Friday, November 14, 2008

The Three Platonic Ideals: Goodness — Martin

I’m no scholar of the ancients; yet I’m often so drawn to ideas that ring true, that I have to give them further thought. The Greek philosopher Plato, centuries before Christ, spoke of three virtues,— Goodness, Beauty and Truth. The twentieth century snubbed its nose at these ideals as subjective wishful thinking, but such pseudo-sophistication wore out it’s welcome, when it’s ideas proved unable to stand up where real lives are really lived. Plato’s insight is worth our renewed consideration.

Of these three values, often the Christian community has embraced just two: Goodness and Truth. Similarly, even though the art community has rediscovered Beauty, it doesn’t have much to say about Goodness. Our "tolerant" Canadian society, while ready to accept Beauty and Goodness in and of themselves, is wishy-washy on the subject of Truth. I believe we need all three.

C.S. Lewis read George MacDonald’s novels when he was a young atheist. He later wrote, "The quality which had enchanted me in his imaginative works turned out to be the quality of the real universe, the divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic reality in which we all live. I should have been shocked in my ‘teens if anyone had told me that what I learned to love in Phantastes was goodness."

When we portray or bring forth Beauty, Truth and Goodness in the novels and poetry we write, in the worship we offer, in the lives we lead, we are reflecting "the real universe" and reflecting its Creator. Hollywood has trouble portraying Goodness. It produces exciting (although sometimes two-dimensional) villains, but its "good guys" are often either boring or seriously tainted. It is a rare film that captures anything substantial of Goodness, Beauty or Truth.

I believe Christian writers often have trouble finding their way, too. Do we try so hard to show Goodness and spiritual Truth that our manuscripts are no longer true to life? Are we, on the other hand, so determined to show the truth of evil in our world that we have lost our taste for Goodness? I wouldn’t want to prescribe a code for Christian storytellers, but I wonder if even some of our best contemporary writers are having trouble here. Perhaps we would all benefit by reflecting — in a biblically balanced way — on Plato’s three ideals. Yes, stories in the Bible freely tell of sin, but there are certain ideals on which Philippians chapter four tells us to focus.

D.S. Martin is Music Critic for Christian Week; his new poetry book, Poiema (Wipf & Stock), and his chapbook So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed are available at

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