+1(978)310-4246 credencewriters@gmail.com

Pick one discussion question from each chapter. Re-state the question and give your answer (at least 150 words.)

Remember, college papers are in 12 point font and double-spaced.

Do one question for each chapter, for a total of five. Points are deducted for errors in spelling, grammar or punctuation.

Make sure you answer the ENTIRE question.


Discussion for Chapter 1:(Humanity): What does it mean to be human? Is there anything that makes human beings different from other animals?

Discussion for Chapter 2: (Plato): What were Plato’s views on education? Discuss whether you agree and why or why not?

Discussion for Chapter 3: (Augustine): Discuss how Augustine’s views of women is consistent with the 2nd cosmogony in the book of Genesis (Chap 2) and how it is inconsistent with the first cosmogony in the book of Genesis (Chapter 1)

Discussion for Chapter 4: (Marx): Think about your job (or most recent job) and discuss how you were alienated from the products of your labor. In addition, discuss whether you feel alienated from yourself, or from the natural world.

Discussion for Chapter 5: What is your philosophy on Humanity? What Philosophers does it most closely resemble?

Fourth Edition
Dorothy A. Haecker
Edited by
Peter Van Dusen
Copyright 2020
All Rights Reserved
This book, this labor of love, is dedicated, first and foremost, to my students.
Your shining faces, minds and hearts are my deepest inspiration. I would not be a
philosopher were it not for my own teacher, Forest, who showed me that philosophy is truly a search for the wisest way to live. She was a Kierkegaard scholar
and spiritual seeker who gave me my first taste of Existentialism and the challenge to live a truly authentic life. I am profoundly grateful to Alex Georgiadis,
may his soul rest in peace, who taught me everything from quantum physics to the
history of Western and Mesoamerican social and political philosophy. He was a
Marx scholar and activist who showed me how to embody compassionate resistance to injustice.
Dorothy A. Haecker
Summer 2006
The changes from the First to the Second Edition of this adventuresome book would
not have happened without the help of friends. To Jane Gurko, who sat for two weeks in
her cabin in the trees, making corrections and suggestions to improve the clarity of these
words. To Barbara Kessel, who gave me deeper insight into the historical context of the
modern and post-modern philosophers, and who provided words to strengthen the epilogue, A Philosophy for the 21st Century. To Cynthia Secor, for the many conversations
about ideas that could change our world. To my Companions on the Way, for the encouragement you gave me as a teacher and writer. You know who you are. To you all, the
thanks of a mindful heart.
Dorothy A. Haecker
August 2007
The changes from the Second to the Third Edition would not have happened without
the continuing help of friends. To Dr. John Hernandez, who has done me the honor of
using this book in his own Introduction to Philosophy classes. For his many suggestions,
corrections, and appreciations, I thank him. He is responsible for helping me refine and
correct my earlier impression of Hobbes’s view of Divinity. To Peter Van Dusen, sine
qua non, for years of spirited philosophical conversation. To my students, whose
on-going enthusiasm, confusion, effort, insight, and presence motivated me to write—and
revise—-this book.
Dorothy A. Haecker
January 2011
The catalysts for the Fourth Edition were my colleagues, John Hernandez, Rena
Denham, Terry Toma, and Nathan Hoofard, who suggested we add information on original source material so that students could experience philosophers in their own voices.
This, together with Peter Van Dusen’s willingness to bring his considerable editing talents to my own writing, created an irresistible opportunity. Nathan gathered everyone’s
suggestions and made discoveries of his own to produce the compilation of original open
source materials you will find at the end of this book. Peter took red highlighting in hand
and made wonderful improvements to the content, style, and format of this edition. To
them both, my heartfelt thanks. A lifetime of gratitude to my fellow and sister companions on the Journey. And, always, to our students, our inspiration for teaching and reason
for being.
Dorothy A. Haecker
March 2020
Chapter 1
Ancient Cosmogonies
Chapter 2
Ancient Cosmologies
The Pre-Socratics
Chapter 3
The Early & Medieval Christian World
The Early Christian Community
The Birth of Roman Christianity
The Fall of the Roman Empire &
The Rise of Medieval Christendom
Chapter 4
The Modern World
The Copernican Revolution
Thomas Hobbes
John Locke
Chapter 5
The Beginnings of the Post-Modern World
Soren Kierkegaard
Karl Marx
A Philosophy for the 21st Century
Selected Primary Readings List
Master Matrix
PHILOSOPHY comes from two Greek words. “Philia” means the kind of love a person has for their best friend, the one who can always be asked for help and guidance.
“Sophia” means wisdom, the deepest and most balanced understanding of life. Wisdom
is not just a collection of facts or opinions. Wisdom is an integrated web of ideas that
have been examined carefully and thoughtfully over a period of years, forming a holistic
and informed Way of thinking and living. So, PHILOSOPHY can be defined simply as “the
love of wisdom.”
A wise person is someone whose advice we seek about the most difficult situations
in life. A wise person knows who they are, knows what they are for, and knows what
they should do to create a really good life for themselves. Notice the word “really.”
PHILOSOPHY is an activity of thinking that helps us sort out “real” goods from things
that only “seem” good. It helps us distinguish our “real selves” from the “false selves”
that we create to get along with or impress others.
A wise person can also separate “true” ideas from “false” ideas. By learning to ask
questions and think seriously, we begin to notice ideas that are merely opinions—ideas
that we just “have.” When we ask others why they believe as they do, they usually say
either (a) this is what I was taught, or (b) this is just my opinion. These replies tell us that
the person has not really thought about the idea for themselves. While everyone has a
right to their own opinions, not everyone’s opinions are right. Just believing something
does not make it so. In ancient times, most people around the world believed that the
earth was the center of the universe. But their belief did not change the fact of the
earth’s orbit around the sun. As we now know, this idea, regardless of how many people
believed it, was false.
While never promising to reveal Absolute Truth, PHILOSOPHY can teach us how to
find evidence for—and reasoning in support of—our ideas. It can show us whether and
how an idea fits together with other ideas. Thinking philosophically enables us to recognize contradictions and inconsistencies in our ideas—which would mean something is
wrong, since two conflicting thoughts cannot both be true. The stronger the support for
an idea, and the better it fits with other ideas, the more likely it is to be true. To discover just how good your ideas really are, join us in the adventure of PHILOSOPHY.
We will study Great Ideas in four major areas of human experience. First, we will
explore great ideas about REALITY. REALITY is everything that surrounds us—earth, sky,
solar system, the universe—in other words, the entire Natural World. We will study ancient Eastern and Western peoples who believed that Nature is a Sacred Cosmos in
which everything has a soul. We will study medieval Christian philosophers who believed that Nature is a Creation made according to Divine plan. We will study early
modern scientific philosophers who referred to Nature as the Clockwork Universe—everything running with mathematical precision according to physical laws.
Questions and ideas about REALITY lead to questions and ideas about DIVINITY.
DIVINITY is the name we give to Spiritual and Sacred Forces or Beings that we believe
exist in Reality. Ancient peoples believed in a Great Spirit that existed together with Nature Spirits and Ancestor Spirits. Ancient Hindus believed in a Sacred Energy called
Brahman from which all things come and return. Medieval Christians believed in a Holy
Trinity, made up of a Creator-Father, a Redeemer-Son, and a Comforting Holy Spirit.
Some modern philosophers have thought Reality was only material and that DIVINITY
was an illusion.
Our third area of study is HUMANITY. Humanity consists of all human beings who
lived in the past, live now, and ever will live. For thousands of years, philosophers have
asked Who are we? What does it mean to be human? What do all humans have in
common? What is the purpose of human life? What is the meaning and purpose of my
life? Do I have one or must I create one? Socrates, the first major Western philosopher,
said that there is only one great task for anyone who is studying philosophy: KNOW
Questions and ideas about HUMANITY lead to questions and ideas about SOCIETY.
SOCIETY is the name for how human beings live together. Great ideas about SOCIETY
identify the best kinds of government and the best ways to organize ourselves. Should
we live in villages ruled by councils of elders? Should we live in countries ruled by emperors, or nations ruled by kings? Who is best suited to rule a SOCIETY? Do only certain
people have the right to rule? How should rulers be chosen? Should we have separate
classes of people that are superior to other groups of people and therefore receive
more social goods than others? Should we separate people by sex or race, or give them
different social roles, each with a different status in SOCIETY? Should we live together as
equals? Does being equal mean we are identical? How should SOCIETY organize humans
who are different from one another in so many ways?
Beginning with early Indigenous cultures, we will look chronologically at great philosophies and philosophers over a 5,000-year period. Chapter 1 of our adventure focuses on the very ancient ideas of Animism, Hinduism, and Judaism. As we travel with
them, we’ll learn the differences separating polytheism, non-theism, and monotheism.
Chapter 2 looks at three of the most important ancient philosophers: Buddha, Plato, and
Aristotle. These great thinkers have influenced our thoughts and lives for more than two
thousand years. Chapter 3 explores the Christian philosophy of life, from the teachings
of its founder, Jesus Christ, through two of its greatest thinkers, St. Augustine and
St. Thomas Aquinas. We continue the journey by studying the impact of the Scientific
Revolution on the Christian World. Chapter 4 examines the modern social philosophies
of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, whose differences of opinion inspired the American
Revolution. Chapter 5 brings us to the 19th century and the contrasting philosophies of
the intensely personal Christian Existentialism of Soren Kierkegaard, and the globally-revolutionary Dialectical Materialism of Karl Marx.
Chapter 6 must ultimately be written by you. Your journey into the world of PHILOSOPHY will not be complete until you discover and explore your own ideas about REALITY, DIVINITY, HUMANITY and SOCIETY.
This is the adventure you signed up for this semester. By studying some of the
greatest ideas of human history so far, you will strengthen your ability to think on you
own and for yourself. You will be “leaving home” to stretch your mind beyond our ordinary, familiar ways of thinking. You will discover strange new ideas and learn to understand them. You will appreciate some of the great disagreements among the world’s
philosophers and see how many of them can now be resolved. If the truth about life
were simple, we would already know the answers. But it isn’t, and we don’t. All the different ways to think about the great questions show us how rich and complex the world
really is. Seeking wisdom is one of the most challenging, but perhaps also one of the
most satisfying dimensions of the human journey.
So, pack your bags, bring your Mind, Heart, and Spirit, and let’s go!
