Today, it is common to hear people claim that religiosity has no rational basis. This idea is taken for granted by many, and we can find it embedded in our popular culture without having to look too hard into it. Even characters wearing clergy shirts in movies and popular series assume this view to be true. However, is that portrayal of Christianity accurate?
Many have forgotten, especially after the 19th century and the dawn of progressivism, that for most of the Western world's history, Christianity was the sole champion of rationality. It was the main absorber of philosophical ideas from all corners of the world and the channel through which these ideas were presented to our communities.
Take Plato's ideas, for example. The Greek philosopher never knew Christianity but embarked on a quest to find the nature of goodness and perfection using his intellect as a guide.
Plato believed in dualism which is essentially the separation of the world into two distinct realms: a realm of immutable ideas and a material world where those ideas are expressed in an imperfect or distorted way.
While Plato was not religious, he did believe in the existence of a higher plane of reality that could only be solely accessed by awakening a sense that would allow us to perceive it or be revealed to us. The philosopher also insisted that those closer to understanding this ideal realm should not just remain blinded by the light of perfection. Instead, they should go back down and guide others outside the proverbial cave of ignorance. Moreover, he warned that those who tried to wake others to the truth risked angering their equals. This is exactly what ended up happening to his teacher Socrates.
These ideas were of great interest to Christian philosophers like St Augustine. The bishop of Hippo in what was Roman North Africa took the ideas of Greek philosophers in high regard. He expressed that Plato's dualism could help explain much of what was written in the scriptures, making it easier for us to understand the differences between good and evil and what God commands us to do during our stay in the material world. So Augustine took it upon himself to unravel this mystery using the Greek philosopher as a guide but always keeping utmost respect for the scriptures.
For centuries, there had been much discussion about the location of God and Heaven. Greek and Roman gods always had a physical address on earth, with Roman deities living on Mount Olympus. Moreover, gods were said to walk among men and even affect their destinies, acting almost solely in their interest or satisfying their desires. These gods were capricious, and each would demand particular sacrifices and rituals to appease them.
So, many Christians would imagine God was no different in this regard and would wonder about his location in the world. Some placed Him beyond the seas, others would say he inhabited the clouds, and there were even those who equated Him to Zeus.
Plato's position allowed us to think of the universe as a place with at least two planes of existence: one imperfect filled with sin, evil, and suffering, and another where perfection and goodness dominated everything. This effectively took God beyond our reality, giving us a new understanding of Him as a creator outside of nature.
Augustine also accepted Plato's idea of ways of discerning the nature of a superior plane of existence. Platonic epistemology rests upon the assumption that truth cannot be reached by our senses. There were two reasons for this. The first one is that our senses are flawed and can deceive us. Our bodies and their mundane needs will drive us to dedicate our time to fulfilling earthly desires, forcing us away from achieving true knowledge. The second reason is that this world is a mere reflection of the world of pure forms. What we experience or see are just imperfect copies of forms that exist in their perfect state in a plane of existence beyond our reach.
This meant that our mission is to look for ways of discovering that reality that contains eternal goodness and perfection. Then, we should try to take the world closer to that image from each of our domains instead of looking for ways to put these responsibilities on the shoulders of earthly rulers.
One of our religious leaders' primary tasks is to remind us of the existence of separate worlds: the realm of God, which is eternal, immutable, and perfect; and the material world, which was given to us to shape according to His law.
Our temples, liturgical vestments, and even our modest collar clergy shirts are tools that help put things in this perspective. Their goal is to remind us that there is a clear distinction between the two worlds. This distinction is not only in scripture but is also supported by the same reason that helped build today's understanding of reality.
Visit our store and ensure your vestments and clergy shirts convey the right message.