Monday, July 02, 2007

Neo-Platonism Sucks

So, I spent some time looking in to the major questions posed by atheists to theists. They usually take the form of questioning reality in light of the nature of God. So: If God is so good, why is their pain and suffering? Or: If God is all knowing, then how can we have free will?

So, here's my problem: these descriptions of the nature of God do not come from Judeo-Christian teachings, but from Neo-Platonic philosophy and other external sources. Way back in the day when Christianity was trying to find its own place in the world a guy named Justin talked about how much Christianity lines up with the teachings of the great philosophers. He did this so that Christians would face less persecution and as a way to try and convert his peers. The problem is that he began the process of integrating this pagan philosophy with Christianity and we're still dealing with the results.

So these philosophers said that the ultimate creator god was unchangeable, all powerful, all knowing, etc. And these ideas were applied to the Christian God early on. The problem lies in the fact Yahweh never presents himself in these terms. Yahweh is jealous and forgiving and loving and creative and angry and merciful - far from being unchangeable. Yahweh is limited in power - either due to his own choice or due to his nature or some unknown other reason - it is clear though that there are things that Yahweh cannot accomplish. Yahweh has limited knowledge - he knows far more than humans do, but it is not clear that he knows what we will choose or exactly how the future will unfold (though he has a much clearer idea than we do).

I could go on, but then I think people would get bored and stop reading. I'll stop now and let the arguments begin.


Anonymous said...

I'll simply say "well said James." I first got peaked by this very same issue after reading John Sander's "The God Who Risks" and his assertion that the proposition that God is all-knowing is never actually asserted in the witness of scripture. Makes you wonder (as you have done) how we and culture get some of our common understandings of God.

Unknown said...

Man, Matt Ellis should find you. I talked about some of this with him the other day but only touched on this aspect of it.

Actually, though my teachers referred to this mode of thought as Neo-Platonism; Neo-Platonism as such was a later outgrowth of various philosophical schools, most notably a certain branch of Pythagorean philosophy. As I found while researching my thesis, Neo-Platonism/ Pythagoreanism is the most likely origin for the particular misuses of scripture that justified the Christian versus Christian persecutions and eventually justified the inquisition and practically every other evil which people have claimed was warranted by scripture.

Tammie's Thoughts said...

Great post, James. I'm going to ask John and Laura to read it! Hope you all are settled in and enjoying being home again...we do misss you!

Andrew Martin said...

I like you James, and I'm glad you are back in Oregon :)

Thanks for the thought provoking words. I have noticed that people are constantly attributing traits to God (or the Kingdom of God) that are not evident in scripture. It is a difficult thing to break free of because we are all living under the umbrella of those ideas, which influence the way we interpret all of life.

Its a crazy world.