Chapter 1
Ancient Cosmogonies:
Animism, Hinduism & Judaism
“Cosmos” is the Greek word for an orderly and harmonious world. It is the opposite
of the Greek word, “Chaos.” Ancient humans experienced the earth beneath them and
the heavens above them, and wondered at both. They recognized patterns, regularities,
and connections in the world above and in the world below. And they asked: What Is All
This? Where did It come from? How does It work? What is our place within It? They answered their questions with imaginative, poetic stories about the creation and organization of the world. Today we refer to each of these ancient origin myths as a COSMOGONY.
Archaeological and anthropological studies suggest that many thousands of years
ago ancient peoples all over the world had created Cosmogonies picturing REALITY as
a SACRED COSMOS in which all things were related and valued. The SACRED COSMOS
consisted of a VISIBLE WORLD of physical things, beings, and humans, all held together
by an INVISIBLE WORLD of spiritual beings, souls, and energies. Shamans or medicine
men and women moved between the two worlds, bringing guidance from the spirits and
divinities. From this other world, shamans also received the power to heal and help humans, animals, plants, and the land. In the SACRED COSMOS, what we call “matter” and
“spirit” were deeply interconnected. Ancient people believed that everything in heaven
and earth was a union of the two. They thought: Everything in existence has a soul.
Nature was filled with spirits of the stars, sun, moon, mountains, rivers, trees, animals,
plants, and people. We call this ancient perspective ANIMISM.
Animists typically believed in a GREAT SPIRIT who created the SACRED COSMOS. This
DIVINITY might be male, female, both, or neither. Regardless of its gender or non-gender,
the GREAT SPIRIT was always accompanied by Nature Spirits guiding the various aspects of
the world—movements of the sun, moon, and stars; the coming and going of rain and dry
spells; and the life-cycles of animals and plants. Animists also believed that when their elders died, they became Ancestor Spirits who continued to guide their descendants. Ancestor
Spirits helped the living to preserve the goodness of the community and the environment by
encouraging them to follow traditional ways. Because of its multi-spirited vision, we consider ANIMISM to be a form of POLYTHEISM, “a belief in many gods.”
Animist ideas about REALITY and DIVINITY have direct connections with Animist
ideas of HUMANITY and SOCIETY. Because all things are creations of the GREAT
SPIRIT, all things were seen as members of one family. Humans were seen as
TWO-LEGGEDS, relatives of the “four-legged,” “finned,” and “winged” beings of the
world. From the idea of interconnectedness came the idea of KINSHIP. Animists did not
see human beings as unique, superior to, or entirely different from animals, plants, and
the rest of the natural world. Instead, they saw everything in the world literally as
mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, or cousins. Because of their experience with Ancestor Spirits, Animists believed that human
beings are destined for a life after death. They thought that when we die, our bodies
stay in the VISIBLE WORLD but our souls travel to the INVISIBLE WORLD.
Animists believed shamans could talk with animals and plants and learn lessons
from the sun, planets, and stars. They felt they were in communion with the SACRED
COSMOS and could therefore communicate with everything in it. Their societies were
COMMUNITIES of people living within the surrounding communities of animals and
plants. Tribes and villages were often guided by the oldest men and women, those who
would have the greatest amount of life experience on which to base decisions affecting
the entire community. This COUNCIL OF ELDERS would ensure that necessary resources
were found and shared with everyone.
Animists originated ways of seeing, being, and living that have lasted thousands of
years. Feeling a deep sense of responsibility to and for Nature, they were the first environmentalists. Their ways still survive, but only in small and inaccessible corners on the
periphery of the “civilized” world.
Around 3,000 BCE, the ancient people of India developed COSMOGONIES that came
to be called HINDUISM. Like the ancient Animists, the Hindus believed that everything
in the Cosmos has a soul. These souls did not come from a Great Divine Being, however.
Instead, Hindus believed in a Sacred Energy or Source from which all things came and to
which all things returned. They called this Sacred Origin and Destination BRAHMAN.
BRAHMAN was vast and indescribable, but not what we call “God.” It was not personal.
It did not have a “personality.” Today we call Hinduism a form of NON-THEISM because
of its description of DIVINITY as an ultimately impersonal energy rather than a personal
BRAHMAN is a Spiritual One-ness that can transform Itself into the Material
Many-ness of earth and the heavens. When things die, their matter dissolves and their
spirit returns to BRAHMAN, waiting to be reborn. Hindus liked the image of BRAHMAN
“breathing” out the material universe and then “breathing” it back into Itself again. This
vision is similar to the modern idea that energy can be converted into matter and back
again. Albert Einstein expressed this quality in the famous equation, e = mc2. For Hindus,
BRAHMAN has this ability to be energy that can convert part of Itself into matter.
“Death” was the reverse process of matter converting itself back into energy—in other
words, “returning” to BRAHMAN. This means that this Impersonal Source Energy is not
a Creator like the GREAT SPIRIT. It is a transformer of Sacred Energy that has always existed.
In Hindu REALITY, all material things, including human beings, go through cycles of
birth, life, death, and rebirth. This turning and returning is called SAMSARA, or “Wheel.”
SAMSARA causes all material things to change. Only BRAHMAN is eternal and changeless. But the change is circular rather than linear. Every material thing goes around and
comes around again.
These cycles of SAMSARA are not random. Ancient Hindus believed that reincarnation is governed by the law of KARMA. At the level of material things, this law is like
Newton’s idea that “every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” For plants and
animals, KARMA means that their reincarnation could be affected by defects or diseases
from previous generations. An animal’s reincarnation could also be affected by human
actions. For example, humans could change a species of animal through selective
breeding or by hunting a species to extinction. In the case of human beings, KARMA expresses itself as “what goes around comes around,” or “you reap what you sow.” Hindus believed that every person would receive back all he or she had given out to others.
Cruel people would be subjected to cruelty, kind people would be treated kindly, in this
life or the next. Exceptional cruelty might mean that a person would reincarnate below
the human level and spend a lifetime as an animal. That person would then have a
chance to re-enter the human realm in the next lifetime.
Hindu concepts of DIVINITY and REALITY tell us a great deal about the Hindu concept of HUMANITY. Hindus thought of human beings as reincarnating beings who had
“emanated” from BRAHMAN, were caught on the Wheel of SAMSARA, and were ruled
by the law of KARMA. In the first cycles of rebirth, we would tend to get lost in the sensual world. For many lifetimes, we would focus on physical and emotional needs and
wants, and on our ambitions and goals. We would believe ourselves to be separate from
others and would become competitive, greedy, possessive, and aggressive. In our
lost-ness, we would make bad choices and earn bad KARMA, ensuring that we would
continue on the Wheel.
Eventually we would reach a lifetime when we had learned enough from previous
lives to begin to ask ourselves deep questions. Through study and meditation, we would
discover the great BRAHMAN energy holding SAMSARA and KARMA in Its grasp. We
would finally come to the most important question of all: Who am I? Am I really this
separate, physical being? Am I destined to live one life after another in an endless cycle
of ambition, success, and failure? Is it possible that I am something more? If so, then
What am I, really?
Hinduism’s answer is that within the body, and beyond the mind, lies the deepest
center of the human spirit. They call this ATMAN, or “Breath.” Atman is the eternal,
immaterial, and permanent soul that takes on good and bad KARMA from one life to
another. It is the part of us that reincarnates—with the lightness of good deeds and the
heaviness of bad deeds, from lifetime to lifetime, waiting to clear its KARMA completely
and learn the ultimate lesson. The essential Hindu idea of HUMANITY is expressed in the
words, “That art Thou!” Each person’s ATMAN is the Thou that belongs to the divine
BRAHMAN, the That. Our ATMAN is ultimately BRAHMAN. In our deepest selves, we are
the “Breath” of BRAHMAN. From BRAHMAN our soul has come and to BRAHMAN it will
ultimately return, in a reunion called MOKSHA. When we understand this profound
spiritual truth, we are ready to escape the cycle of reincarnation—with its experience of
individual separateness—and rejoin the Eternal Oneness of BRAHMAN.
From ancient through early modern times, Hindus believed that the state of our
good or bad KARMA determined the social level into which we were born. Traditionally,
Hindus recognized four “Castes” in their SOCIETY. The highest Caste was the Brahmin—the priests who met the spiritual needs of the SOCIETY and advised rulers on how
best to rule. The second Caste was the Kshatriya, the kings and warriors who ruled and
protected SOCIETY based on the guidance of the priests. The Vaishya was the third
Caste, consisting of farmers and merchants providing the economic needs of SOCIETY.
They oversaw the fourth Caste, the Shudra, artisans and manual laborers actually producing the material goods of SOCIETY. There was a final group, so low that they were
called “Outcastes.” These “Untouchables” disposed of the waste of SOCIETY and performed the least desirable and most dangerous tasks.
The Hindu idea of karmic social levels was embodied in a highly structured, hierarchical CASTE SYSTEM in which social status, social power, and material wealth were
unequally distributed among the four Castes and the Outcastes. This social structure
served two purposes. It provided for essential social needs through a strict division of
labor. And it allowed people to work out their individual KARMA. Hindu males born into
the Brahmin Caste were thought to have very good KARMA and might be able to reach
MOKSHA in their current lifetime. Males born into the Kshatriya were thought to have
more good KARMA than bad, but still had to prove themselves worthy to be born Brah10
min. So it went, down to the Untouchables, who were thought to have terrible KARMA
and would require many lifetimes to cleanse their souls.
Within the traditional CASTE SYSTEM, women were the property of their fathers and
then their husbands. While a woman born into the Brahmin Caste was thought to have
better KARMA than a woman born into the Kshatriya Caste, a Brahmin woman could
never be the equal of a Brahmin man. No woman could reach MOKSHA. A woman’s soul
would have to wait for rebirth as a male Brahmin for final release from SAMSARA to be
possible. Men who married outside the Caste of their fathers were considered “dead”
by their families, but for women this was a crime punishable by death. This type of social arrangement is called PATRIARCHAL, or “rule by the fathers.” In the PATRIARCHAL
CASTE SYSTEM, all men were trained to dominate all women of their Caste, and a privileged group of men were trained to dominate all other men.
An irony of Hinduism is that BRAHMAN, the Great Oneness and Source of All, was
thought to transform at the human level into such a rigid SOCIETY of separate classes of
people. This is one of the ways spiritual and religious beliefs can be used to justify social
exploitation, oppression, and inequality. Not until Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) would
the PATRIARCHAL CASTE SYSTEM be opposed and weakened—through his movement of
non-violent resistance. Gandhi based this movement on another central but paradoxical
Hindu concept—Ahimsa: “do no harm to any living creature.” Gandhi’s opposition to
Caste divisions, and his desire for the new, free India not to be divided between Hindus
and Muslims, cost him his life. His example of resisting violence and oppression with
non-violence and compassion inspired Martin Luther King, Jr., and Caesar Chavez, in
their movements for social justice and civil rights in the second half of the 20th century.
