For those of us who have ever worked on a difficult project with other people, we know that often times the key to success is compromise. When making decisions about how to move from the project vision to the practical details, everyone on the team needs to be willing to come together to find the best realistic solution. This is especially true, if you, like me, tend to be an idealist. I can sometimes find compromise difficult because I so highly value the academic ideal way things are ‘meant to be’. While someone else sees my idealism as a stubborn intractable personality, I can see it as a commitment to the way things are supposed to be with a touch of perseverance.
It was in a moment of tension between me and a more grounded co-worker, that he said to me, “you know we aren’t dealing with platonic ideals here…” He was saying, “John, here in the real world, things have to work. Real, physical, life and blood people are going to use this program and it has to work.”
My co-worker was referencing a Platonic worldview. He was jokingly calling my attention to the day-to-day nitty-gritty details and challenging me to come off of my idealistic high horse. At the center of Platonism is this sort of ideal vs. real dualism. A Platonic worldview believes this world is a shadowy reflection of the true world. This physical material universe is a copy or distorted mirror-image of the non-physical immaterial true world. The true world is the world of forms and types, perfect and unchageable. Our world is the world of copies and material objects. Within this worldview, death means being set free from the physical to go and be alive in the non-physical ideal. To me this sounds an awful lot like the popular Christian idea of heaven. Earth is the imperfect material copy of the perfect immaterial heaven.
For evangelical Christians, heaven is the place you go after you die. You escape earth; you leave your body; you go to heaven. In heaven we get new bodies for sure, but we think of them as bodies like angels floating around on the clouds. Heaven is a spiritual place; earth is a physical place. These are the ideas that I find I’ve inherited from my evangelical tradition, and I don’t think they are biblically accurate or very inspiring.
If I believe that I’m going to leave this world and go to another place after I die, it’s hard for me to become inspired and hopeful about my actual life here on earth. For me it produces two responses. The first response can be called escapism, which causes me to take on a sort of headonistic attitude, ‘eat drink and be merry’. Who cares about the state of the world? Who cares about the state of the climate? Who cares about my own personal growth? The second is a form of hard asceticism. If heaven is a spiritual place, then everything physical is evil. If God is spirit and spiritual, then I want to mortify everything physical in my life and only nurture the spiritual. This is the sort of thing that cause evangelicals to disdain wine and fear enjoying sex too much.
In the following posts, I’d like to present a different view. One that I think is more consistent with the biblical narrative, and one that I’ve found to be very inspiring and hope-filling.