Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

The (Platonic) God Within Us, final

Expand Messages
  • Robert Wallace
    OK, I ve reinserted all the punctuation by hand. If this doesn t work, I ll throw in the towel. :-) Hi everybody, I m copying below a chapter from a book that
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2011
    • 0 Attachment
      OK, I've reinserted all the punctuation by hand. If this doesn't work,
      I'll throw in the towel. :-)

      Hi everybody,

      I'm copying below a chapter from a book that I'm working on, called
      _The God Within Us: How I Found Philosophy's Heart and Mine_. It's
      meant to be a trade book, for a broader-than-academic audience. I've
      once or twice urged, on this list, that we need a piece of writing
      that can explain the real significance of Platonism to serious readers
      who have no scholarly background in the area and little or no
      acquaintance with the primary texts. A replacement for (and an answer
      to) Bertrand Russell's chapters on Plato in his _History of Western
      Philosophy_, which are so readable and informative and so desperately
      wrong on crucial issues. Of course there are many "introductory
      treatments" in reference works, etc., but none that I've seen convey
      the sheer power of Plato's most important insights. I hope that my
      book, which includes several additional chapters on Plato, will convey
      some of this.

      The book's Introduction introduces the idea of a "God within us," and
      some leading writers and teachers, including Plato, the Buddha, Jesus,
      St Augustine, Hegel, and Emerson, who contribute to this idea. It also
      describes some of the experience that has led me, personally, to
      embrace the idea.

      Then comes chapter 1, which I copy below. Beginning from some thoughts
      about the "problem of evil," this chapter outlines an interpretation
      of Plato, which also addresses other issues including the One's
      interest in the many, which Dennis raised with us a few weeks ago.
      It's not an entirely conventional interpretation, though the texts
      that it touches on are standard ones. I'd be grateful for any
      comments, objections, or questions that people might have.

      Best, Bob W

      Robert Wallace
      website: www.robertmwallace.com
      email: bob@...

      Chapter 1. Evil, Body, Soul, and God

      For many people, the problem of evil is the main stumbling-block
      between them and a relationship to "“God."” In view of the injustice and
      undeserved suffering that I'’ve experienced, as well as the far worse
      things that other people have experienced, how can I nevertheless feel
      deeply cared for?

      --Birth, Not Death, Is the Great Fact--

      My dear, now deceased friend Graham Andrews told me that one day
      while he was watching a group of quail cross a lawn in California, he
      realized: “"Andrews, you always get it backwards. The great fact is not
      that you will die, but that you were born!"” We have no “right” to
      eternal life, or to 70 years of life, or to five minutes of it; as
      Rumi says, we “_deserve_ nothing,” from the universe. What we receive is
      a free gift, an unearned opportunity.

      What are we going to do with this opportunity? We seem to have two
      main options. We can focus on what'’s being born in and through us and
      others. The divine doesn’'t care about boundaries. Or, on the other
      hand, we can focus on our boundaries, that is, on our death rather
      than on our birth(s), and cut ourselves off from what could be born
      through us.

      When I love and live through others, as well as through myself, I
      find that my world is full of love, regardless of what the others and
      I may suffer. I’'m able to love and to live through others as well as
      myself when I’'m grateful for my life and their lives and the chance to
      collaborate with them. Having been given this opportunity, I know that
      I’'m loved, and that my job is to pass it on. As Graham passed his
      love, and his wonderful insight, on to me. Then I know that rather
      than our struggles with death, it'’s this passing-it-on, this process
      of giving birth, that’'s permanently important--that birth, rather than
      death, is “the great fact.”

      By taking me beyond my everyday self, “passing it on” allows me,
      finally, to accept with gratitude my finite existence, including my
      wounds and the unfortunate people who’'ve wounded me, and the wonderful
      people who'’ve nurtured me. Rejecting all of this, I might (in effect)
      just as well be dead, right now. Being open and vulnerable to all of
      it, on the other hand, involved with other people, is the ticket to
      the opportunity that my finite existence gives me: the opportunity to
      contribute to something endlessly greater than my finite self.