Ancient Hebrews of the Middle East developed a COSMOGONY their descendants
called Judaism. In their sacred scriptures, the book of Genesis tells of a Divine Being
called YAHWEH, a completely supernatural yet supremely personal Creator of heaven
and earth. This new idea of a Single Divine Being who gathers all spiritual power into
Itself made Judaism the first MONOTHEISM. Judaism was the first COSMOGONY to
conceive of the COSMOS as moving, not in a circle, but in a line. This meant that Everything in the material world has a beginning, middle and end. Things do not come into
being, pass away, and come again. Each thing lives only once. What we experience as
patterns and cycles are simply the cumulative result of succeeding generations, each
having just one lifetime. YAHWEH is the only eternal Being, with neither beginning nor
In Judaism, REALITY is understood as the CREATION. There was a time before time,
when only YAHWEH existed. Then, for reasons known only to Itself, YAHWEH said, “Let
there be light.” And there was light. From this original act, YAHWEH then created day
and night; earth and sky; sun, moon and stars; plants; animals; and finally human beings.
As with the Animist concept of the Great Spirit, YAHWEH is the originator of REALITY. But Yahweh is the only DIVINITY. There are no Nature Spirits or Ancestor Spirits
within Judaism. There is only the One God who is the source of cosmic order and the
source of all “orders.” God created the material world to obey God’s laws and called
each part of this CREATION “good.” YAHWEH could intervene in Nature at any time to
produce what the Ancient Jews called “miracles.” Examples of this are the stories of
YAHWEH stopping the sun in its orbit, of causing a worldwide flood, and of parting the
Red Sea. While YAHWEH was not a natural being (that is, a being in nature), this God
had complete control over Nature. The COSMOS was created by—and must obey—
YAHWEH’S Word. This vastly powerful DIVINITY could be deeply frightening, but could
also be seen as a just and merciful God who loves and cares even for the smallest sparrow. Although Hinduism and Judaism both had the idea of a single DIVINITY, Brahman
was as vastly impersonal as YAHWEH was intimately personal.
Judaism’s unique view of DIVINITY led to a unique view of HUMANITY as YAHWEH’S
special, final and most personal CREATION. The first chapter of Genesis describes human
creation and nature this way:
And God said, Let us make human beings in Our image, after Our likeness; and let
them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over
the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon
the earth. . . So God created HUMANITY in God’s own image . . . male and female
created God them.
This is the origin of Judaism’s concept of HUMANITY as the IMAGE OF GOD. Alone in
CREATION, human beings are “like God” and have “dominion” over the natural world.
This is very different from the Animist idea that human beings are Kin to all creatures.
Human beings are seen instead as having unique powers that place them in special relationship to God. As with the rest of CREATION, YAHWEH gives commands also to human
beings. But these orders are moral laws rather than physical laws. The best examples
are the Ten Commandments. Unlike the rest of CREATION, YAHWEH created HUMANITY
with freedom to disobey God’s orders. In Judaism’s COSMOGONY, this meant that only
human beings had souls.
For the Jews, the purpose of human life is to resist the temptation to disobey God,
and to live personal and social lives that are good in God’s eyes. The Ten Commandments were the most fundamental rules that every Jew was supposed to follow. By liv12
ing a GOD-PLEASING LIFE, Jews believed they would achieve their highest fulfillment
and greatest happiness. Unlike ancient Animists and Hindus, ancient Jews did not believe in an afterlife. They defined their immortality as living eternally in the memory of
God and historically in the memories of their descendants. They believed that YAHWEH’S gift to them was this life. All reward and all punishment, all happiness and all
sorrow, would be experienced in this life.
Like ancient Hindus, Jews saw men and women as having different natures and different social roles. In Genesis 1, man and woman are created at the same time. Both are
made in the IMAGE OF GOD and both are given responsibility for the natural world.
Genesis 2, however, tells a different story about how YAHWEH created HUMANITY:
And the Lord God formed a man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his
nostrils the breath of life, and Man became a living soul … And the Lord God said, It
is not good for Man to be alone: I will make a helpmate for him … And the Lord God
caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs,
and closed up the flesh; And from the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man,
He made a woman, and brought her to the man. And Adam said, this is now bone of
my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken
out of Man.
In this version of human origins, a now-male God creates a male human being—in a
special way—before He creates animals, birds, and a female human being. God gives
man life by breathing directly into him. By contrast, He creates woman from the body of
the man, reversing the natural process of being born from the body of a woman. This
story was used to justify Patriarchal dominance of women by men. Men were supposed
to be the natural leaders of family and tribe. Women were men’s property, as we see in
the Tenth Commandment: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife…nor anything that
is thy neighbor’s.” (We see also that this commandment is addressed to men.)
These PATRIARCHAL ideas about HUMANITY had consequences for Judaism’s ideas
about SOCIETY. Jewish SOCIETY was a hierarchy somewhat like the Hindu Caste System,
but without the concepts of Karma and reincarnation. Like the Hindu Brahmin, a class of
male priests wrote down the laws YAHWEH had given to the people. These writings
eventually became part of the sacred scriptures of Judaism. Priests advised the male
rulers, who, like the Hindu Kshatriya, had to follow these laws and maintain them in SOCIETY. If rulers departed from the will of God, they could bring punishment upon themselves and the people. The Jews called their SOCIETY the KINGDOM OF ISRAEL. The
word “Israel” means “one who has struggled with God.” The name was given to Jacob,
grandson of Abraham and father of the twelve sons who founded the “Twelve Tribes of
Israel.” Within the Kingdom, classes of merchants and artisans flourished, along with
manual laborers. While different classes had different levels of wealth and material
comfort, each person, including women, was seen as a child of God, deserving kindness
and respect—so long as they obeyed God’s law. Although SOCIETY was organized as a
PATRIARCHY, the Hebrew Scriptures also contain stories of unique women who held
powerful and influential positions. Jewish law nevertheless defined a double-standard of
behavior for men and women and punishments for wrong-doing.
Judaism’s COSMOGONY has had a lasting influence on Western Culture. Because the
ancient Jews experienced time as linear rather than cyclical, they are credited with inventing the idea of history. This represents one of the fundamental differences between
Eastern and Western ways of thinking and living. Circular time suggests a repetition of
familiar events. Things come into being, pass away, but come again—hence the feeling
that there is “nothing new under the sun.” Historical time, however, represents a causal
sequence of events, like CREATION, the Fall of Adam and Eve, and the Flood. Once they
have occurred, these events cannot be undone and cannot come in the same way again.
MONOTHEISM, however, was the most influential idea brought onto the stage of
history by the ancient Jews. Alone among cultures of the ancient world, the Jews believed in a single, majestic God intimately concerned with HUMANITY and making specific moral demands on His people. Because the Jews believed that all laws came ultimately from God, they also believed their rulers would have to answer to God for the
way they governed SOCIETY. This provided the people a means of speaking out against
an un-Godly ruler. The idea that no one is above God’s law laid the foundation for medieval as well as modern ideas of social justice. What exactly it means to say we are
governed by the “rule of law” remains a burning question for the 21st century.
Chapter 2
Ancient Cosmologies:
Buddha, Plato & Aristotle
Around 2,500 years ago, powerful new philosophies of life arose in the East and
West. In the East, a young Hindu prince named Siddhartha Gautama transformed the
ideas of his culture through exploration of his own consciousness. In the West, generations of Greek thinkers prepared the way for Plato and Aristotle, whose groundbreaking
ideas came from their own reasoning and observation. Each of these great philosophers
left traditional Cosmogonies behind and engaged in a personal search for deeper
knowledge of REALITY, DIVINITY, HUMANITY, and SOCIETY. Because of the intense
mental effort necessary to formulate a comprehensive understanding of life and existence—without appeal to conventional wisdom—they each created what we call a
COSMOLOGY, “a logical account of Reality.”
Buddha (563-483 BCE)
In the second half of the 6th century before the common era (BCE), on the subcontinent of India, Siddhartha Gautama was born into the Kshatriya Caste. He would become the first of the great Eastern philosophers we would actually know by name. Unlike the great sages of Hinduism, Siddhartha Gautama and his students left an historical
record of his life and teachings. Studying these writings, we learn that young Siddhartha
discovered a new path for addressing life’s deepest questions. We call his new philosophy of life BUDDHISM, but it was not known by this name until it was studied in the
As a young man of his Caste, Siddhartha had everything the material world could
offer. He was destined to become a King. But, for reasons surpassing his understanding,
Siddhartha’s heart was troubled and he could find neither happiness nor peace. He had
been taught the Hindu concepts of Sacred Brahman Energy; he knew about the Wheel
of Samsara and the Law of Karma. But he was more impressed by the IMPERMANENCE
of everything in life and by the terrible SUFFERING around him. In his determination to
understand, he made the momentous decision to leave behind his wealth, power, and
family and strike out in the search for—what, he did not know.
The legend about Siddhartha is that, one day, feeling particularly troubled, he
slipped away from the luxurious family compound and walked through the teeming city
among the “ordinary” people. Many were clearly very poor, others were sick, crippled or
suffering the pains of old age. Still others were dead and laid out on funeral pyres. In the
midst of all this, he saw a Hindu holy man, walking with the barest of clothing, a simple
cup for begging food—and utter peace and serenity on his face! According to the story,
this is what finally led Siddhartha to leave home. He had to search for What It Was that
could allow someone to find such calm in the midst of such suffering.
He traveled and studied with a series of three Hindu gurus, each one teaching him
techniques of meditation and fasting to deepen his consciousness beyond the ordinary
senses. Though he went further and deeper into himself, he could not find peace. One
guru told him it was futile to try to reach Moksha (the ultimate return to Brahman) in
this lifetime. After all, he had been born into the second and not the highest Caste.
Astonished at this, Siddhartha made another momentous decision: He left all his teachers and continued travelling, now on his own.
When he had reached the end of his endurance, he found a great, many-trunked
Bodhi tree (a kind of fig tree common in northeastern India) and sat beneath it. He assumed the common meditation pose called Double Lotus, closed his eyes, and decided
he would sit there until either he died, or he found the Whatever It Was he was seeking.
