Sunday, December 06, 2009

Beyond Even Being

Plato says of the good that it is beyond even being.

This is strange. How could a thing lie beyond being? Would it thus not be? But if it is not, it can lie nowhere and thus cannot lie beyond being.

Should we insist against Plato that all that is exists? That all that is lies within the bounds of being, for what is without simply is not?

Perhaps, but I suggest that Plato is not guilty of the simple-minded error I've attributed to him. When Plato speaks of the relation of the Good to being, he means to say this: the Good is prior to and thus explains all else. Plato tells us again and again that what is is because it is good. The Good thus explains all things, and totality of all things that we call the world. The world exists because it was good for it to exist; it has the character that it does because it was good for it to do so.

(What do we say of the Good itself? Does it exist because it is good? If so, does this absurdly place the Good prior to itself? If not, what then is the explanation of the existence of the Good? Good questions all, but questions for another day.)

This is wisdom, I think; it is wisdom that Christianity has embraced. But Christianity has not stopped there, for it tells us what the Good is. God is the Good, and the Good is Love. This is the central theological posit of Christianity; it is the central practical truth is the faith-life of the believer.

So, to be Christian, you must believe this: there is such a thing as the Good (a Good that in no way depends upon us or our opinions for its existence), all things exist because they are Good, God is the Good, and God is Love.

Here's a curious little bit of autobiography. Long before I became Christian, I did believe that there was such a thing as the Good (and that it was not relative to anything human) and that this Good dictated the right relation between persons. Indeed, in the whole of my life I've never felt the least temptation to doubt this. It seems to me now, in retrospect, that all along I was ripe for conversion.