      Choose transformation! Be inspired by the flame
      in which a thing that revels in transformations eludes you. ...
      He who lets himself stream out is acknowledged by knowledge;
      she shows him, delighted, what’'s serenely accomplished,
      which often closes with beginning, and begins with an end.
      (R.M. Rilke)

      "“Hard-nosed"” thinkers tend to see suffering and death, and the human
      selfishness, hostility, and aggression that fear of death so often
      promotes, as the great fact and the dominant issue in human life. I’'m
      thinking of the ancient Greek historian Thucydides, the English
      materialist philosopher Thomas Hobbes, the German existentialist
      Martin Heidegger, and the many writers who suppose that Charles Darwin
      has shown that life is fundamentally about physical “self-
      preservation.” These writers all celebrate the courage that looks
      these “"grim facts"” in the face, without flinching.

      These writers are certainly right to value courage and truthfulness.
      But Graham in his moment of vision, and Plato, Rumi, and “"mystics,"” in
      general, see life, rather than death, as the great fact and the
      dominant issue. As Rilke wrote:

      "We should love life so generously, so without calculation and
      selection, that we involuntarily come to include, and to love, death
      too (life'’s averted half)."

      Loving death as “life'’s averted half”--as a necessary feature of life,
      which is good--is very different from regarding death as the “grim”
      truth that reveals that life is primarily a matter of survival, of
      self-preservation. Self-preservation isn'’t an end in itself; it’'s what
      we finite things do for a while in order to give birth to the
      infinite, which is what we really are. And when one loves death as a
      precondition of the life of finite things, which is an aspect of the
      infinite, one has nothing to hide from. So that rather than being
      remarkable accomplishments, courage and truthfulness about death are
      simply natural.

      --What I Mean by "“Mysticism"”--

      Having just referred again to "“mystics,"” I should explain that I use
      this word in a particular sense. What I mean by “"mystic"” is simply
      someone who doesn'’t accept the fundamental separateness of one human
      being from other human beings, and of humans from God. “Mystics”
      believe that although in one sense we'’re obviously many, we'’re also,
      in an important sense, “one.” This is what follows from focusing on
      birth, rather than death, as the great fact.

      So mysticism, for me, needn'’t be irrational and needn'’t promote
      mystery, as such. Plato has Socrates say in his Phaedrus that
      prophecy, purification, poetry and love are "“the best things we have,”"
      and they “come "from madness, when it is given as a gift of the
      god"” (244a). By saying that they “come from madness,” Plato means that
      they don'’t seem “reasonable” in an everyday way. This is also true of
      the mysticism, closely allied to poetry and love, which says that in
      some important way we’'re all “one.” For most of my life, this was an
      idea that I admired from a distance, but which I couldn'’t even begin
      to take seriously as a description of my own situation. I lacked the
      purification, the poetry, and especially the love that could have made
      it seem real. Now, overwhelmingly, I’'ve been given them all.

      When Plato says that these things that come from “madness” are good
      for us when they’'re “given as a gift of the god,” he implies that we
      need to distinguish the kinds of “madness” that are good and god-given
      from those that aren'’t. Thus he suggests that even though prophecy,
      purification, poetry and love may seem “unreasonable” by everyday
      standards, we can nevertheless discover that they really are good for
      us. In the same way, I’'m going to explain, drawing especially on other
      writings of Plato, how the mysticism that my experience supports is
      true in spite of its apparent craziness.

      --Challenges for Plato: Soul/Body “Dualism”--

      I mentioned in the Introduction some of the major figures who have
      been influenced by Plato, including St Augustine, Meister Eckhart,
      Jelaluddin Rumi, Hegel, and Emerson. Numerous other teachers and poets
      could be added to this list, down to such present-day figures as the
      Harvard philosopher, Stanley Cavell, who explores what he calls
      ethical “"perfectionism,"” and the New England poet, Mary Oliver, who
      celebrates the transcendence that we can experience in nature.

      But there have always also been thinkers who resisted Plato’'s
      influence. In the ancient world, these included the materialists,
      Epicurus and Lucretius. Many of Plato'’s modern critics, such as Thomas
      Hobbes, David Hume, and Bertrand Russell, have suggested that key
      Platonic ideas are incompatible with the spirit of modern science, and
      therefore need to be replaced.

      Many of Plato'’s critics object, in particular, to his apparent
      "“dualism."” They suppose that Plato'’s central idea is that the true
      “me,” which Plato calls the “"soul,"” should as much as possible reject
      involvement with the body and the physical world. Plato does speak
      early in his Phaedo of the soul as being "“imprisoned"” in the body, and
      needing to be liberated from this imprisonment. This kind of dualism
      is especially familiar to us from Gnostic and Christian ascetics who
      rejected the world, the "“flesh,"” as evil. Plato is sometimes thought
      to have prepared the way for these extreme views.

