.com the #1 conservative site by word of mouth. Thank you, Nikitas)