Saturday, February 6, 2010

Aristotle and Christianity

This is the final section of an article called The Philosophy of Success.

So Jesus had his say and then he was crucified--most of us know the story--and then another religion developed in his name. This is where the story really gets good.

So what do you think that religion did? Do you think they kept up the fight with Aristotelianism that Jesus had started? Far from it.

Christianity plugged along for several hundred years under the auspices of Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, a neo-Plantonist (i.e. pre-Aristotelian thinking; for more information see Radical Academy); along with the inspirational handbook, The Consolation of Philosophy: Revised Edition (Penguin Classics), by Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius, also a Platonist.

The Consolation of Philosophy is also available free on line (as part of The New Earth Economy). A more eloquent book of philosophy has yet to be written.

Then in the 13th century, a fellow named Thomas Aquinas came along and what did he do but apply the philosophy of Aristotle as the foundation of all church teachings. Unbelievable, but true. At the time, this was quite a controversy, along the same lines as above. In fact, the teachings of Thomas were not officially adopted by the Catholic Church until 1879, though this was merely a recognition of Aristotle's fait accompli.

And in fact, it appears that Thomas, himself, may have had a change of heart late in life, failing to finish the main work on which his advancement of Aristotelian Christianity is based, theSumma Theologica. (See Wikipedia.)

It is this underpinning that has given us the Catholic Church as we know it today, with its endless (Aristotelian) classification and categorization of various types and levels of sin--very Aristotle--its emphasis on propriety of worship at the expense of the condition of one's heart (very un-Jesus-like).

This system is so comparable to that of the Pharisees, we might just as well use the term "catholic-aical" alongside pharisaical. It would have just about the same connotation. It is a natural byproduct of the application of Aristotelian philosophy to spirituality.

Aristotle, Protestantism and Islam

Protestantism fares no better. Aristotle has infected that too. Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant movement, was a product of the scholastic branch of Catholicism, as that which was spawned by the writings of Thomas Aquinas is called.

It was Aristotelian thinking that brought about Martin Luther's call for schism in the first place. Judgment, classification, reduction of what were once heartfelt relationships to the sterility of theological ideas. Argumentation, dialectic.

"I believe this; you believe that. I should be in this category and you should be in that one."

"I classify myself as a Baptist. You should call yourself--wait! I've got it--a Pres-by-ter-i-an."

This is all imminently, painfully logical. Aristotle would approve!

Moslems have the same problem. In fact, it was a Muslim, called Averroes, who is credited by many as the "founding father of secular thought in western Europe" for just this application of Aristotle to his religion.

None of the foregoing is even controversial today. Most priests, rabbis, mullahs and Protestant clergy would agree and defend the application of Aristotelianism to all western religions.

Where is The Good Today?

But there are off-shoots in each of these religions that carry the torch for areté, for The Good. They are generally and often derisively categorized (in that way of Aristotle) as mystical.

Just called "mystics" in Catholicism (all Christians were mystics before Aquinas); Kabbalah in Judaism; Sufism in Islam; the Pentecostal movement in Protestantism, mysticism is generally eviscerated by participation in the major western religions. Institutionalization of spirituality into religious structures is in and of itself an Aristotelian practice, after all.

Mysticism is generally part and parcel of Eastern religions, though institutionalization of spirituality has the same impact there.

Mysticism thrives outside the established religions in what is--again often derisively--called the New Age movement. Not that we need another Aristotelian categorization, but just for ease of reference, there it is.

And that's precisely what Aristotelianism is good for: as a tool box, easy reference being one. It is not knowledge or wisdom or understanding in and of itself. That comes from elsewhere.

How Should We Then Live?

On the one hand we have a long-standing (ancient) mentality based on The Good or tending toward The Good. It inspires a sense of benevolence in the universe. On the other hand, we have with Aristotle the first vestiges of a system of faith based upon The Truth, which is utterly neutral in tone, tending toward nothing (and perhaps nothingness).

Given these two choices, which makes more sense to espouse? One that doesn't care what you do? That's Aristotle. Or one that might just respond when we align ourselves with it? There seems to me no point in holding to the former, and every reason to hold to the latter.

This argument is a corollary to Voltaire's famous aphorism: "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him."

Boethius puts it this way: "O happy race of mortals, if your hearts are ruled as is the universe, by Love!"

And this is precisely the point.

Go to the beginning of The Philosophy of Success.

Where have I gone off the rails? Let me know. Your comments are appreciated and will be helpful to other readers.


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