      Perhaps the notion of the soul’'s “imprisonment” reflected Plato’'s
      terrible experience of seeing his beloved teacher, Socrates, condemned
      to death by Athens. It would have been natural to flee from this
      experience to the notion that Socrates'’s soul was better off
      elsewhere, anyway.

      But Plato went beyond this “"imprisonment"” notion elsewhere in the
      Phaedo and in his Republic, Symposium, and Timaeus. He did this
      through a kind of reconciliation of soul and body, which is closely
      related to the reconciliation of God and the world that I traced back
      to him in the Introduction. Like God and the world, soul and body
      can'’t be "“separate beings,"” because if they'’re separate, the soul
      would be determined partly by its relationship (the relationship of
      separation) to the body, and to that extent it wouldn'’t be self-
      determining. But the point of the “soul,” like the point of “God,” is
      to be self-determining--to be something that'’s fully responsible for

      So if body and soul, the world and God aren'’t separate beings, what
      are they? Why do we speak of “body” _and_ “soul,” the “world” _and_
      rather than just of one or the other of them? Plato’'s answer to this
      question is that the prior items, “body” and the “world,” are the less
      self-determining items, less fully “themselves,” that are nevertheless
      familiar to us in everyday experience. They are us in our everyday un-
      freedom, in which we think and do what our biological heritage or our
      social environment tells us to think and do. But at the same time we
      dream of being ourselves, of having thoughts and actions that are
      really _our own_. The “soul” represents this dream, this aspiration,
      inasmuch as one'’s “soul” (_psyche_, in Greek) is one'’s “life”--it’'s
      makes one a functioning whole. So that a body that has a soul can be
      responsible, as a whole, for its actions, in a way that a soul-less
      rock, for example, is not responsible, but is simply a transmission
      belt for what impinges on it from elsewhere.

      “God” is a further stage in the dream or aspiration of having
      thoughts and actions that are really "our own." This further stage
      becomes necessary when we realize that a multiplicity of separate
      souls are not going to be fully self-determining, because they'’ll
      still be determined by their relationship (of separation) to each
      other. So the only fully self-determining reality will be the result
      of ascending, via individual “souls,” to something that'’s no longer
      individual and multiple, but simply, as Plato is reported to have
      called it, “"One."”

      Thus the conflict-ridden duality of soul versus body is not Plato'’s
      last word. Rather, the intertwined concepts of “ascent” and the “One”
      are his last words. The famous ascent from the Cave, in Republic book
      vii, is simply one side of the ascent, via “souls,” to God. Achieving
      knowledge of the Good, outside the Cave, is getting free from the
      dictates of one’'s biological heritage and social environment, to which
      one was subjected within the Cave, and thus achieving self-
      determination. Achieving knowledge of the Good is how the “soul”
      functions to unify the body of which it is the soul. If this knowledge
      takes the knower all the way to full self-determination, it takes him
      beyond the multiplicity of bodies and souls to, as in the Symposium
      and Timaeus, the unity of the divine One.

      So this is the gist of Plato’s argument for “mysticism”--for rejecting
      the conventional assumption that you and I, and you and I and God, are
      ultimately separate.

      --Ascent, Descent, and Inwardness--

      Maybe now it’'s clear why our bodies and souls need to “ascend” to God,
      in order to become fully themselves. But looking at this from the
      other direction, why does God, the “One,” take any interest in our
      multiple souls and bodies? As the Timaeus says, God isn'’t possessive
      (he is subject to no _phthonos_ [29e]). We can reasonably suppose that
      this is because a possessive God would be limited, determined by his
      relationship (of exclusion) toward what he viewed as "outside" him,
      and thus would not be fully self-sufficient or self-determining, as a
      God should be. For this reason, the necessary ascent from bodies to
      God is complemented by a necessary “"descent"” of concern from God to
      bodies. God “"wanted everything to become as much like himself as
      possible,"” as Plato says. It'’s by treating everything as much as
      possible the way he treats himself, that he'’s able to be fully
      himself, fully “One.”