Rather than dying, Siddhartha reached a level of consciousness he had never before experienced. In the new awareness, he saw REALITY, DIVINITY, and HUMANITY in a way
that led him to begin a new kind of SOCIETY. His first students called him the Buddha,
meaning “the Enlightened One.” When asked who he was, Buddha would say, “I am
Like a Hindu, Buddha conceived of REALITY as an eternal Cosmic Wheel of ever-changing, endless cycles, Samsara—in which effect follows cause and becomes the
cause of further effects—or KARMA. But he did not experience the eternal Oneness of
the Divine Energy, Brahman. Buddha only experienced the material world of ceaseless
coming into being, passing away, and coming into being again. What he did “see” was
that the Cosmos was made up things that are completely interconnected. He called this
vision of REALITY the NET OF INDRA, the image of a loosely-woven net, with a jewel at
each intersection reflecting every other jewel in the net.
Buddha believed that Enlightened ones could see themselves—and everything
else—reflected in every other individual thing. Even the smallest part contains all of the
whole. Buddha would say things like, “I can see ‘All’ in an anthill.” The concept of the
NET OF INDRA tells us that Buddha did not believe in a Divine Energy or Divine Beings.
REALITY was a place of total impermanence. All things change. All things come into being, pass away, and come into being again. Nothing lasts forever.
Buddha’s vision of REALITY, without the Sacred Oneness of Brahman led to a radical
view of HUMANITY. As a Hindu, he had been taught that he was Atman, the breath of
Brahman, an eternal soul that reincarnated from lifetime to lifetime, carrying his good
and bad KARMA and determining the Caste into which he was born. But when, in a deep
state of consciousness, Buddha “looked” at himself, he did not see Atman. Instead he
saw what he came to call ANATMAN, literally “Not-Atman.”
Where Hindus had found a changeless Self, Buddha found only an ever-changing
bundle of sensations, feelings, thoughts, wants, and needs. He found only DESIRES. He
experienced nothing in himself that was permanent or changeless. Just as with the rest
of REALITY, he saw human beings only in constant, interconnected change. He agreed
with the Hindus that we get lost in our senses, but he saw this as getting lost in the desire for permanence of health, love, wealth, and power in a world of eternal change.
This primal desire is the basis of the EGO. Buddha agreed that we get lost in the illusion
of separateness. We get possessive, aggressive, and competitive. We want to be better
than others. We forget that we are simply one changing process in an interconnected
universe of other changing processes. This is KARMA: everything is connected by cause
and effect.
We live many lifetimes in our quest for The Truth, but instead of referring to this as
Reincarnation, Buddha simply called it the cycle of Rebirth. As we live, we change. Our
KARMA at the start of a life is not the same as our KARMA at the end of that life. We
change our KARMA—making it either better or worse—in accordance with our actions
in that lifetime. The state of our KARMA at the moment of death is the state of our
KARMA when we are next reborn. We do not have an eternal Soul traveling unchanged
from one lifetime to another. Rather, we have an ever-changing Consciousness with ever-changing KARMA that is reborn in each new life with different conditions, each giving
rise to different desires for achievement and permanence.
When Buddha reached the level of consciousness that enabled him to see REALITY
and his own HUMANITY as an eternally-changing, totally-interconnected web and flow,
he realized that the Hindus had been right to say that we can escape this “wheel of suffering.” If he wanted to, he could simply let his body die and release his consciousness
to the state of NIRVANA, or “no-thing-ness.” As if he were a candle-flame, dancing with
desire, he could “blow the candle out.” What then would the “flame” be? It would be
“no-thing.” Buddha realized that if he let go of his consciousness completely, he would
no longer experience himself as a separate “thing” among other “things.” He would
have achieved total interconnectedness. His awareness would expand to the vastness of
the NET OF INDRA. There would be no-thing more to desire. He later described his
glimpse of NIRVANA simply as “Bliss.” NIRVANA became Buddha’s idea of DIVINITY because it was the completion of human existence—the point at which human consciousness releases all sense of individuality. For Buddha, DIVINITY was a state of mind!
The wonder is that Buddha did not simply release himself at that point. When he
later was recognized as “The Buddha,” he told followers that the experience had been
like climbing a very steep ladder leaning against a very high wall. When he reached the
top, he looked out over an unimaginably beautiful garden. He had only to climb over the
wall into this radiant place in order to release himself. As he was about to do it, he
heard from below the suffering cries of the unenlightened beings of the world who still
experienced themselves as separate individuals full of desire. The sound flooded Buddha’s consciousness with Compassion, leading to a third extraordinary decision. Instead
of releasing himself into Nirvana, he returned to the world to teach others what he had
learned. By postponing “The Garden,” Buddha became a BODHISATTVA, “one who has
the knowledge found under the Bodhi Tree.” As Buddha, Siddhartha had found his way
to the deepest truths of REALITY, HUMANITY, and DIVINITY. As a BODHISATTVA, he
“climbed back down the ladder” to teach the suffering of the world what he had
learned. The students who came to him learned that the ultimate goal of human existence is to leave the Wheel of Suffering and enter the Divine Consciousness of NIRVANA.
But before this ultimate release, we should each strive to become a BODHISATTVA and
teach Buddha’s way to end suffering.
Eventually Buddha’s experiences were codified by his students into the Four Noble
1. Suffering is the condition of all unenlightened existence.
2. We suffer because of what and how we desire.
3. Our suffering can be overcome by overcoming desire.
4. We accomplish this by following the Eightfold Path.
Buddha taught that suffering is the fundamental problem of human existence. But
suffering—which is distinct from pain—does not come from what is done to us. Others
can cause us pain, but only we can cause ourselves to suffer. Buddha’s word is DUKKHA.
We suffer because of our ego-desires. We want to grab hold of things and keep them as
they are. We want never to change, or get sick or disabled, never to grow old or lose the
things and people we love—and never to die. We refuse to face REALITY. Buddha taught
that we want to make things, situations and people be what we want them to be. But
we cannot.
What we can do is walk the Eightfold path from lifetime to lifetime, slowly releasing
ego-consciousness, releasing the sense of separateness from everyone and everything,
releasing greediness, possessiveness, the need to dominate and not be dominated, and
the illusion of self-sufficiency and aloneness. The Eightfold Path requires us to take the
steps of right understanding, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood,
right effort, right mindfulness, and, finally, right meditation. Each step can take lifetimes
to understand and practice. When we finally reach the end of the Path, we glimpse the
consciousness of NIRVANA. At last we see everything as it really is. We experience interconnectedness and constant change. We feel compassion for the suffering caused by
the desires of the billions of sentient beings on earth. We are willing to release all desire, and, especially, the twin illusions of separateness and permanence. We then face
Buddha’s choice: we either release into “no-thing-ness,” or we return to ordinary life
and help other suffering beings to discover the path of release for themselves.
These experiences of REALITY, HUMANITY, and DIVINITY led Buddha to reject a SOCIETY organized according to anything like the Caste System. He saw the hierarchy of
Castes as a cause of great misery, in which higher Castes spend their lives oppressing
and exploiting lower Castes. He also saw this system as re-enforcing ego-consciousness
by teaching us to feel superior—or inferior—to others. He thought members of the
Brahmin Caste had the worst KARMA because they had the most privilege, felt the most
superior, and inflicted the greatest pain on others.
Buddha and his followers walked away from Hindu cities and organized simple communities referred to as the SANGHA. A SANGHA was a small village where people could
practice the Eightfold Path and go out to teach others the way of release from suffering.
SANGHA-dwellers became known as Buddhist monks. They offered spiritual teaching
and compassionate service to city people in exchange for food and simple necessities. At
first Buddha accepted the men of all Castes (as well as Outcastes!) into the greater
SANGHA. Some of his followers later convinced him that women could become Buddhist
nuns and establish their own SANGHAS. Buddhist opposition to the Caste system eventually led Hindus to cast Buddhists out of India. But Buddhism simply spread then to
Southeast Asia and China, becoming one of the largest and least violent religions of the
The Pre-Socratics
A few hundred years before the life of Buddha, a series of Greek thinkers, called the
Pre-Socratics, had begun to question the traditional ideas about REALITY and DIVINITY
that had been canonized in the Iliad by the ancient poet, Homer. The Iliad was based on
the original, polytheistic Greek Cosmogony in which immortal gods and goddesses acted
out their jealousies, desires, and quarrels on the cosmic stage. In this Cosmogony, nothing in nature or human life was simply natural or simply human. Instead, deities moved
people and things around like pieces on a chessboard. “A god or goddess did it” was the
answer to all questions about why things were as they were and happened as they did.
In contrast, the Pre-Socratics wanted to understand the Cosmos on its own terms,
without appeal or reference to an Invisible World of divine beings. These first Cosmologists of the West dared to believe that all things in the vast diversity of nature might
come from something natural and material rather than supernatural and divine. Thales
(tay’ leez), the earliest of these thinkers, asked a momentous question: Is it possible
that, instead of a Divine Energy or Being, there is some physical substance from which
all things in the world come and of which all things are made? Extensive observation of
the natural world led him to propose that the source of all things was simply water.
This was not a bad idea, since all life on earth does depend on water. However, later
thinkers were quick to point out that life also depends on “earth, air, and fire.” This
four-element theory of nature lasted for thousands of years, providing a foundation for
the pre-astronomical “science” of astrology and early Western medicine. But there remained Greek Cosmologists who were not satisfied that the material world and its elements were the entirety of REALITY. They continued to wonder whether there wasn’t
something beyond or within the world that was spiritual or divine. They wanted to know
these things through the power of the mind and the senses, however, rather than by
appeal to visions, revelations, or poetic myths.
Socrates (470-399 BCE)
Like the Cosmological philosophers before him, Socrates was dissatisfied with the
view of life offered by Greek Polytheism. While the Pre-Socratics focused on understanding REALITY without benefit of Divinities, Socrates focused on HUMANITY in SOCIETY. His most famous idea was that the unexamined life is not worth living.
Socrates never wrote down any of his thoughts. He feared they would change as
soon as he had written them down. He preferred dialogue and conversation. He especially loved questions, leading to the development of the SOCRATIC METHOD. He would
walk into the busy marketplace of Athens and find a group of friends or acquaintances
deep in discussion, and ask them a philosophical question. One day he asked his fellow
philosopher Thrasymachus (Thra-SIM-uh-cuss), “What is Justice?” Thrasymachus replied, “Justice is simply the interest of the stronger.” Socrates asked further questions,
gradually revealing the weakness of the response. He began his search for wisdom with
the assumption that he did not know the answers to the deep and essential questions
about life. In this, he was a true seeker of wisdom.
