In many forms that require personal information, there is frequently a blank that is labelled, 'religion'. I inevitably fill in 'Protestant Christian'. Why is there a need for such precision? In fact, many may ask, where are there in the first place so many different denominations in Christianity? Why are there Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, evangelicals, Calvinists, Lutherans, and Pentecostals? I have only given a very small section of the list that goes on. If there are so many different denominations, which one has the correct interpretation of the Bible? In a religion that preaches love and unity, why are there such great differences?
Then one day, I discovered Plato, and it looks like the great man hit the nail on the head on this matter. I am really a novice in philosophy, so, bear with my uncertain grasp of these ideas. And if you are not convinced, remember that to reject Christianity because of my poor writing commits the straw man fallacy.
Plato believed that everything in this world changes over time and space, like by aging, or dying. This world of material is thus mutable and transient. Everything erodes eventually.
However, everything in this world is made after a mould, which is perfect and never changes. This mould is eternal. For it to remain unchanging eternally, it cannot be made of material, or substance, because all substance disintegrates eventually. Even diamonds. It is an 'idea', a pattern, it is spiritual.
This mould, nobody has ever seen. But subconsciously, we know that this mould exists. Take, for example, the horse. Every horse we see is different - in size, colour, shape, even temperament. But behind these different characteristics, we see the essence of a horse, or the 'idea horse', which enables us to recognise the physical horse as such. Plato thus concluded that behind this material world which erodes over time, there exists a 'world of ideas', one which is perfect, unchanging and eternal.
By now, the comparison with Christianity, with its many forms, should be obvious.
Just as the 'idea horse' exists, there exists a perfect 'idea of Christianity'. It is the true embodiment of the Kingdom of God, the body of Christ. It is truly life as God wishes it to be for us.
Yet, this is never seen in the world we live in. In fact, I hate to have to admit this but Christians frequently fall too far short of the 'idea Christianity'. At times, we are so far that we are practically unrecognisable from true Christianity. This results in the great diversity, or if I may be so honest, division, in our religion.
This is because just as material horses are corrupted by the environment, the Christianity that is manifested in us is always tainted by the corruption of the flesh. Churches divide because of human sin and human error. Very often, new denominations are set up because of disagreement, because the founders each believed that his own idea of God is the accurate and correct one.
But this does not mean that the 'idea' of Christianity, the unchanging and eternal Kingdom of God does not exist. It is merely obscured at this moment, in this space. To put it bluntly, the Christ that is seen in us is as if viewed through funny mirrors that give distorted reflections.
Such a reading of the many denominations is not intended to discredit them as false, merely, imperfect. Indeed, some have strayed so far from the 'idea Christianity' as to be regarded as cults. Yet, many retain the 'essence' of Christianity, differing only in matters of preference. This is perhaps, inevitable, because of the imperfect world we live in.
When will we see this 'idea Christianity'? Not in the natural world, with the sins of the flesh and the temptations of the evil one. But when all that is material fades away, only the eternal remains.
Having said it all, I have to acknowledge the source of these ideas - CS Lewis, whose Chronicles of Narnia sparked off my fascination with Plato. highly recommended reading for all.