      I should add that of course we shouldn'’t take literally this
      "“ascent"” and "“descent"” that we'’re talking about. An "“upward"”
      motion is
      a metaphor for the search for something that’'s more authoritative than
      one’'s initial opinions and desires. The authority that Plato finds is
      the authority of what is truly oneself. Another good metaphor for this
      authority, in this case a metaphor that’'s tailored specifically for
      the authority of _what’'s truly oneself_, would speak of the soul as
      _inside_ the body and God as _inside_ the soul. This metaphor is
      appropriate because the soul enables the body to be more itself, and
      God enables the soul and body to be more themselves, and we'’re likely
      to think that the source of something’'s being “itself” is more
      _internal_ to the thing than anything else could be. This is how we get
      Augustine'’s description of God as “"more inward” to him than himself,"
      and the conception of God as being “"within us."” So we must understand
      the so-called "“ascent,"” the “upward” motion that Plato describes, as
      leading inward, in this way, into the person'’s innermost selfhood.

      Plato'’s mature conception of ascent, descent, and inward selfhood
      (all of which I'’ll explore in more detail later) is undoubtedly a bit
      complex, in comparison to the simple idea of the soul as being
      "“imprisoned"” in the body and needing to be liberated from it. So it’'s
      not surprising that the imprisonment idea is the one that many readers
      associate with Plato. This hasty reading has prevented many people,
      over the centuries, from appreciating what Plato is really up to.

      The most important thing that Plato is up to is showing how by
      appreciating our own freedom we can discover the necessary _hierarchy_
      of God, souls, and bodies, in which the more governing element (God,
      or the soul, as the case may be) makes what’'s subordinate to it more
      “itself.” This account of the essential authority in reality explains
      religion, morality, and evil more comprehensively and more incisively
      than any other proposal that we have had.

      --Hierarchy, Free Inquiry, and God--

      Science-oriented atheists like Hume, Marx, Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell
      and Richard Dawkins all assume that someone who takes free inquiry and
      science seriously will have no need for concepts like those of the
      soul or God. Plato and many of his followers believe, on the contrary,
      that freedom and free inquiry are what the soul and God are _composed
      of_, when the soul and God are properly understood.

      In the necessary hierarchy that Plato presents, of God, souls, and
      bodies, what distinguishes souls and God from mere bodies is that
      souls and God have increasing degrees of self-determination or
      freedom. One important species of freedom is free inquiry, of which an
      important instance is science. So freedom, free inquiry, and science
      are part of what makes the soul, and God, what they are. Science is an
      aspect of God.

      Thus Plato reconciles what appears in present-day culture to be
      paradigmatically un-reconcilable, namely, science and religion, free
      inquiry and God. Rather than being in conflict with divinity, as Plato
      conceives it, true science is an aspect of the divine.

      --Hierarchy and Morality--

      As for morality, it’'s not hard to see how the unification of free
      souls in God makes it impossible for these souls to mistreat or
      exploit one another. It’'s our brute separateness that makes that sort
      of behavior possible. But Plato shows that for those who seek to be
      truly themselves, there can be no such brute separateness.

      --And Evil Again--

      As for “evil” and the “body,” to which dualists take such strong
      exception--the hierarchy that Plato teaches in his mature work shows
      us that they are not the enemy. There is no enemy. There is only the
      process of increasing self-determination and “oneness.” The God whose
      concern “"descends"” to us, descends to everything, no matter how
      corrupt, deformed, and lowly. There can be no limit to this concern,
      or God would not be self-determining and infinite. Thus Plato
      contemplated the "“evil"” in the people who had condemned Socrates and
      had committed other horrors in Athens, and saw that these people were
      struggling simply, to the best of their limited abilities, to be free,
      or truly themselves. And I, too, have found that it’s possible to have
      compassion for things within me that for decades seemed so ugly to me
      that I felt that actually looking at them would paralyze and disable
      me entirely. Instead, the compassionate light of day has made these
      things feel understood, and they have responded by shedding their
      hatred and their ugliness, revealing themselves instead as tendrils of

      Thus Plato’'s apparently cerebral philosophy reaches deep into the muck
      and the heart. No limits. True freedom.

      And as for the question with which I began this chapter: I feel deeply
      cared for not because I believe in a powerful Being who cares for me.
      That would make the care rather contingent. Instead, I feel cared for
      because I’'ve discovered that freedom--the divine, what’'s fully
      in myself and in others diminishes the significance of what separates
      us from one another, and produces a universal caring that in effect
      fills all of space and time. And this is not contingent; this is the
      ultimate and necessary reality.

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]


      Yahoo! Groups Links

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.