Socrates’s questions attracted some people to him but offended others. He got into
particular trouble by asking, “Is something Good because it pleases the Gods, or does it
please the Gods because it is Good?” He challenged his contemporaries—and us—by
asking, “What does it really mean to be a good person living a good life in a good society.” He reminded his listeners that the Gods and Goddesses of the Pantheon often acted
badly, causing innocent people to suffer. He evoked the realization that we must find
and enact our own moral truths, rather than avoid responsibility by saying something
like, “Zeus made me do it.”
Because Socrates taught Athenians—especially younger ones—to question accepted
answers from traditional authorities, the powers-that-be arrested him on two charges:
impiety to the Gods and corrupting the youth. His magnificent but unsuccessful defense
was recorded later in the Apology, one of Plato’s early dialogues. Socrates did not really
“apologize” for anything he had said, or for the questions he had asked, or for anything
he had done. He tried instead to show the Athenian jury what the search for wisdom
was really like. It was a defense of philosophy itself.
The jury convicted Socrates and gave him the choice of death or exile. He accepted
death, believing that exile would be an admission of guilt and a betrayal of his life as an
Athenian citizen and philosopher. Plato was at Socrates’s prison bedside with those who
witnessed him drink the poison hemlock and slowly die. Even the jailer wept. Socrates
said to his grieving students, “Why are you so sad? Who do you think is going to die? Am
I just my body?” Even in death, Socrates exemplified the philosophical spirit.
Plato (428-347 BCE)
Plato, who had been Socrates’s most important student, was one of two ancient
Greek philosophers whose Cosmologies were to have a profound influence on the next
2,500 years of Western thinking. The death of Socrates (Plato was about thirty at the
time) had a deep and lasting effect on him. He spent the rest of his life writing books to
preserve and develop the method and ideas he had learned from Socrates. He wanted a
philosophy of life that would unite the Pre-Socratics’ ideas about REALITY with Socrates’s ideas about HUMANITY and SOCIETY. Along the way, he discovered a powerful and
unique concept of DIVINITY.
Plato accepted the commitment of the Pre-Socratics to understand REALITY using
only the powers of human observation and reasoning. He wanted a systematic view of
the Cosmos that would include both the world we experience through our senses and
the world we think about with our minds. He observed the material world in much the
same way as the Hindus and Buddhists did: it was a world of constant change—both in
the heavens and on earth—with effect following cause, and all things coming into being
and passing away.
Plato also reasoned that while many things in the world might be good, nothing in
this world is perfect. There are many trees, but where is the Perfect Tree that allows us
to evaluate individual trees as better trees or worse trees? Where is the Perfect Person
that tells us which people are “good” and which ones are “bad?” His study of geometry
had led him to ask, Where does the Perfect Circle exist, or Triangle, or Square? There
are square buildings, circular pools, and triangular roofs, but none of these is perfect in
its squareness, circularity, or triangularity! We nevertheless have an Idea of these Perfect Figures and can describe them mathematically. And what of an abstract idea like
Justice? From where in the world do we get the ability to determine whether particular
laws and governments are just or unjust—which we seem to be able to do? These questions led Plato to a philosophy called IDEALISM.
Plato came to believe that REALITY must contain something akin to the Visible and
the Invisible Worlds of ancient Cosmogony. This included the assumption that there
were two different Real worlds: the world of APPEARANCES containing the many, imperfect, changing, material things we can sense and imagine, and the world of FORMS,
containing the Perfect, Immaterial, Invisible, Changeless Ideas and Ideals that can be
known only through the human power of reasoning. These Forms do not exist only in
the human mind. If they did, they would not be Perfect, since the human mind is not
perfect. The Forms must exist in a realm beyond the material world. Human beings—alone in the cosmos—have the ability to reason. Reason is the core of the soul.
When our bodies die, our minds “travel” to this other realm and can then see the Perfect Forms that material things attempt to imitate. When we are reborn—Plato believed
in rebirth—we carry a memory of the perfection we witnessed as disembodied spirits in
the immaterial realm of FORMS. If we think hard, we can begin to remember and recreate them in the material world.
Like the Buddha, Plato cannot be classified either as a Monotheist or as a
Non-theist. His unique perspective was that the Divine can exist only in the perfect
world of Forms. In this Other World there had to be a FORM of FORMS, a Form above all
other Forms, giving the lesser Forms their perfection. Plato referred to this Form above
all other Forms as THE GOOD, containing within itself the Eternal Idea for each kind of
Perfection. THE GOOD is the highest Ideal and the mind’s ultimate goal after death of
the physical body. To know THE GOOD is to know how everyone and all things are
meant to coexist in Truth, Order, and Beauty. As everything and everyone in the material world tries to imitate the ultimate FORM, we can then begin to approach—but never
actually achieve—Perfect Goodness while we are still in the material world. Plato stands
alone in believing that the Divine Idea of Goodness can be completely understood by
the power of human reason—once reason has been freed of the body at death.
Plato’s ideas about HUMANITY and SOCIETY emerged from his ideas of REALITY and
DIVINITY. In the world of Forms there must also be a Form of the Perfect Human Being—what Plato called the TRIPARTITE SOUL. The TRIPARTITE SOUL is divided into Reason, Spirit, and Appetite, embodying the virtues of Wisdom, Courage, and Moderation.
Reason rules the other two parts with its Wisdom; Spirit follows Reason using its Cour22
age; and Appetite, when it listens to Reason, acts with Moderation. To the degree that
these three virtues are activated, they bring about harmony within the human soul.
Plato calls this harmony JUSTICE.
In the world of APPEARANCES there are imperfect, material versions of the Perfect
Human Being. During our material lives, Appetite expresses itself as our material needs
and wants. We struggle to find Moderation between the extremes of self-indulgence
and self-deprivation. Spirit manifests itself in our material lives as vigor, energy or
will-power. We struggle between the extremes of recklessness and cowardice to reach
Courage. Through Reason we acquire self-knowledge, seek the truth, achieve recognition of our purpose, and come to an awareness that this world is not All There Is. We
struggle between the extremes of ignorance and arrogance to reach Wisdom.
Sometimes Appetite gets the better of us. Sometimes Spiritedness carries us away.
We often fail to make good decisions because of faulty reasoning—or from not reasoning at all. But we have, dormant within us, a dim memory of our travels after death to
the world of FORMS. We have the power to remember who we really are and how we
really should be. Whenever we experience sadness or regret or guilt or shame when we
do something we know is wrong, we begin the process of recalling our true selves. Like
the Hindus and the Buddha, Plato believed humans live many lives. He did not, however,
believe in the possibility—or desirability—of an ultimate “release” from the World of
APPEARANCES. Plato did not want to escape the material world but rather to improve it.
For this reason, he considered the ultimate purpose of human life to be expressed in the
effort to reach JUSTICE within our souls.
Although Plato was convinced that HUMANITY’S greatest asset is our ability to reason, he did not think that everyone has an equal amount of this gift. He saw a NATURAL
HIERARCHY of soul-powers that can be discovered and developed only through education. We cannot know ourselves unless we become educated. Through education, we
learn what we are good at and what we are good for. With education and lifelong seeking, we can realize the purpose of our lives.
Just as there is a FORM of the Perfect Human Being, there is also a FORM of the
Perfect SOCIETY that is patterned on the FORM of the TRIPARTITE SOUL. Just as the
Perfect Human Being has a Desiring part and a Spirited part ruled by a Rational part, so
the Perfect Human SOCIETY, THE REPUBLIC, has Workers and Warriors who are guided
by Rulers. Perfect Workers produce just enough of what Society needs and wants—good
quality food, drink, clothes, roads, houses, and art. Everything is made to last and to
contribute to human well-being. Nothing made is bad for human bodies or psyches.
Perfect Warriors protect Society from violence within and from without, using just
enough force to “get the job done.” They protect good people from bad. They do not
wage wars of aggression, but neither do they stand by and permit bad people to harm
the innocent. Perfect Rulers make wise decisions for everyone, seeking THE COMMON
GOOD rather than their own individual “good.”
In the World of APPEARANCES, we try to imitate the ideal FORM of THE REPUBLIC
but can never quite reach it. When Plato looked around his world, he saw societies ruled
by groups of the wealthy, called Oligarchies, making decisions based on their own
self-interest. But once the wealth of rich rulers had trickled down sufficiently to the
lower classes, they then wanted a say in the running of SOCIETY. This gave rise to Democracies (most notably in ancient Athens) with rulers seeking power through cultivation of personal popularity. They won elections by offering greater and greater degrees
of freedom, but without regard for whether the increases in freedom would enhance
the overall well-being of SOCIETY. These democracies (meaning, “rule by the crowd”)
eventually gave way to Anarchy, with the population having “complete freedom,” but
also complete lawlessness. Weary of chaos, the people would then turn to the warriors
to impose rigid law and order. These Tyrannies of warrior rulers would eventually become Oligarchies, and the cycle would repeat.
This was the way SOCIETY had been, but it wasn’t necessarily the way Society should
be or had to be. Plato thought that education was the way to escape the cycle of bad
societies. All children of the society—children of rulers, warriors, and workers
alike—should be educated to the highest level of which they were capable. Were this to
happen, the SOCIETY they created as adults would gradually come closer to realizing
Plato did not envision SOCIETY according to the ancient Greek idea of male supremacy. Also rejecting the idea of slavery, he envisioned both girls and boys starting
school at the age of five. Through education, students would gain the self-knowledge
necessary to determine which social class would best suit their talents and abilities. The
many would become workers; some would become warriors; and the very few, the best
of the best, would become rulers. Once each young person had recognized how he or
she could best contribute to SOCIETY, that position would be held for life. Later, their
children would have the same opportunity to move into whichever category their abilities might take them.
Ever the Idealist in search of THE GOOD, Plato spent his latter days trying to convince existing rulers to put his ideas into practice. For his efforts, he was twice imprisoned. Fortunately, he did not suffer the fate of his teacher Socrates. Rather than being
sentenced to death, he was allowed to return to Athens, where he founded the Academy, one of the first and greatest schools of antiquity. He taught and lived out his life
there as a Lover of Wisdom.
Aristotle (384-322 BCE)
The second and immensely influential Greek cosmologist was Plato’s student, Aristotle. Aristotle tutored Alexander the Great, who would bring Greek philosophy to his
empire and even to his own Roman conquerors. Aristotle thought Plato’s most important idea was the idea of the FORM, which he saw as the essence that makes something what it is. It is what the many individual instances of a kind of thing have in common. When we say a word like “horse,” for example, this one word refers to millions of
individual beings that are each unique, and yet belong to the same type, class or species. Aristotle realized that everything is a kind of thing, or belongs to a kind of thing.
