Ideas Matter, Exhibit 1: The Horrific Legacy of Christian Neo-Platonism

The Christian Church grew up mired like a fly in treacle in the utter darkness that was Platonism–the sick, world-and-life-denying doctrine of Plato, who split the universe down the middle, into an airy-fairy spirit world “up there” and a contemptible physical world “down here.” New lovers and indigenous peoples have always known this bifurcation of things to be utter bullshit and have been cognizant of the divine manifest and showing forth in them and all around them.

The authors of the Chandogya Upanishad knew. “Tat tvam asi,” they said. “That thou art,” a chip off the Divine block. So did the early and more recent practitioners of Shinto, before and after its corruption into an Emperor cult during the Shogunate. So did Yeshua of Nazareth. We have some 250 surviving gospels, acts, and what-not, most not included in the Greatest Hits compilation cobbled together by the official church, and I’ve read most of these. Having done that, I can tell you that he was a pretty awesome fellow, this Yeshua, my brother and yours, who quoted God as saying, “Verily I say unto you, in as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me”; Yeshua, who said, “The kingdom is not in heaven or in the sea; it is within you, and all around you,” that Yeshua who reminded us, “Did not the Psalmist say, ‘Ye are Gods’?” He was talking about you, Dear Reader, and me.

The Church had to leave rivers of blood throughout history to kill off the indigenous who thought you and me and the world Divine and could and did call bullshit on the Church’s  bifurcation of creation. That Church would have a lot to answer to if Jesus actually came back. Dostoevsky nailed this in The Brothers Karamazov when he said that the Church, to continue existing at all in its current metastasis, would have to kill him all over again.

Unlearning that poisoning of our thought–that separation of the spirit and the world, that contemptus mundi–is for us very, very hard. Unlearning is the hardest kind of learning there is, for these are the categories of thought that are HABITUAL FOR US and have been so for millennia, after the Great Poisoning. (As the late novelist David Foster Wallace reminded us, Ask the fish, “How’s the water?” and he will say, “What water?”) But we need to unlearn this “world-down-here-spirit-up-there” nonsense that has become so habitual, so familiar, that we are not even aware of it, even though it informs almost every act by which we put a thought together. It’s poison. We need to spit it out. Purge it. Most evils–the objectification and instrumentalization of almost everything, of nature, of other people (of workers, foreigners, women, those of other races, and so on)–stem from this contempt for and instrumentalization of the world. “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth,” says Lear, “to have a thankless child.” Our heedless, reckless, unthinking but ever-present rejection of the world, our inability to see the divine in it, is that thanklessness.

Indigenous peoples knew better. Read The Soul of the Indian, by Charles Eastman (Ohíye S’a). He grew up to young manhood among the Santee Dakota but then went to school and became a physician on the European model. He treated survivors of the massacre at Wounded Knee. Few indigenous in the “New World” had written languages, and the Church gathered up and destroyed the books of those who did, so Ohíye S’a’s book, written in 1903 and published seven years later, is one of the very, very few authentic accounts, by an indigenous person, of pre-conquest indigenous religion and life here on Turtle Island–one of the few accounts not filtered through twisted preconceptions and misunderstandings of European anthropologists and poetasters who gathered and then breathtakingly distorted and miscommunicated “savage” indigenous ways and beliefs. As Ohíye S’a puts this in his Foreward: “I have attempted to paint the religious life of the typical American Indian as it was before he knew the white man. I have long wished to do this, because I cannot find that it has ever been seriously, adequately, and sincerely done.”

Treat yourself to a drink from an unpolluted spring. Read his book. There may be no other that I would recommend so highly.
“Here are your waters and your watering place.
Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.”
–Robert Frost, “Directive”

Copyright 2018. Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved.

For other essays (and cartoons!) by Bob Shepherd on philosophical subjects, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/philosophy/

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About Bob Shepherd

interests: curriculum design, educational technology, learning, linguistics, hermeneutics, rhetoric, philosophy (Continental philosophy, Existentialism, metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, epistemology, ethics), classical and jazz guitar, poetry, the short story, archaeology and cultural anthropology, history of religion, prehistory, veganism, sustainability, Anglo-Saxon literature and language, systems for emergent quality control, heuristics for innovation
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