Beating up Plato

I’ve never read a philosophy book before. Really. I’ve skirted the subject with some of my interests in theology and psychology, but I’ve never jumped straight into one. With Rene Girard’s Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, I’ll be attempting just that.

I’ve once heard that virtually all western thought is simply a footnote to Plato, and I’m beginning to see what is meant by that quote. So much of modern thought has just assumed all these things that Plato said were true and it’s proponents start with that assumption. Unfortunately, Plato’s ideas were NOT Christian and certainly not trinitarian. The fact that we as Christians continue to hold on to his ideas about metaphysics is actually a huger barrier to our understanding the Bible.

The main Platonic idea I’m talking about of course is the idea that the soul and body are completely separate entities. The soul is immortal. Our body is dust. Our body is just a container for our soul. The soul is good, the flesh is fallen and passing away. Sound familiar? I think I’ve heard this in church before. Except that’s actually not in the Bible. Not at all. This is not the basis of a sound theology of heaven and life after death. This is not the basis for understanding the incarnation and who Jesus is. This is not the basis for our approach to the future and the end of the world. But we are so used to this idea, it’s very hard to part with it.

(Plato on the far left. Not me on the far right. Photo credit.)

In beginning this book, I’m struck by how much the author has in common with N.T. Wright. Both of them feel it necessary to beat up Plato with a big stick before they can move forward with their discussion. They see this faulty idea as being a key thing that is holding us back from growing in our understanding of eschatology and life after death (in Wright’s case) and in religion and social relations in general (in Girard’s case). Girard is also a Christian, but he approaches many of these deep theological from a completely different angle then I am used to hearing. He doesn’t start by exegeting verses from the New Testament, but instead attempts to articulate a more global theory of religion and then work gradually inside from that to Jesus and why he is such a big deal. I’m looking forward to working through this one.

Since the attempt to understand religion on the basis of philosophy has failed, we ought to try the reverse method and read philosophy in light of religion.

-Rene Girard