I’m going to do a short series post on how durn Plato influenced the church. I warn you, it’s gonna be way oversimplified, but crazy fun. Here we go.
First off, let’s talk about the anti-sex culture.
Plato’s best contribution to just about everything western is his ideal forms; see his work Symposium and Phaedras for all the details. Ideal forms basically means that everything on this physical earth is a non-ideal, degraded copy of the real stuff. He uses the example of a bed as a cheesy example. First exists the original bed, then carpenters come along and mimic the idea and make secondary copies of their own version of beds, and then further more there are pictures and paintings of beds. Our world is more like the painting. It was, according to Plato, a degraded copy of a copy so to speak, and not really really real.
In terms of people, this has profound significance on our lives. Because the body is, er, a degraded copy. But the soul, the mind, oh, especially the intellect, it’s not physical, and is much closer to the ideal form. In short, the body is bad, the soul is good. Or the spark in our soul is good, anyway.
Anti-sex culture, HELLO.
Ever heard of gnosticism? They borrowed the Greek ideal of dualism, believing the body is degraded and the soul is the ticket out of earth (Plato also taught reincarnation; my teacher from the university overseas told me three people have reached enlightenment. Jesus, Buddha, and you got it, Plato). Some gnostics said sex made people transcend all the physical realm: it was that kind of holy. Others said just avoid it because sex is sin. Either way, they had a lot of unhealthy perspectives of sex.
Paul dealt with gnostics infiltrating the church. See Colossians 2:8:
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.
Now whether he was talking about sex, I guess that’s up for grabs. But let’s think about it. The church had a big war about what books to include in the New Testament canon (okay, maybe war isn’t the word, but a whole council came together and formed a doctrinal creed over the doctrine controversy that the gnostics produced, that’s a pretty big deal). After a long debate on the gospels never really settled, they ended up tossing out all the gnostic gospels, the Gospel of Thomas, Sophia, etc, because the gnostics had claimed Christianity too, you know. Because gnostics had influenced Christians, too.
And then whataya know, Jerome says you can’t have sex with your wife and pray at the same time. Origen castrates himself. Tertullian says sex is a sin if you enjoy it. And then low and beyond, the church says priests must remain celibate, not that there isn’t other good reasons not to marry.
And we had thrown away the gnostic gospels why? Because the church fathers may have rescued their beloved Christ from a life where Jesus didn’t actually raise from the dead, but they had accidentally not even noticed how they kept the anti-sex stuff.
The things is, fast forwarding to America evangelicalism today, I’d say we’ve rejected this ancient attitude, except that we haven’t. The Christian idea is still that the body is causing us to sin. Starve the body. Spend your youth frustrated, then when you’re finally okay with not having sex, you can marry. It’s pretty insulting.
Christian dating books like oh, our favorite I Kissed Dating Goodbye, says don’t touch hands. Don’t kiss. Don’t even get near each other because the body is the problem, the body might cause you to sin.
Okay, sometimes people mention the soul as a problem. But usually it’s just DURN BODY. Even touching your own body is a sin.
But oh, my friends, once you get married, well, then sex isn’t physical anymore. It’s divine!
Okay, end of rant. Now you can add to the list of other things that influenced anti-sex culture.
Feel free to leave a comment agreeing or disagreeing with the conclusions of these articles. Also, I am not endorsing the anti-Catholicism vibs of the article. I’m not actually endorsing anything specifically, but definitely not that part.
Edit: For what it’s worth, the following is a generalization about American evangelicalism only. I am not speaking about European churches today, nor about the Catholic church today, nor about the Orthodox church today. I know little about them. Never attended one.