The Greek influence on Religious Philosophy is evident.
Plato’s influence on Judeo-Christian thought:
Aristotle’s influence on Judeo-Christian thought:
In the Bible, the belief that the world was created by God is assumed. Biblical writers record how they understand the creation to have come about and the relationship between God and humanity, which has developed as a result of his creation.
According to traditional theism, God stands apart from the universe and is transcendental – beyond the realms of time and space.
The divine attributes include the following concepts:
It is not made clear whether God was the shaper of a chaos of pre-existing matter, a formless void, or whether God created everything out of nothing, ex nihilo. The Jewish and Christian doctrine of thought usually takes the view that God was both creator and shaper.
Some scientists say that matter could not have been brought into existence when there was no matter before.
Aristotle – “nothing can come from nothing”.
St Augustine of Hippo suggested that time is an intrinsic part of the created world and the descriptions “in the beginning” and “creation out of nothing” do not refer to a particular moment.
Genesis is similar to Babylonian creation myths in which there were dark swirling waters before the beginning of the world. The writers of Genesis must have believed that their story was either an historic accurate account of creation, or imagery borrowed from myths to express the fundamentally inexpressible.
In the first creation story, God set everything in place before creating people. In the second creation story humanity came first followed by animals as possible companions. However both stories strongly suggest the world was created for humanity, not that people happened by accident or chance once the evolutionary process had been set in motion.
The will of God is required to make physical matter exist, he creates the components of the universe on his word, according to his whim: “Let there be …” and there is.
Poetic descriptions of God’s skill as craftsman of the universe can be compared with the work of an expert builder in the Book of Job.
This contrasts with Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover. According to the bible, God is not unmoved at all and knows his creation intimately – he takes an interest and pride in the things he has made and cares about the actions of his creations.
For Aristotle God creates movement by attracting everything towards himself and it is the objects that have the desire to move. In Judeo-Christianity the will to move comes from God.
God does not just think about himself but purposefully calls the world into existence desiring a loving relationship with creation, a relationship that works both ways. This is very unlike the Aristotelian concept of a Prime Mover who does not know that the universe exists because the only subject that is worthy of thought is himself.
Everything made by God is good and purposeful – nothing exists by chance or is inferior of quality or bad – God is solely responsible for creation and described it as “very good”.
However, to say that God made the creation perfectly and it was “very good” does not explain the existence of evil, ugliness and less perfect forms such as disease and disabilities that we have direct and certain experience of in the world.
Moreover, if God created the universe and everything in it then he is solely responsible for everything that happens within the universe, including evil and suffering. For example, he purposefully gave the serpent in the narrative of “The Fall” its craftiness, and still established it as “very good”.
The second creation story begins to address these questions. It tells the story of Adam and Eve falling away from God and destroying the perfection given to them by disobeying God and giving in to temptation by the serpent.
However, this still raises problems. FDE Schleiermacher argued that evil could not have created itself out of ex nihilo from a perfect world. Either the world was created perfect and God let it go wrong, or the world was created imperfect and evil and suffering already existed. In both cases, God can be held responsible for evil and suffering.
The goodness of God as described in the Bible is very different from the ideal of Platonic thought. God’s goodness is interactive and makes demands of humanity.
God is seen more than just an ideal to follow, which remains unaffected and does not care who aspires to it. God is seen as a personality, reacting to people and caring about the way they behave.
Goodness as a quality or Plato’s Form of the Good is inactive and very unlike the God of the Bible. Goodness as a scale against which things are measured is not interested in the results of what it is measuring, because qualities do not have the capacity to take an interest.
God sets a standard for the people to follow, and watches to see the way they respond. In Exodus 20 the Hebrew people, who have been lead out of slavery by Moses into the wilderness, are given laws directly from God which they are to follow as part of their covenant relationship with him. Some laws relate to their relationship with God and others to their treatment of one another; for example the Ten Commandments (the Decalogue):
“You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God … You shall not steal.”
Goodness is revealed to faith, not reason (as in Platonic thought). Some of the characters in the Bible who are singled out for special commendation are those who, through faith, continue to obey God’s commands even if they don’t understand them.
In Genesis Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac because of his faith.
Job continued to praise and be obedient to God even though he felt he was being unjustly punished.
God becomes angered at injustice because he cares about his creation, and calls upon his prophets to let his people know they are failing him. He is hurt when people refuse to recognise and respond to his goodness.
Jeremiah – “I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you – I am weary of relenting.”
God can also be moved to pity. For example at the beginning of 1 Samuel, Hannah was distraught because she had no children and asked God for a child in prayer. She conceived a baby boy soon after.
God is affected by the ways in which people respond to him. The prophet Hosea uses the imagery of an adult and a small child to show how God can be likened to the love and pride of a parent when a baby is taking its first steps; God’s goodness is also compared with the reins used to steady a toddler.
It is God’s love that demands people to become the best they have the potential to be by obeying his commands as they are revealed. Therefore God’s goodness is concerned with individual people, not like the universal form of good.
God’s goodness although interactive is described as perfect. Some philosophers would say that God’s interaction makes him capable of change. Since perfection by very nature is unchanging, God cannot be perfectly good and at the same time a relationship with his creation.
In the New Testament the goodness of God is shown in the person of Jesus. God came into the world as a man in order to demonstrate his love for humanity:
“For God so loved the world he sent his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
This raises the question: how could God be in human form when he is incorporeal? If God is outside space and time (transcendental and omnipresent), how can he enter the world at a fixed point in history? When God was in the world was he also in heaven at the same time?
In Judeo-Christianity God is seen to be a judge who will bring about eschatological justice – he will elect those people worthy of salvation and an eternal life in heaven on the basis of their faith and good works in the current life. As creator and shaper of the universe, everything is answerable to God. He can therefore be seen as the primary enforcer of the moral code of the Judeo-Christian ethical system; he is a moral law giver and is responsible for denouncing what is moral and what is not.
But if God is the moral law-giver, the question can be asked: is something good because God commands it – in which case the content of morality is dependent on God’s whim – or does God command something because it is good – in which case God is subordinate to a higher law? This is known as the Euthyphro Dilemma.
A (long) video clip showing a lecture on the subj...
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