What Classical Thought We Forgot

In Westernized culture today, it’s clear there is no longer a shared value existing that teaches people how to live or to know the nature of virtue. (Heck, some don’t even know what the word virtue means!) In the time before Christ, philosophical ideas from Plato to Aristotle infiltrated all of ancient Greece, and existed to teach a person how to live and to know the nature of virtue and beauty. These ideas were also expressed by the Jewish people who knew these truths from studying God’s ways by revelation through their prophets as recorded in the Torah. The Roman philosophical world taught that knowing about the meaning of life was crucial. In Socrates’ opinion, he elevated the idea that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Yet when you examine today’s culture, life’s meaning is somehow obliterated with the onslaught of relativism and apathy.

When comparing the faith-based ways of ancient Jerusalem to the reasons-oriented ways of Athens, neither faith nor reason should discount the other but instead work together for the complete picture of the human narrative. But we’ve lost this balance between faith and reason. Western culture appears to have lost balance in many ways. It’s as though we don’t know what it means to be human anymore. Maybe we need to dust off those ancient texts, and take a look back at Plato. Click To Tweet

Why Christians Should Consider Plato

Plato changed philosophy forever. He captured conversational learning in his dialogues, and told stories as a quest to find the truth, goodness and beauty of being human. If we want to reach large audiences with the message of hope found in Christ, adopting a storytelling style, one that most people can relate to as Plato did in his dialogues, would be a great communication tool. Christ Himself spoke in parables to impart His wisdom on the condition of man.

Plato’s Republic comes perhaps as close to truth as humanity gets before the incarnation. This city-state model was created to try and produce justice within the souls of man. Plato explored the arts in his dialogue, noting that there is compelling state interest in censoring them. Does the artist have the right to corrupt the souls of youth? Plato postulated. An easy argument could be made that today’s Westernized-entertainment industry has lead to moral decay. Plato reminds us, as Christians, to at least personally censor the art we consume as a moral necessity. Many have said “you become what you behold,” so fill your minds with beauty, virtue and goodness.

Plato concludes that a kingdom is better than any form of government if one can find a just philosopher-king. As Christians, we know that king is Christ. Plato gives us tools to combat the difficulties of this age, arguing, for example, that science is storytelling and should account for all of human experience, including theology. An open philosophy of science ensued, combining the personal (a soul) and the material (matter) causes that today’s scientists mostly reject. Perhaps that is where science has failed.

Hellenistic Philosophy Prepared the Coming of Christ

The rise of Alexander the Great destroyed the city-states and enslaved the citizens, putting an end to the old order and leaving nothing stable. Civilization fell into a kind of pre-dark age, and seemed to be waiting for the Romans to give direction. Strange religious centers sprung up during this time, with little cohesiveness. Gnostics and Stoics also postulated cosmological theories that seemed useless. There are many similarities happening in today’s society. The rise of the multi-national corporations has destabilized the global economy, putting riches in the hands of a few and causing many to cry foul. Politicians cannot agree on much of anything, leaving what many see as a great leadership vacuum. Religion is no longer seen as something that is true for all, but lies in personal experiences that are subjective. Click To Tweet

PlatoCavePlato used a cave as a symbol for the human condition. He saw people as trapped in a cave, never getting out and only seeing glimpses of the light just outside the cave. Paul’s message at Mars Hill answered the dilemma of Plato’s symbolic “cave” — the hopelessness of humanity — by uniting the divine Logos (Jesus) with humanity forever. Educated Athenians, who were versed in the philosophical ideas of that day, must have been greatly impressed by this so-called ‘unimpressive man’ who ushered in a new, greater philosophy making the “unknown god” finally known. Christianity brought a metaphysical unity to the ancient world.

The classical world is something mostly forgotten today, but if we return to some of its ancient philosophical teachings, we’ll gain a deeper appreciation of virtue and honest beauty. Let’s teach younger generations to examine their lives, to recognize and desire virtue. Jesus told parables. We should tell stories, too, in ways that bridge classic thought with modern storytelling to reach a world that has misplaced virtue.