The ancient philosophy of metaphysics is a spectre in our society. One assumption attributed to Plato, is that for everything we can see physically on earth, there is a perfection of that thing in the heavens.* For example, if someone were to make a table, the perfect table would be in heaven that we are trying to reflect. Plato makes a story of this idea in “Allegory of the Cave.”
The Forms permeate U.S. culture still . This is especially apparent for those running for President and other positions in the government. Mitt Romney said that President Obama blocked “true economic recovery.” Romney believes that there is one “true” way to encourage an economic growth. Yet, is he being told this from heavenly economics or his ideology? As humans, we do our best to manage how things operate and make our best guesses with how to live and with what relationships to have. Sometimes we fail in our experiments, but most of the time we succeed what we are after and can repeat such actions.
I guess the problem is that some people believe that they are absolutely correct in assuming certain ideas, believing that these things are from the heavens. Christian fundamentalism understands the world in this way. It came to full force with Harold Camping and his followers who believed last year that May 21st 2011 would be the return of Christ to earth. They received this insight from an interpretation of Scripture that for them was the “true” way, a way of interpreting from God.
There have been many philosophers who have combated the idea of metaphysics. These include Soren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Satre, and Gilles Deleuze. The first two are existentialists, which says in a nutshell that “existence precedes essence.” Things in themselves do not have inherent meaning, but we as a culture, people, society, and individuals grant them meaning. This is why two individuals can attend the same event or watch the same movie and give two different responses . The last person mentioned was Gilles Deleuze was an anti-metaphysical postmodern philosopher who wrote about things like capitalism and schizophrenia, cinema theories etc. Much of his books are rather are hard to understand,including Difference and Repetition. (I hope to one day write a blog post about Deleuze once I know more about him.)
Maybe you are wondering what this has to do with Jesus. It seems that some authors of the New Testament had the world-view that included Platonic metaphysics. For example, the author of John begins with a prologue and writes “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The “Word” is in reference to Jesus, who is the perfect form of God. Another Platonic writer in the New Testament is the author of the letter to the Hebrews. S/he declares that Jesus is the heavenly high priest making sacrifices in heaven, and since Jesus is a Form then he too must be sinless, a perfect human come to earth.
The other Gospel writers do not appear to take such a stance, e.g. Mark’s Gospel has no reference to Jesus as being eternal, but as “Son of Man.” Therefore, I take a position that we must perform Christology from the bottom up rather than top down. Roger Haight does this in his text, Jesus, Symbol of God. He recommends “an incarnational christology in which the created human being or person Jesus of Nazareth is the concrete symbol expressing the presence in history of God as Logos” (p. 439). Once we take the view of Jesus from an anti-metaphysical or existentialist point then Jesus is eternal in another sense. It is no longer about Jesus being eternal and worrying about all this implies, but the concern is where Jesus receives power and authority. Top down Christology, one is not concerned with Jesus, but Jesus as an Form. In this way, one does not have to concern herself with the history of Palestine or the Roman Empire, but only about Jesus as the perfection Son of God. Yet there must be a happy medium where we care about discipling people for the kin-dom of God and a balanced historical-critical reading of the Scriptures.
Lastly, I want to stress that we can not have a “pure” anything, e.g. reason, Christianity, etc. We only have the reality we live in and we must do our best to try out new things and live in a way that is good for ourselves and the rest of society.
*There are plenty of other things that accompany metaphysics like ontology, but for this post I wanted to focus on the Forms/Ideas.