Everything therefore has a Form making it similar to all the other things going by that
same name. But these FORMS could not exist in a REALITY separate from material
things. If the FORMS existed above and beyond the material world, we would be unable
to explain how they affect the material world.
Aristotle reasoned that Plato’s view that material things were an imitation of their
particular immaterial FORMS does not really make sense—except for human beings.
Since we can travel to the realm of FORMS after death, we can directly experience the
FORMS and, when we return to the world, try to imitate their perfection. But what is it
about a tree in the material world that would make it an imitation of the FORM of a
Perfect Tree in this Other World? What makes a triangle an imitation of the Perfect Triangle? Material trees and triangles do not have reasoning power and, since they have
no souls, cannot travel to the World of FORMS. Aristotle concluded that the idea of imitation was ultimately not coherent.
In place of Plato’s two-world cosmology, Aristotle imagined a ONE-WORLD COSMOLOGY. The material world had to be explained on its own terms. He thought there
must be some kind of dynamic within the Cosmos itself that could explain how things
come into being, exist as the kinds of things they are, and then pass away. Aristotle saw
the world as functioning through cause and effect. Like the Hindu and Buddhist concept
of KARMA, CAUSALITY was Aristotle’s foundational idea about how Reality works. Because of a lifelong practice of observing the natural world—how seeds grew into plants,
how animals were born and developed, how human beings were raised by parents and
affected by Society—and because he argued that this world is the whole of REALITY—Aristotle’s philosophy came to be called NATURALISM.
For Aristotle, REALITY is NATURE, a dynamic, developing system within which everything must have FOUR CAUSES in order to exist: (1) a MATERIAL cause—the physical
“stuff” of which something is made; (2) an EFFICIENT cause—the energy necessary to
make it; (3) a FORMAL cause—the FORM or essence that makes it the kind of thing that
it is; and (4) a FINAL cause—the purpose for its existence. By transforming FORMS into
CAUSES, Aristotle brought Plato’s world of FORMS into the world of APPEARANCES. He
reasoned that FORMS could not be separate from material things. If FORMS were that
which made each thing what it is, then FORMS must exist within things. Acorns must
have the FORM of an oak tree inside them—that’s what makes them become oak trees
and not rhinoceroses. A triangular building has the FORM of a triangle. Every real thing
contains its own FORM, which is why everything is what it is and not something else.
Aristotle needed one more idea in order to explain the dynamic nature of the Cosmos. This was the concept of ENTELECHY. ENTELECHY is similar to the idea that living
things want to be all they can be. At the beginning, each thing exists only as raw material with the potential to become something. The infusion of energy makes it develop into
the kind of thing (FORM) that it is, and to achieve its purpose. The FOUR CAUSES—MATTER, ENERGY, FORM, and PURPOSE—work together to move something from
potentiality to actuality. This dynamic drive is ENTELECHY. A blade of grass tries to
grow, even if it has to come up through concrete. Each thing in the Cosmos has within it
the impulse to strive toward its own specific perfection. Its FORM is this perfect pattern
determining the goal it moves toward. Not everything will fully achieve the perfection of
its FORM, of course, but it is always present, and always pushing towards actualization.
For Aristotle, not everything has a soul, but all things have ENTELECHY.
Because Aristotle believed that FORMS can exist only within material things, he did
not believe that our minds could exist separately from our bodies. So death is final. As
in Judaism, Aristotle’s perspective was that each living thing has only one life. There is
no reincarnation or rebirth. Everything, including human beings, has a beginning and an
end. But this led Aristotle to his greatest contribution and his greatest contradiction: If
every material thing requires all FOUR CAUSES, and if everything has a beginning, then
what caused the first thing to exist? He extended this question to the Cosmos itself: If
the Cosmos is one infinitely large material thing, then what caused the cosmos to exist?
Aristotle concluded that there must be something supernatural in order to explain
the existence of NATURE. He called this entity or being the UNMOVED MOVER. Unlike
Yahweh in Judaism, the UNMOVED MOVER does not create matter out of nothing:
matter itself is eternal. What the UNMOVED MOVER had the power and intelligence to
do was to infuse matter with MOTION (ENERGY), FORM, and PURPOSE to create order
from chaos. Once the Cosmos and everything in it was given its ENTELECHY, the UNMOVED MOVER had nothing more to do.
The UNMOVED MOVER comes closest to being Aristotle’s idea of DIVINITY. The
UNMOVED MOVER is a non-material Being with enough power (ENERGY), enough perfection (FORMS), and enough PURPOSE to set the entire universe in motion. It had to be
non-material; if it were material, it would need a cause for its own existence! But this
also makes the UNMOVED MOVER Aristotle’s greatest contradiction. His entire argu26
ment against Plato was based on the proposition that FORMS could not exist apart from
material things. But in the UNMOVED MOVER, they do. Thus, it is the only supernatural
idea in Aristotle’s NATURALISM. He saw the Cosmos as a single, unified, natural world,
with all activities within it accounted for by the Four Causes. But CAUSES are beginnings,
and where there is a beginning, there must be something that starts the chain of causation. In Chapter Three, we’ll see how Aristotle’s UNMOVED MOVER, Plato’s idea of THE
GOOD, and the Yahweh of Judaism, would each become an element in the Christian
concept of God.
As we’ve already seen, Aristotle’s NATURALISM had important implications for his
ideas about HUMANITY. Human beings are natural beings with only one life, and no afterlife. The Form of a Human Being is already inside us when we are born. And because
we are material beings, our existence requires the FOUR CAUSES: The Material cause is
the biological matter from parents that becomes the body; the Efficient cause is both
the energy that made us and the energy within us (similar to Plato’s Spirit); the Formal
cause is the human essence encoded in our DNA—what Aristotle called human nature;
and the Final cause is the purpose for our existence. All four together make up our Entelechy, our potential to be all we can be.
Fully actualized human beings have an essential nature that Aristotle called the
ANIMA. This word is sometimes translated as “soul,” but ANIMA is not something that
can exist apart from the body. The term has the same root as “animation,” that which
moves a body, and “animal,” a natural being capable of moving itself. When humans
die, we stop moving; our ANIMA ceases to exist.
Aristotle’s ANIMA is divided into four “parts,” but they are more like biological levels
of development. The Nutritive layer is what we have in common with plants. We absorb
nourishment and release toxins. The Sensitive layer is what we have in common with
animals. We use the five senses to gain information about our body and the environment. We use an inner sense of ourselves to know what we are feeling. From this layer
come our movements and emotions. We act to fulfill our desires. The development of
the third layer, Practical Reason, makes us distinct from all other beings in nature. Practical Reason is the power to learn the “how” of doing things. It allows us to follow directions, obey rules and learn from our mistakes. The fourth and highest layer of the Anima
is Theoretical Reason. This is what makes us fully human, giving us the ability to learn
the “why” of things as they are. It enables us to distinguish good and bad, to set goals,
make rules, provide directions, and give orders. Aristotle affirmed the classical Greek
virtues of Moderation for the Nutritive layer, Courage for the Sensitive layer, Common
Sense for Practical Reason, and Wisdom for Theoretical Reason.
Plato had thought the ultimate purpose of life was for each of us to become a Just
person, regardless of social role. In contrast, Aristotle found human purpose in the idea
of EUDAIMONIA. Often translated as “happiness,” EUDAIMONIA is better understood as
SELF-REALIZATION. For Aristotle, we can be happy only by developing our inner potential as fully as possible. True happiness is not just a feeling of pleasure, but comes rather from fulfillment of the TRUE SELF.
Aristotle and Plato shared these three ideas about HUMANITY: There is a NATURAL
HIERARCHY of human talents and abilities giving some of us greater potential than others. Education provides the best pathway to actualizing whatever potential we have.
And reason is the highest part of the Self.
Aristotle disagreed with Plato in two important ways. The first we already know:
Plato believed that upon death we return to the world of FORMS and are then reborn
into the world of APPEARANCES, whereas Aristotle believed we each live one life and
then die. Like the ancient Jews, Aristotle saw memory as the only form of immortality.
However, the memory is held only by people we have lived with and in the stories they
tell their children about us. Aristotle did not accept that there were gods who eternally
remembered everything we ever did. This would explain the importance Aristotle placed
on the poets, whose epic stories, dramas, and songs kept alive the memories of Greek
heroes and heroines.
The second way Aristotle disagreed with Plato has had vast influence on Western
thought. Unlike Plato, Aristotle believed that only men possessed theoretical reason—specifically Greek men of property who were also citizens. Because he further
assumed that women and slaves had only practical reason, he saw them as “defective
men.” This meant that women—and non-Greek men—were capable only of carrying out
orders from Greek men, since only in men was human nature fully realized. Like the ancient Hindus and Jews, Aristotle had a Patriarchal view of human nature. The word “patriarchy” means “rule by the fathers,” and involves more than just the domination of
women by men. It also involves the domination of some men by other men, and also
entails what we now call sexism, racism and class oppression. This perspective permeated Aristotle’s idea of SOCIETY.
Aristotle’s view of SOCIETY began with his criticism of Plato. Because he believed in
just the one Natural World, there could be no world where society existed as a perfect
FORM. There was only this world, with its many different peoples and societies. Each
SOCIETY had its own way of ensuring survival and well-being. But Aristotle thought
some societies were more natural than others. Based on extensive observation of contemporary SOCIETIES in the ancient Greek world, Aristotle concluded that the most natural SOCIETY—and therefore the best—was ARISTOCRACY, or “rule by those of the
greatest excellence.”
Aristotle agreed with Plato that SOCIETY must reflect HUMANITY. The structure of
SOCIETY must be determined by the structure of human nature. Just as human nature
includes the Nutritive, Sensitive, Practical, and Theoretical layers, so human SOCIETY
should also be divided into four corresponding classes. Slaves were needed for agricultural and manual labor to fulfill the Nutritive needs of the population. Warriors were
needed to protect SOCIETY and to ensure the peace and order necessary for satisfying
the needs and wants of the Sensitive layer. Craftsmen and Artisans would produce the
desirable material goods of city life using the know-how of Practical Reason. Finally, the
Theoretical Reason of the Rulers would provide wisdom for governing the people. Rulers
would come from the class of wealthy property-owners.
