Plato’s Cave helps explain the idea that the human being is a microcosm of the macrocosm; that to understand reality, we need to understand ourselves. We embody all levels of reality within us. This connection with infinite Freedom is what makes us partly divine – there is God in us, just as God has man in him. In Christianity, God becomes man. Not as an all-conquering master, but as a servant of low social position who permits himself to be crucified, taking on the full extent of the tragedy and suffering of human existence.
Each person, each microcosm, is unique, and unrepeatable: this Person with his own consciousness and his own connection to meonic Freedom. Plato, on the other hand, mostly posited true existence in universals; abstractions and concepts: the Form of Beauty, of Justice, of Truth. In the Symposium, the novice loves the body, then realizes he loves the beauty of all bodies, and then all minds, and then Beauty itself, aside from all concrete instantiations. The spiritual and real is identified with the universal by Plato. However, it is the concrete and particular that is most real. There might be an idea of man in the mind of God, but this universal is only discovered in the particular man. It is the individual Person who has ultimate value, not the idea of the Person. The concrete Person is eternal and can no more cease to exist than God could.
There can be mystical experiences that seem to suggest a dissolution of individual consciousness and a merger with something that might be called Pure Awareness, but this should not be posited as an ultimate metaphysical reality. Mystical experiences cannot always be used to produce good philosophy. For love to exist, for instance, there must be two. The lover and the beloved. If nondual consciousness is posited as descriptive of the way things really are then, then love has been eliminated from the picture. God cannot be Love, without human beings – people to love. God cannot be the Creator, if creation has no real existence. Prayer and meditation might be the route to communing with God, where the mind is silenced and we “listen” by paying attention to all interior experience. But, this is similar to how we communicate or commune with anyone else. It is necessary to shut up to hear what the other Person is saying. If our minds follow their usual modus operandi of free association, one thought leading to another with no real direction, then how are we to hear God, if God is trying to communicate? Were we to hear the voice of God, to feel the presence of the living God, while meditating or praying, and even to merge with it, it does not mean “nondual” consciousness is more fundamental and real than the Person.
It might seem nice to figure out exactly how the individual consciousness is related to God and ultimate reality. Is there some spiritual stuff underlying everything and connecting everything? Is everything ultimately a giant Mind? These questions are an example of rationalistic empirical metaphysics, that apes the methods of science – a science of the spirit that more or less exactly parallels the approach of science to the physical realm. It takes Spirit as a substance; as an object. It treats the Freedom and interiority of Spirit as just another thing to be analyzed. It inappropriately imports the techniques of science developed to examine physical reality – the world of objects – into subjectivity. Spirit is found in subjective experience, not in objects. To label and catalog the Kingdom of God using concepts that apply to the Kingdom of Earth is to extend scientism into the realm of spirit. Scientism is the notion that only the techniques of science are truth-revealing; and nothing else is. But really, truth and knowledge are created by the human subject. They exist in the Person, whether a particular man’s or God’s. Knowledge, if it is to exist at all, exists in the Person. Were someone to see someone else’s soul body – their eternal heavenly form – and stare at the very (spiritual) matter out of which they are formed, they are not seeing the real person or communing with ultimate reality. Ultimate reality is the I/Thou relation; not the I/It. To commune with another Person, whether it be the Person of God, or a man, is an I/Thou relationship – my subject communicating and empathizing with another subject. The I/It relationship is subject meets object. Simply replacing spiritual objects with physical objects does not fundamentally change the I/It relationship. In I/Thou, my interior communes with your interior.
Pingback: Plato, Nondual Consciousness, and Scientism | Reaction Times
I was always, from youth, very drawn to Platonism – but after I became a Christian I gradually realised that it is not compatible with Christianity at the level of honest common sense and personal experience – which is how I think God intends that we should understand things.
If (as many theologians through history have been) one is determined to fit Christianity into pre-existing mono-deistic neo-Platonism, then of course it can be done, has been done; but at a considerable cost in making the understanding rooted in mystical abstractions (such as God defined by ‘properties’), and also in making it very difficult to explain why Jesus Christ was essential (the deity of Platonism could do anything do-able – and would not need Jesus to be incarnated/ die/ be resurrected).
Platonism fits much more naturally and easily with Hinduism, Buddhism, or indeed mystical Islam and Judaism.
Instead of Platonist abstraction; I regard The Family as the intended bottom-line metaphor for Christians. This can be straightforwardly derived from the Fourth Gospel and many (but not all) parts of the Synoptics and Epistles; and is understandable by children and the simple-minded.
And I believe it is the truth – both symbolically and literally!
Hi, Bruce: Thanks for commenting. I agree that The Family is a crucial metaphor for Christianity. I might write a little note about what God the Father really means as a reply, because then the question becomes what an ideal family should look like!
“God cannot be Love, without human beings – people to love.”
The Trinity gives expression to inter-personal love, in the absence of Creation.
Hi, pbw: Is that your deepest spiritual intuition? Or just throwing it out there?
>Mystical experiences cannot always be used to produce good philosophy. For love to exist, for instance, there must be two. The lover and the beloved.
This is true if you interpret love as the presence of something. But it can also be interpreted as the absence of something, and precisely the absence of separation between the other and the self, so we see the well-being of the other just as important as our own well-being. Similarly, wisdom can be interpreted as an absence of separation (knowing something intimately as the back of our hand) and so on.
Mystical stuff makes bad *political* philosophy, because it deals with an extraordinary mindset, not the mindset and practical actions used in everyday reality. But it is perfectly possible that that extraordinary mindset is pointing to an ultimate truth. You just have to careful to not use it for everyday, practical, political, social philosophy. It does not work on that level.
Although in this exceptional case it does. Love is even in practical real life moving from thinking as “I” to thinking as “we”. Forming one unit. Implying the reduction of separation. The classic example is marriage.
I think the issue is precisely the idea of the microcosm-macrocosm relation. It implies that whatever you think about the ultimate nature of the universe will influence how you think about practical things. The way you think how Heaven is run will influence how you want to run a household or a state. And that is not a good idea. That is like using string theory to design a bicycle.
The result is that people who have a very good pragmatic social technology (Christanity) will think the ultimate nature of the universe is something like that, too, objects and persons, which is really lacking imagination (or mystical experience). What is even worse, mystics who have some insight into the nature of the universe will also butt into practical, political philosophy, which will predictably lead to disaster, because even if we are at some very abtract mystical level all one it does not follow we should pool our property and wives. For example.
Hi, Dividualist: I think that “I think the issue is precisely the idea of the microcosm-macrocosm relation. It implies that whatever you think about the ultimate nature of the universe will influence how you think about practical things. The way you think how Heaven is run will influence how you want to run a household or a state” is just true, so you better be very careful what big picture view you adopt. Having no notion of the transcendent will, if followed consistently enough and thoroughly enough, lead someone to nihilism, on earth as it is in heaven. And the Monism of some mystics has similar nihilistic implications. Persons are not real, so to hell with them.
It is certainly true that the application of Monism to practical life would be disastrous, but it is also disastrous philosophically. If we take Freedom and voluntarism as fundamental, and posit the Person as of ultimate worth, along with God, the political implications are mostly pretty good. But, there are still evil necessities of social existence, such as the need for hierarchies for social order – so, you know, what? I think I mostly agree with you! Heavenly perfection can’t be nicely applied to the earthly plane.
Hi, Dividualist: I think that’s a fair point. I would just suggest that this lack of separation, otherwise known as communion, retains its voluntary nature., Once it becomes a metaphysical principle divorced from will and freedom then this non-separation is meaningless and worthless.