Students of religious thought often ask: how similar was Platonic philosophy to the ideologies of Jesus? This sample essay, written by one of our talented American writers, analyzes Platonic and Christian thought, comparing and contrasting the two.
A synthesis of platonic and christian philosophy
As a devoted Christian, there would be some of Plato’s philosophies that I would adapt for my synthesis and there would be some that would have to be left out because they do not fit with the teachings of the New Testament, which I hold to be true. I would attempt to analyze what Plato is saying and try to apply his teachings to areas where I felt there was overlap in the New Testament. By doing this, I would be able to further back up the teachings of the New Testament with the words of Plato and, hopefully, be able to get more to follow in both the teachings of Plato and Jesus, and look at the differences between the religions.
First, it should be realized that Plato had the utmost respect for his own religious beliefs. He publically advocated keeping religion as a central part of society. However, he had a much more Christian view of the gods in that he felt they should not be depicted as being petty, devious, or warring against each other. He wanted to keep their images sacred and revered by all. Plato also felt that the universe was created by an all mighty power in his likeness that is quite similar to the Christian view on the creation of the universe (Plate). This is a useful component of my synthesis.
Another aspect of Plato that is worth keeping in a synthesis is his thoughts on morality. As a student of Socrates, Plato adapts a similar notion on morality: one should act on principle rather than on self-interest (Plato). This idea of acting for the benefit of many is also seen in the teachings of Jesus. In the New Testament, Jesus appears as “meek and lowly” to show the balance that he has in his life. He later goes on to die for the sins of everyone, which goes along with the idea of acting on principle rather than self-interest (The Holy Bible). In this way the two philosophies complement each other flawlessly.
There are some aspects of Plato’s teachings that should be excluded from the synthesis of the New Testament and Plato’s teachings. The first that should be excluded is Plato’s thoughts on immortality. Like the New Testament, which speaks about the immortal soul of a person and an afterlife, Plato saw death as “the separation of the soul from the body,” (Plato). However, Plato felt that the soul would be reincarnated and be in constant motion instead of the Christian counterpart of thinking about spending an eternal afterlife in either Heaven or Hell (The Holy Bible). Even with this discrepancy, the fact that both tout an immortal soul as being distinct from the mortal body is a valuable connection.
Another aspect related to Plato’s thoughts on immortality that would have to be excluded from the synthesis are Plato’s thoughts on knowledge. Plato believed that we learn and acquire knowledge in our life by remembering knowledge that was originally acquired from a previous life. His idea is that the soul itself already possesses that knowledge and that we are learning by simply recollecting what the soul already knows (Plato). This, like Plato’s thoughts on immortality, cannot be in the final version of the synthesis of Plato and Jesus.
Like with Plato’s thoughts on immortality, the acquisition of knowledge goes against some of the fundamental ideas of the New Testament. To say that remembering and recollecting knowledge from a previous life is how someone gains knowledge is to accept the idea of reincarnation and reincarnation is not a view that Christianity approves of. Instead, Jesus’ teachings push for learning through our experiences and reflecting on them to gain knowledge, and that there is no reincarnation. The afterlife awaits the immortal soul upon death. A possible reconciliation of these views is that the Christian faith believes in a conscience or that the Holy Spirit speaks to all people, if they listen (The Holy Bible). This kind of metaphysical insight is not far removed from Plato’s concept of past life memories since both would be abstract and still very dependent on a person’s present situation for interpretation.
To write a synthesis of the teachings of Jesus and Plato would be an odd combination. Usually philosophers are some of the most prominent people that question religion, however in this case the proposed synthesis is a combination of the two fields to teach a single lesson. By taking the appropriate parts from Plato’s teachings, this synthesis would show how to live one’s life in the best manner possible.
“Plato.” Oracle ThinkQuest. N.p., 1998. Web. 12 Oct 2012. .
The Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Ver. New York: Oxford UP, 1989. Print.
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