Aristotle embraced a Patriarchal perspective, as had the ancient Hindus and Jews.
Women, like slaves and children, were the property of whichever class of men they belonged to. (Male slaves could not own anything or anyone, including female slaves.)
Women did not have a role in the protective, productive, or ruling levels of society because they were “defective men,” lacking the ability to reason theoretically. Instead,
they performed sexual, reproductive, and domestic labor for the rank of men they belonged to. Women married to wealthy men were expected to manage a household of
women servants and slaves. Women married to warriors, artisans, or craftsmen were
more likely to do at least some of their own cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing, as well
as satisfying the sexual needs of their husbands. Women slaves did the hardest work of
the household. While none of these women were acknowledged as part of the ARISTOCRACY, the society could not function without them.
Because adult, educated, property-owning men were the only people with the
power of Theoretical Reasoning, only they could become rulers of the SOCIETY. This
fourth layer of human nature was a product of heredity and education. Unless a male
child was born into a ruling family, he would not have the proper nature to be a ruler
himself. Contrary to Plato’s ideal of universal schooling for all children, Aristotle believed education was only for elite males. This included rudimentary education for sons
of warriors and skilled workers, but the highest education was reserved for sons of the
ruling class. Aristotle assumed they were the only ones capable of rational, wise decision-making for THE COMMON GOOD. They alone had the capacity to become the “excellent ones,” the best of the best—aristocrats with the privilege to rule.
This Patriarchal philosophy had a tragic influence on Christianity and the development of Western Civilization. It would last for more than two thousand years. In its most
benign forms, Patriarchal SOCIETY assumed that women and non-elite men were simply
inferior to elite men. At its worst, Patriarchal thinkers would claim that women and
non-elite men were not even human. Not until the 18th century would philosophies and
movements arise to challenge this thinking. Even in the 21st century, men, women, and
children around the world still struggle to be seen as fully human and to be treated with
appropriate respect.
Chapter 3
The Early & Medieval Christian World:
Jesus, Augustine & Aquinas
Aristotle died in 322 BCE, leaving a dual legacy of influence on Middle Eastern and
Western culture for the next twenty-four centuries. The first part of this legacy was a
large body of writings, many of them still available today. The second part was his student, the young man who would become Alexander the Great (356 – 323 BCE). Alexander was just thirteen when he began his studies with Aristotle. By the time he died at
the age of thirty-three, he had conquered the Greek city-states and carried the fame
and works of the Greek philosophers across the Mediterranean.
When Greece was then conquered by Rome, the Romans spread Greek philosophy
to even farther parts of the world. The Roman Empire lasted almost eight hundred
years, until around 500 CE. By this time, Christianity had become the dominant way of
Jesus (4 BCE – 29 CE)
Christianity began within the Roman Empire, in the outlying territory of Judea (later
called Palestine), with the birth of a child named Jesus. Jesus was born within the community and Cosmogony of Judaism. Almost all that we know about him comes from sacred writings compiled several hundred years after his death. Like Alexander, Jesus’s life
ended when he was thirty-three years old. His ministry lasted only three years. His
presence, his words, and his actions, however, had lasting impact on the world. Like
Buddha before him, Jesus was destined to teach a new vision of DIVINITY, REALITY, SOCIETY, and HUMANITY, departing from the one he had inherited. Like Buddha, Jesus
preached a Philosophy of Life that was to become the basis for one of the world’s great
living religions. But in the same way that Buddha was not a Buddhist, Jesus was not a
Christian. We could instead refer to his philosophy of life simply as the WAY OF JESUS.
Everything began with DIVINITY. Jesus had been taught that The One God, Yahweh,
was Creator and Law-Giver, and he acknowledged Yahweh’s vast power and supreme
justice. However, he experienced God more intimately than others of the Jewish community. Jesus proclaimed God’s infinite love and mercy, daring to call Him by the Aramaic word ABBA, the name children used for Father. He spoke always of My Father In
Heaven and taught his followers the famous prayer that began with words that confidently addressed God Himself in person, “Our Father Who Art In Heaven…” Jesus’s concept of God was one of a Loving Parent who wants to guide His children in the path of
Righteousness and lead them away from the unrighteous temptations of SATAN.
The opposition of God and SATAN was new to many Jews. For some it was blasphemous to talk of a spiritual being almost as powerful as God. Others felt a presence of
Evil and believed the story of the angel who had once been God’s favorite. Lucifer (the
One of Light) had fallen into darkness out of his arrogant ambition to be God’s equal. So
Lucifer became SATAN, taking many of God’s other angels with him. Jesus did not think
of SATAN as Divine, but he did believe that SATAN and his Angels of Evil lived in constant
struggle with God and the Angels of Goodness for the hearts, minds, and souls of HUMANITY.
Jesus’s view of REALITY also departed from traditional teachings. Like Animists and
Aristotle—and the Jews—Jesus saw the material world as a Creation in which everything
has just one life here on earth. Unlike the Jews, (but like Plato), Jesus believed human
beings were capable of traveling to a non-material realm after death. In parallel with
his notions of God and SATAN, he taught of HEAVEN and HELL—the first a place of
ETERNAL BLISS, reserved for those who had followed the Path of Righteousness on
earth, and the second a place of ETERNAL SUFFERING, reserved for those who had led
unrighteous lives. Thus, REALITY in Jesus’s mind was a three realm world, with the Divine ABBA in HEAVEN, the fallen angel SATAN in hell, and all of nature in CREATION.
Because Jesus saw DIVINITY as Loving Father, he saw Humanity as CHILDREN OF
GOD. Made in God’s image, human beings were the only beings with IMMORTAL
SOULS, who would follow either God or SATAN on earth, and go to HEAVEN or HELL
when Jesus returned with God on Judgment Day. When that day came, the dead would
rise and gather with the living to stand before God. Those who had lived according to
Jesus’s teachings—and asked forgiveness for their failings—would be saved, and those
who had lived selfish and unrepentant lives would be damned.
Jesus expressed the difference between these two destinies with the word LOVE. He
summarized all the commandments thus: “Thou shalt Love the Lord, Your God, and your
neighbor as yourself.” These three Loves—of God, of other people, and of ourselves—formed the heart of his teaching. The greatest problem of human existence was
SIN, meaning “separation.” When we separate ourselves from God, we lose ourselves in
the egoistic pursuit of power and the pleasures of this world. As we recognize our sinfulness, are willing to repent, and believe that Our Loving Father will forgive us, we
begin to experience and enact LOVE in our lives. This is the purpose of human life on
earth and the prelude to eternal life in HEAVEN.
Jesus saw SOCIETY simply as the place where we love and take care of ourselves,
one another, and those in need. He spoke often of the gap in both the Jewish community and in the surrounding Roman colony—between rich and poor, those who had and
those who had not. He advised a rich man to sell his goods and give them to the poor,
but of course the rich man declined. The essence of a God-pleasing SOCIETY is described
by the words SERVANT COMMUNITY. Jesus constantly told his disciples to be servants
to one another. At that time, all political power was held by the Romans, meaning that
Jesus and his disciples must “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s but unto
God the things that are God’s.” Jesus denied the value of a SOCIETY in which the people
were divided into rulers and those who were ruled. Instead, like Buddha and the Sangha, early followers founded communities in which everyone shared their goods in
common and each day practiced LOVE to all through simple acts of kindness—even to
their enemies! The way Jesus spent his life and endured his death was a living example
of the Divine LOVE that he knew could fill the hearts of HUMANITY and guide the interactions of SOCIETY.
The Early Christian Community
Jesus’s greatest follower was Paul (10-67 CE), the actual founder of the religion that
we call Christianity. He never met Jesus, but, in the midst of oppressing and persecuting
early followers of Jesus, Paul had an intense conversion experience. This encounter with
the Spirit of Jesus completely changed his life, leading him to believe that Jesus was not
merely a human person on a mission from His Father to teach HUMANITY the meaning
of LOVE, but was nothing less than the divine incarnation of God Himself, sent to be the
After his transformation from persecutor to apostle, Paul traveled throughout the
Roman Empire preaching this radical new idea about Jesus and why he was sent to
earth. Paul called Jesus THE CHRIST, Greek for the Hebrew term Messiah (anointed one,
or king). He taught that Jesus’s death was atonement for all of HUMANITY’s sins. His
conviction was that only those who believed in Jesus Christ as their personal SAVIOR
would have their sins forgiven and only they would receive eternal life in the Kingdom
of Heaven. Those who did not believe in CHRIST as SAVIOR would be condemned to
HELL, regardless of their good works. A moral life was not enough. We must live Christian lives, filled belief in Jesus Christ. Only with the power of faith could we live lives of
We know now that early Christians were a diverse group of people with widely differing beliefs about Jesus’s identity and message. But it was Paul’s understanding of Jesus’s life and teachings that would become the official doctrine of the Christian Church.
After Paul’s death under the Roman Emperor Nero, Christians continued to live openly
as fearless, loving, Jesus-like people. Their service to the poor, the sick, the imprisoned,
the suffering, and the abandoned would bring thousands of converts to this new way of
Life. As Christianity grew, Christian congregations came to be organized into five large
regions, each supervised by a Bishop. The cities in which these Christian leaders lived
were Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, and Jerusalem.
The Birth of Roman Christianity
After three periods of brutal persecution of Christians by earlier Roman Emperors,
the Emperor Constantine calculated that Christianity could become the uniting force of
a badly divided Empire. He told an all-male group of Christian Bishops that if they could
create a unified definition of Christianity, he would end the persecutions. In 313 CE,
Constantine issued the Edict of Toleration declaring that all religions, including Christianity, could be practiced freely within all domains of the Roman Empire. Not long afterwards, in 325 CE, he convened a council of these same Bishops in the city of Nicaea
to write the Nicene Creed, still spoken in Christian Churches throughout the world. This
Declaration of Faith defined the specific beliefs a person must hold in order to be called
a true Christian. This same council also decided that women—who we now know were
among the ranks of early Christian priests and bishops—were to be excluded from positions of spiritual power and authority in the new Christian Church.
In 395 CE, Emperor Theodosius issued an Edict changing Christianity from a persecuted, courageous faith to the official religion of the Roman Empire. The Nicene Creed
became the standard for deciding whether a person was really a Christian—and therefore a legal person within the Empire—or was instead A HERETIC, a criminal punishable
by death.
With their new power within the Empire, the five Christian Bishops sought Christian
thinkers who could use reason and logic to persuade unbelievers to become believers.
