I think I have been lucky to have, overall, had a good brand of Christianity passed on to me. I have come across people in their 30s, 40s and 50s who grew up in very unwholesome environments (Catholic or Protestant) and are very much haunted by memories – you cannot blame them. I value the spirit of skepticism (I myself have plenty of doubts) – though feel that most human beings require some kind of closure/certitude to build up a cohesive community. So perhaps constant and unlimited questioning has a downside.
Regarding Creator/Creation: From what I have read and observed, most cultures did not carefully distinguish between nature and supernature – this was something worked out in detail in medieval Christian Europe and may have aided the development of the physical sciences. There are two reasons: (1). Because God the Creator was transcendent here, nature was stripped of divine status and therefore, could be experimented upon. (2). Because nature was thought to have been “created rationally”, it was deemed intelligible and therefore, could be understood by the human mind. Take India, where nature was considered divine, there was no proper culture of physics, chemistry or biology until the arrival of the Europeans. Maths, yes, but not physical science. People were too busy worshipping nature to be able to analyse it. I see people thinking of Galileo and Darwin and immediately jumping to the conclusion that Christianity was an obstacle to scientific progress. The bigger question is — why did people like Galileo and Darwin only emerge out of a Christian framework and not out of any other? Of course, one cannot discount the scientific legacy of Greece and Rome but the Biblical worldview is far more important than most people realise and has its own place in the development of Western science…and world culture in general. Even non-believers can agree.
I also feel the idea of “divinity as something outside nature” has helped diffuse political and social power (to a great extent) within human society. Because God was thought to be removed from (but intimate with) all of nature, human beings could be valued equally (slaves too) and be subjected to the same amount of scrutiny (masters too). Hope I’m making sense! The current culture of human rights in the West has quite a lot to do with the Judeo-Christian legacy I guess — though that doesn’t mean that other traditions have nothing to offer in this field.
thank you for your thorough and excellent reply!
Similar to the significance of Christianity to the rise of science in the West, I think mysticism has also shown the same significance.
In addition to the influence Neoplatonism had on Christianity, I think it influenced Copernicus’ heliocentrism (he thought the divine light is at the centre and without Copernicus there would have been no Darwin) and it certainly influenced Kepler (that the world is imperfect is reflected in his discovery of the elliptical orbits of the planets).
Particularly, having been ‘stood on its feet’ by Marx by his incorporating it into materialism (making materialism dialectical), Neoplatonism has brought immense, necessary potential to our knowing the world.
Just as Plotinus encouraged the recognition of the wonder of the world, Neoplatonism also focuses on the worth of each individual and was central to the rise of humanism in the Renaissance.
Neoplatonism in particular has had the most profound effect on creativity in the West – only one example is its formative influence via Bergson on Cubism.
I think not only that dialectical materialism, which has contradiction at its core, is the epistemological way forward in a world which has contradiction at its core (the latter is reflected in the former), there are still lessons to be learnt from mysticism itself – both from its theory and practice.
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