Ah, Jared's Java. Pleasant taste. Slight Monsterism.

Welcome to the home of my mind, where I brew my intellectual and spiritual joe. Sit back and let me pour you a cup or two. I promise not to cut you off, even after you get the caffeine jitters.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

What is invisible and smells like carrots?

Socrates, er, I mean rabbit farts. That's the answer.

Speaking of Socrates, I'm currently reading this fascinating book entitled "The Death of Socrates" by Emily Wilson. Sadly, few people today know why one of the most renowned sophists in history even drank the hemlock, or what hemlock is...or what a "sophist" is/was.

If you know the history of Socrates, feel free to skip this paragraph. For the unfamiliar, here's the cliff notes of Socrates life: he was a rather homely dude who fought with valiance in several Athenian military campaigns in the fifth century BC, during the time of the city-state super powers (Sparta being one of the other ones). He became a philosopher, which were called "sophists" during their own time, and was a really good one. In spite of his philosophical brilliance, he pissed off a lot of people and was a douche of a husband and father. During a politically sensitive time, somewhat equivalent to post-WWII Germany, he was singled out as a public scapegoat for some bad feelings by some charges at a trial that was unconstitutional and staged by some influential folks (much like the McCarthy trials). He was found guilty of "impiety, not worshiping the gods of the city and corrupting the youth" by a jury of 500 in a 280-220 vote. At his sentencing, the same jury awarded him the death penalty by means of hemlock, a poison.

Now, when I say Socrates was a homely dude, he's so ugly that his mother had to tie rancid meat the butcher threw out to his neck so that the dog would play with him. Hence, where a picture should be, I intentionally left it blank. If you want to see his ugly mug, hit the Internet. Just so you know I warned you.

Reading through Socrates philosophy of religion, which was considered "dangerous" at the time due to circumstances (as noted above), I was inspired. Here's the author's summary on his position:

Strepsiades in the Clouds [as did the Athenians of late 5th century BC] feared that if traditional religious beliefs were lost, morality would also, inevitably, be eroded. Socrates' position in Plato's Euthryphro suggests a strong but subtle response to this non sequitur. He insists that the gods love what is good, but its goodness is independent of their approval. Allowing an external religious authority to guide all decisions is lazy and morally irresponsible. It is even impious, in so far as God or the gods have set us on the quest for ethical truth. If we believe that any action may qualify as holy or good simply because God or the gods approve of it, then God or the gods are morally arbitrary tyrants, and we live in a world where the only right is might. If we imagine that people only ever act 'morally' out of reverence for tradition and fear of divine retribution, then we have already denied the possibility of true moral choice.

Religion, Socrates insisted, must be treated as an inspiration for independent moral thinking, not as a substitute for it. It is easy to see why his vision of religious authority should have been inspiring to his pupils. It is also easy to see why it would have seemed abhorrent to anybody who thought of religion as the glue that binds citizens, families and communities together. (Brackets mine; emphases added by author)
I really like this perspective on a few levels. For one, it indicts those who would abdicate their responsibility to make their own moral determinations to religious authorities. I believe that the vast majority of "evangelical Christians" in America allow their denomination and their chosen political party to do that in the stead of them thinking things through neutrally. To be fair, the same could be said for most "liberal/progressive Christians" (I hate to say it, but I give secularists more credit here because they have to determine what values to live by, though they often, also just choose what family and culture hand them). Where their party or denomination waffle on issues of morality, they do the same and are satisfied by the thinking that's already been done on the subject, so long as they've read it so they can agree.

Christ called on those who would follow Him to the faith of a child, but He did not call them to dumbly follow along with groups of others claiming to represent Him or His interests. This is what a person is doing when they believe that a moral position of any group is an open-and-shut case type of decision. Even if the position is absurd, to do the due diligence to think it through and reason it out for yourself on all sides is, sometimes, a necessary exercise. What initially may sound preposterous to you may, in some cases, actually be a well reasoned position. The problem is the limits of one's own worldview. We cannot possibly know and understand all truth based on what we are taught growing up. I realize that's a loaded statement that would take a lot to unpack, but it's true, and I'll save the unpacking for a different post.

Most people give little thought for acting morally. If hedonistic self-interest or divine retribution are the only basis for which we make moral decisions (which sums up the primary reasons for the big ones), then we are a poor society. One class of people runs around doing as they please, imposing their will as much as possible on their world with little thought to the long-term or cumulative consequences toward others, and the other runs around condemning everyone for everything they do. These aren't far from the truth of today, in the US.

Has God set us on a quest to discover morality and ethics? I think so, insofar as the bible is 2000 years old, and we need to figure out what the words mean today in the world of radically changing of technology proposing new questions that weren't even conceivable to those of the time. Also, what exactly should we do with what are perceived as personal moral commands from On High? How do we translate those to how we treat those that do not share our belief or faith. I could write question after question on these philosophical considerations of faith.

I could do the same with the secular end. If religious faith is not of value, should chastity, celibacy and life-long monogamy really be cast off, as well? What is the value of faith an the unseen, omnipotent force? Does prayer have any worthwhile benefits to consider, apart from religious duties? Are there values that have come through religious observance that have been broadly cast off that are worth resuming?

But, the biggest question I'm sure this blog post leaves you, the reader, with is, "What are the ethics and morals of writing blog posts that are ridiculously long?"

Go mbeannai Dia thu

1 comment:

The Doozie said...

I agree, it is hard to get past how you've been raised to think. For example as a teen I asked my mom what party affiliation we were. She said Republican and I asked why and she said "because we are". I always ask questions and even though I favor certain points of view, I look into things for myself. I'm an independent thinker, just like you Jared, and what ugly guy said makes a ton of sense. Blindly following the crowd will get you in trouble. Apparently part of his moral choices didn't include being a good father and husband??? haha