I remember talking to a non-Christian friend several years ago. I tried to talk to her about God and Jesus in the spirit of the Great Commission (Matthew 28) but she spurned me disdainfully and told me that Christianity belonged to a bygone age. The church, she said, was dead and buried.

We have to face the spiritual facts bravely and head-on. Many today view the Christian faith as largely irrelevant, insipid and lacklustre. We need to probe the devastating impact of platonism on the Christian faith. In his dialogue Phaedo, Plato (427-348 BC) asserted that this world is a prison for our immortal souls. We humans used to live comfortably and serenely in a world of spiritual, immaterial bliss. As immortal souls we engaged in logic, maths and philosophy without any bodily intrusions (going to the toilet) and other carnal distractions (changing nappies). Tragically our immortal souls fell into this physical, decaying and temporal world. Platonists are convinced that this world is not our home. It is a dark, dank and dangerous dungeon for the immortal soul. Plato derived these beliefs from a Greek creation myth which boffins call the Orphic Myth.

Enter the great Christian theologian St Augustine (354-430) who marinated in Plato’s otherworldly, pagan musings. He outlined his syncretism of platonism and Christianity by writing: “I desire God and the Soul. Nothing else. Nothing whatsoever.” What’s so wrong with that?

On this pagan, platonic view enjoying tulips, admiring dolphins, telling jokes and revelling in God’s good creation is worldly and unspiritual. In his commentary on Psalm 137 Augustine urged Christian believers to shun the sordid worlds of husbandry, business and all such profane and ungodly activities. Looking after animals and managing a chocolate factory à la George Cadbury is to swim in the filthy rivers of Babylon which lead inevitably to the horrors of hell. This mindset which we call ‘dualism’ has wreaked havoc in the history of the Christian church. (To be fair we do concede that Augustine became more biblical as he grew older.)

Many of our hymns are tainted with Christian platonism and we would do well to scrutinise the lyrics. In the well-known hymn ‘How great Thou Art’ we are reminded of God’s awesome works in creation. ‘I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder. Thy power throughout the universe displayed.’ This is biblical and life-affirming. Sadly this biblical theme is negated when the lyrics proclaim: ‘When Christ shall come, with shouts of acclamation and take me home’ we should pause and ask this telling question. Does this idea of going home to heaven echo the biblical narrative or Plato’s pagan mindset?

Consider the life and work of the American trailblazer Randy Lewis. How would Augustine respond to his vibrant and lived faith in a ‘river of Babylon’? Lewis was a Christian with a very influential job. He was the senior vice president at Walgreens in the USA. Walgreens is the American equivalent of Boots the Chemist and has over 8,000 shops and employs 240,000 people. It has a turnover of $142 billion.

Lewis has an autistic son, Austin, and he desperately wanted Austin to have a future and hold down a good job. Previously Walgreens had employed disabled people to do jobs like cleaning toilets and sweeping floors, paying them low wages. Lewis wanted to create meaningful and rewarding jobs for disabled people and so he persuaded Walgreens to change the workplace to suit disabled people. Walgreens has now designed warehouses where 40 per cent of the employees are disabled. These jobs pay an equal wage to the typically abled workers and hold all employees to the same standards. Employing disabled people has unleashed incredible creativity and imagination in non-disabled employees.

Walgreens employee Julia Turner has Down’s Syndrome. “I tell you what — I love this job!” Turner exclaimed. “I’m happy, I’m contented, I’ve got people all around me who are the best friends I’ve ever had in the whole world.” Julie Willard, a deaf employee, said this about Walgreens: “It’s my dream to work here!”

Walgreens has also designed new technologies that serve and bless the disabled. In these ‘warehouses of wonder’ they use images rather than words, which help people who struggle to read. So instead of ‘aisle 14’, they have an image of a strawberry. This helps people who cannot read numbers.

The HR department has changed many of its policies. When applying for a job, a disabled person can bring someone to fill in the application forms etc. What is so exciting is that the company has discovered that disabled people can often outperform non-disabled people. Not only was performance the same (Lewis called in statisticians who studied 400,000 hours of work and proved performance is similar for those with and without disabilities), but in the warehouse, staff turnover was 20-to-50 per cent lower and absenteeism was also down.

Safety costs were also lower for people with disabilities. “Fears about more accidents had come up, but we discovered that deaf forklift drivers – who many companies won’t hire – are twice as safe as someone who can hear,” said Lewis. “If I could give everyone a piece of advice, it would be to put plugs in the ears of their forklift truck drivers.”

This wonderful, inspiring story makes God look fabulous and highly relevant as His servant Randy Lewis rejects Christian platonism by serving God in business. All of life belongs to Jesus Christ and, as the great statesman Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) reminded us, we can serve God in education, politics, business, media, farming etc as well as the institutional church. All these ‘rivers’ can lead to the new heaven and the new earth, the home of righteousness (2 Peter 3:13).

Mark Roques
Categories: RealityBites

Mark Roques

Mark taught Philosophy and Religious Education at Prior Park College, Bath, for many years. As Director of RealityBites he has developed a rich range of resources for youth workers and teachers. He has spoken at conferences in the UK, Holland, South Korea, Spain, Australia and New Zealand. Mark is a lively storyteller and the author of four books, including The Spy, the Rat and the Bed of Nails: Creative Ways of Talking about Christian Faith. His work is focused on storytelling and how this can help us to communicate the Christian faith. He has written many articles for the Baptist Times, RE Today, Youthscape, Direction magazine and the Christian Teachers Journal.


Steve · March 18, 2024 at 11:07 am

Nice one, Mark—it is inspiring to read of Randy Lewis. It’s good to know that some Christians take God’s good creation seriously.

Hugh · March 18, 2024 at 1:37 pm

St Augustine should reconsider, maybe handing back his halo. God’s creation is wonderful. There are so many godly spheres in which we can both serve God and love our neighbour. Thank goodness! If saints and monks want to hide away, knowing only God and the soul, good luck to them. The rest of us need to fling open the doors and windows and revel in the hundreds of ways that we can worship and serve our great God without following Augustine and/or Plato. Well done George Cadbury and Randy Lewis, keep on rocking!

Evan · March 20, 2024 at 10:52 am

Always good when “thy kingdom come” is enacted. Something Plato’s philosophy doesn’t let happen.
Great stuff Rocky!!

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