In an interesting post, Julie lays out a hermeneutic approach that reminds me of Plato’s ideals. She writes:
I, too, donâ€™t think that the doctrines concerning womenâ€™s equality are in any doubtâ€“but often the behavior of individual church members is of doubtful quality. It is my prayer that we will all be able to separate what is true from what is said.
Now, there are many different ways to read this statement, and I don’t mean to suggest that the only way to read Julie’s post is through Plato’s lens.* But the Platonic approach is certainly one interesting and provocative way to view Julie’s statement dividing doctrines into the true and the said. For purposes of this post, I will treat Julie’s post as making such an argument, in order to briefly look at that argument.
Plato similarly conceived of a world of ideal forms, which were not always reflected in reality. Julie’s approach to applied doctrine in the church seems to adopt something similar to the Platonic dichotomy. There is Truth, an ideal which we will not see in this world. And then there is some level of Messy Reality, which is Truth filtered through the imperfect experiences and interactions and statements and cultural baggage of fallible human beings.
It’s a fascinating idea, and one which could, I think, go far in resolving some of the concerns that bedevil conscientious church members. I’m not terribly familiar with the philosophy of Mormonism literature, but the idea of viewing life through the lens of Plato’s ideals is appealing, and a new idea for me. (And Platonism certainly has its intersections with Christianity — see, e.g., Augustine).
The question that I wonder, though, is whether there is a particularly good reason to believe that a Platonic ideal version of Mormon religion exists somewhere. To adapt a line from Hawking, what if it’s Messy Reality all the way down? Are there peculiarly Mormon reasons to adopt this hermeneutic approach?
In fact, in a follow-up e-mail, Julie has indicated that she did not mean to adopt a Platonic argument.