They would find one of the great champions of the early Church—a brilliant leader from
North Africa known later as St. Augustine.
Augustine (354 – 430 CE)
Augustine was not born a Christian, but his mother converted to Christianity when
he was a young boy. We know about his early life from his autobiography, The Confessions. He had caused his mother much grief by living a wild life of unrighteous behavior.
His favorite expression in those days: “Lord save me, but not now!” Through the power
of his mother’s prayers, and his own experience of God’s grace, Augustine at last converted to Christianity and became one of its great proponents and defenders. He was
one of the first practitioners of a form of philosophy called THEOLOGY (the logical study
of God).
Theologians were Christian philosophers who, like Greek Cosmologists, valued the
power of reason. But instead of seeing reason as the highest human ability, they saw
reason as our most God-like quality. God had specially created all men, whether Christian or non-Christian, with minds capable of reason. If theologians could demonstrate
that Christianity was the most reasonable way of understanding life, then—they
thought—even non-Christians could be persuaded to convert to the true faith and be
saved from eternal damnation. They began with the assumption that God existed and
was the Creator of HUMANITY and of all REALITY. And, because God was also Reasonable, human beings could reason not only about themselves and the world—but about
God Himself. Theologians like Augustine spent their lives studying Christian Scripture
and doctrine, looking for reasons that would undergird their faith.
Augustine, like Jesus, began his philosophy with God. Like all Christians since the
Nicene Creed, Augustine saw DIVINITY as a HOLY TRINITY. This was a great mystery and
paradox of Christianity because it meant that the one God was nevertheless three persons. God the Father was the Creator and Law-Giver of the Cosmos, and the Ultimate
Judge of Humanity. God the Son was Jesus Christ, Teacher and Savior of HUMANITY.
God the Holy Spirit was the Comforter sent by Jesus to help HUMANITY after His own
earthly life was finished and He had returned to the Father in Heaven.
Augustine devoted much effort to explaining that the HOLY TRINITY combined the
Jewish idea of Yahweh (as Law-Giver and Judge embodied in God the Father), with Plato’s idea of The Good (as Perfection embodied in Jesus Christ), and Aristotle’s idea of
the Unmoved Mover (Creator of the Cosmos). He defined the Holy Spirit as that aspect
of God that is present throughout the material world and within every believer’s heart.
This Person of the HOLY TRINITY appealed to those who wanted a more Non-theistic—
and for some an even feminine—way of thinking about God.
For Augustine, REALITY, like God, was a kind of Trinity. He accepted Jesus’s idea of
the three realms of HEAVEN, CREATION, and HELL. But instead of thinking of these as a
revelatory expansion of Jewish Cosmogony, Augustine described them as a Christianized
version of Plato’s Cosmology. HEAVEN resembled Plato’s world of Forms, a timeless,
perfect realm where God resides and where “saved” humans go after death. Plato’s
World of Appearances became Augustine’s CREATION, an imperfect, impermanent
realm of sin and resistance to spiritual perfection. CREATION is the stage for HUMANITY’S fall from grace, but also the place we can seek redemption.
Because of Augustine’s belief in the ideas of salvation and damnation, he could not
be satisfied with Plato’s two-realm REALITY. There had to be a third realm, where the
Perfect Presence of Goodness is opposed by its Absolute Absence. HELL is the domain of
Absolute Imperfection, a place of endless evil and suffering, where SATAN rules over the
damned souls of unforgiven humans
In Augustine’s description of HEAVEN and CREATION we see his Platonic assumption
of the dichotomy between inferior matter and superior spirit. (Plato would have described this as the opposition of matter and Form.) HEAVEN is perfect because it is the
realm of Pure Spirit. CREATION is imperfect because it is the realm of matter. HELL
would seem to be a place beyond both matter and spirit, where all presence of Goodness is extinguished. Within this tripartite REALITY, human beings play out their immortal destiny.
Given Augustine’s understanding of REALITY, we would expect him to present an
equally dramatic and oppositional sense of SOCIETY. And so he does. In The City of God
Against the Pagans, Augustine described the conflict between the CITY OF GOD and the
City of Man. The CITY OF GOD was a SOCIETY of Christians who refused to get lost in
earthly pleasures and focused instead on the life of Jesus Christ as the example of how
to live and how to treat one another. The City of Man was a SOCIETY focused on accumulation of earthly wealth and power—the kind of life Augustine himself had led as a
young man. The City of Man was essentially the Roman Empire, ruled by those who inherited or seized political power and whose laws, for better and worse, were entirely
man-made. THE CITY OF GOD, by contrast, was to be led by men whose lives were dedicated to the Christian Church. The laws of God’s city would come from God himself, as
recorded in Scripture and interpreted by Church fathers.
One of the ironies of early Christianity was that these very laws—supposedly derived from a loving God—were used during Augustine’s lifetime, and with his insistence,
to persecute and kill those who did not believe exactly what the Nicene Creed declared.
It was also ironic that Christians from the fourth century onward had the earthly power
and wealth to enforce these ideas throughout the Roman Empire.
It was Augustine’s ideas about HUMANITY that would have the deepest, most lasting influence on Christian and Western thought. Like the Jews, Augustine accepted that
HUMANITY was made in the Image of God. He believed, however, that our greatest
problem was not the SINS we commit over the course of our lives, but ORIGINAL SIN. In
this doctrine, we inherit the SINS of our earliest ancestors, Adam and Eve. Since we
ourselves did not commit this ORIGINAL SIN, we have no way to release ourselves from
it. Only absolute faith in our SAVIOR, Jesus Christ, as interpreted in the creeds and dogmas of The Church, could cleanse us of this inherited Unrighteousness.
This was a shocking departure from the assumption made by many Christians and
non-Christians—that infants were born in original goodness, just like Adam and Eve before The Fall. So Augustine faced the challenge of making this view of HUMANITY— that
now included ORIGINAL SIN—appealing and persuasive to those who found it disturbing
and wrong.
He did this by connecting his idea of HUMANITY with Plato’s concept of the Tripartite Soul, an idea that still exerted great influence in the Roman World. Augustine
thought Plato was correct to speak of human beings as having Reason, Spirit, and Desire, but he wanted to provide a Christian interpretation of them.
Like Plato, he believed reason was the most powerful human ability and was the
characteristic distinguishing HUMANITY from all other things in Creation. By Augustine’s
time, however, Christianity had already been influenced by Jewish, Greek, and Roman
schools of thought—all of which were Patriarchal. Christians had turned away from Jesus’s idea of men and woman as equal partners in a loving, serving community. Augustine accepted this departure and differed from both Jesus and Plato in his views of men
and women. Men, unless they were slaves, were beings of reason, and women were
creatures of desire. (This was consistent with the long-accepted Genesis 2 Cosmogony
and reinforced rejection of the story in Genesis 1 of the co-creation of man and woman.) To this Augustine added the idea that Reason is immaterial while Desire is connected to the material body. Reason is thus superior to Desire, and men are naturally
superior to women.
Men’s Reason gave them the ability to acquire knowledge, making men like God
because God was Omniscient (All-Knowing). Men were not capable of Absolute
Knowledge as God was, but they had an inborn need to seek as much knowledge as possible. The relative weakness of women’s Reason made them curious, but they typically
lost themselves in bodily sensations and had to depend upon men to be the knowers.
Men’s Desire was the part of them capable of expressing LOVE. This made men
again like God because God was Omnibenevolent (All-Good or All-Loving). Men were
not capable of Perfect Goodness or LOVE, but, by the power of their Reason as guided
by God’s grace, men could try to be as good and loving as possible. Women’s Desire,
because it was more connected to the body, expressed a more sensual or sexual LOVE
that was tinged with selfishness and possessiveness. But, by the grace of God, Christian
women could learn to Love in a selfless, compassionate way.
Augustine divided Plato’s idea of Spirit into two parts. The first was Soul. Unlike
Plato, Augustine separated the Christian idea of Soul from Reason and Desire. Our
Souls were purely spiritual—more like the Hindu Atman, an immaterial core given to us
by God. Unlike Atman, however, a Christian Soul remained an individual who could be
with God in HEAVEN, rather than dissolving into the Divine Energy of Brahman.
After death, our Souls would leave our bodies and either rejoin God in HEAVEN after
Judgment Day, or be lost forever with SATAN in HELL. Unlike Atman, there was no second chance. The human Soul was obviously like God because it was immaterial and
immortal, just as the immaterial and eternal nature of God.
For Augustine, the second part of Plato’s Spirit became FREE WILL. Plato had seen
Spirit as Spiritedness—the energy we used to follow our Desire and our Reason. But
Augustine needed to explain the part of HUMANITY capable of obeying or disobeying
God’s Will. He needed a human counterpart to God’s Omnipotence, and FREE WILL
made us like God because it gave us the power to follow Him or refuse to follow Him.
Freedom of choice, plus the (relative) ability to Reason logically, along with our capacity
for earthly and heavenly Desires, and our immortal Souls—these four things together
made us Human. Plato’s Tripartite Soul had now evolved into a human likeness of God
consisting of Reason, Desire, Soul, and FREE WILL.
Augustine had diminished the presence of Reason in women, but he could not argue
from this that women were therefore not human. He took Aristotle’s option of seeing
women simply as inferior to men, which meant that men had to rule over women and
“protect” them from the temptations inherent in their desiring nature. Thus, the Christian CITY OF GOD, like the Roman Empire and the Christian Church itself, could be ruled
only by men.
Reviewing his overall philosophy of life—his ideas about DIVINITY, REALITY, SOCIETY, and HUMANITY—Augustine realized that there still remained a serious difficulty in
Christian Theology. Later theologians referred to it as the PROBLEM OF EVIL. The problem began with the belief that God created everything in the Cosmos. This would mean
that, if there were Evil in the world, then God had created it, too!
The problem becomes worse when we combine all three characteristics of the Holy
Trinity: All-Powerful, All-Good, and All-Knowing. How could our God co-exist with a
world filled with so much Evil—or with any Evil at all?
The apparent contradictions can be expressed in three questions:
1. If God wants to prevent Evil but cannot, can God be Omnipotent?
2. If God can prevent Evil, but does not want to, can God be All-Good?
3. If God can prevent Evil, and wants to prevent evil, but does not know how,
can God be All-Knowing?
It would not help to blame the presence of Evil on SATAN. If God is All-Knowing,
then God would have known when He created Lucifer that he would fall and become
SATAN. If God is All-Good, why would He create an angel who would become the Prince
of Darkness? It also would not help to blame Adam and Eve. Since God would have created …
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