How Homer, The Great Greek Philosophers, And The Christians Answer The 7 Major Worldview Questions
Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle have had an undeniable influence on western thought. But before them there was Homer and his view, as well as the worldviews of the early Greeks, and after them came the Christians and their worldview. Consequently, to understand much of western thought, one must begin with these five worldviews. To do this, we will look at their answers to seven major worldview questions.
1. Who (Or What) Is God?
By the time of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, the Homeric epics had become the central theological texts of the Greeks, and they had maintained that position for an extensive period of time. The Homeric epics presented an anthropomorphic view of the gods. In the epics, the gods were always fighting and conniving against one another and generally behaving like humans. Socrates accepted the gods presented in the epics, and he believed that they were inherently good, just, and virtuous. Plato, too, acknowledged the pantheon, but he also believed that there were forms – ideals – and the Good was rather like a god-ness. This idea was further developed by Aristotle who believed in a prime being, an eternal, immutable, self-contemplative being. This ultimate being was the one who set the universe in motion. Interestingly, this correlates well with Christian theology. In Christian thought, God existed before all else, he is immutable, and he is inherently good, just, and virtuous. He also set creation into motion.
2. What Is The Nature Of The Universe?
While the Homeric epics may have thoroughly addressed the gods, they were fairly silent on the creation story and the nature of the universe. However, they do present a somewhat dualistic worldview, though not dualistic in the strictest sense. The epics show both visible and invisible worlds, though with the permission of the gods, a man can see both. Socrates was unconcerned with such matters, wishing only to discover truth about himself and things like virtue and beauty. Plato, with his theory of forms, was very much a dualist. He believed that there was an eternal, perfect, immaterial world of ideals and a physical, temporal, decaying world. Aristotle was silent on the issue in Politics, but a little research reveals that he viewed the material world as eternal, being set in motion by the prime mover. This is not entirely different from the Christian worldview, which postulates that God created the universe, and in it exists both material and immaterial worlds.
3. What Is The Nature Of Man?
Furthermore, the Homeric poems presented man as inherently good, with bad things being blamed on the gods or fate. The philosophers seem to agree with this, though not fully. They go on to reason that man is set apart from other creatures by means of reason. Through reason, man was seen as being able to become good. However, if man hated reason or let his appetites control him, he would be bad. The Christian worldview, on the other hand, states that men are inherently sinful and only find redemption through following Christ.
4. What Is The Basis Of Morality And Ethics?
The basis for morality was left unresolved in the Homeric epics. On the one hand, it seemed to stem from the gods, but on the other, it seemed to be something above the gods by which they could be judged. Socrates believed that there was an absolute right and wrong, and he believed that it was man’s goal in life to discover this truth. Plato agreed with this, but held that absolute good was only found in the realm of the forms. Aristotle differed from this in that he believed good and virtue to only come from the unmoved mover, and moderation was the highest good in his view. These views are not totally contrary to the Christian view, but it seems evident that absolute good can exist in this realm, and did in the form of Christ. The scriptures also teach that moderation is good, but it is not the highest good.
5. What Is The Cause Of Evil And Suffering?
As with the inherent nature of man, the Homeric epics tended to blame the gods as the cause of evil and suffering. This is especially evident in The Odyssey. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, however, believed that evil and suffering were caused by ignorance. Additionally, Plato believed that the physical world, being below the ideal world, was evil. The philosophers believed that this could be overcome via reason and contemplation of the eternal. The Christian worldview claims that the cause of our suffering and evil is essentially our divorce for God. Instead of becoming good through reason, the Bible makes it clear that we are redeemed by becoming relationally right with God, and we are only able to do this because of his grace.
6. What Happens To Man At Death?
The Homeric view of death was extremely bleak. Men died and lived forever in a miserable, cold, dark place. Socrates did not think that this was the true view of death. Rather, death was either eternal sleep and oblivion, or it was a place where you would live on forever and interact with those who had gone on before you. Plato, too, believed that man’s soul was immortal, and he thought that after death, the soul would transcend the physical world to the realm of the forms. Aristotle held that man was composed of a material part and a rational part. When a man dies, his material body dies and his reason goes back to god, from whence it came. Here, too, the philosophers’ views are not entirely opposed to the Christian worldview. In the Christian view, man has a body and a soul. At death, the soul leaves the body and goes to a place of waiting. Once God has judged the soul, it will either enter into heaven or be sent to hell, where it will spend eternity.
7. What Is The Meaning And Purpose Of History?
Reading the epics, it becomes clear that Homer believed that the purpose of history was to accumulate glory. The philosophers all disagreed. Socrates believed that self knowledge was the goal of history, Plato believed that accumulation of knowledge about the Ideals was its meaning, and Aristotle thought that acquiring knowledge of the physical world was history’s aim. The Christian worldview, however, clearly portrays that the history of the world is the story of man’s relation to God. History all points toward the second coming of Christ, and then to eternity after that. The meaning of history is man’s relationship with God.
A reading of Homer’s epics, the Greek philosophers, and the scriptures reveals many conflicting views. The philosophers accepted some of Homer’s views, but they modified or rejected many more. The Christian worldview has some common ground with that of the philosophers, but it shows that the philosophers were somewhat off in their reasoning, though they were sometimes very close to the truth. These views encompass the majority of the views in western thought, though not nearly all of them.