Thursday, September 30, 2010

On Socrates

One might consider the propensity of Socrates in how it echoes the teachings of Jesus Christ. It reads from historical record that God was a dirty word in how Socrates used it much the same way as it rubs against the grain of secular thought today.

The difference is that in the days of Socrates, piety to the Greek Pantheon of gods was part of good citizenship. Going against the accepted religious practices and thoughts was labeled as a kind of heresy, among other things, for which Socrates was condemned. His clean break from the religious consensus of the Greek majority gave his enemies ammunition to use against him in a court of law.

In giving glory to God, Socrates sealed his death warrant. In rebuking the pious sophistry of the Jews and answering that He and God were one and the same, Jesus of Nazareth sealed his death warrant similarly.

Upon surrendering the ego, one is defeated in his ego-centric uphill charge. Defeat by today’s definition is surrender. Though this charge is unrealistic and spiritually self-defeating, secular man pushes on in his stubborn, self-seeking “intelligence” – an intelligence that Socrates and Jesus both dismissed.

To secular man defeat has a flavor. One is defeated by an army in battle, by another lawyer in court, by a sharper wit in sophistry, by a sharper blade in a sword-fight and ultimately by inevitable death – so ego-centric society would have one believe. This current of thought has not changed since the days of Socrates.

The same voice of bogus puffery that attempted to argue with Socrates and Jesus is alive and well today. This voice rails against the same pervading providence that has spouted from the pens of poets, holy men, prophets, saints, mystics, monks, apostles and disciples since the dawn of literacy. There is a stark black and white to this phenomenon that correlates neatly to good and evil.

Socrates and Jesus were by their actions and life-styles inherently good men. They lived humble lives of poverty, doing nothing for their own personal gains. They were brilliant teachers of a universal wisdom that outshone anything in their world that passed for knowledge. Socrates attributed his envied brilliance to an omnipotent higher power. Jesus claimed kinship with this higher power (John 10:30). Both men were made to suffer the outrage and hatred of prestigious groups who held Socrates and Jesus as a threat to their social standing. Both men were put to death as punishment for teaching what they called the truth.

Death is seen as the ultimate defeat and surrender. How many times has one read the headline that another person “has lost his battle with cancer?” It sends the illogical message that organic life should fight against the natural inevitable. Such reasoning is not tenable. Yet the ego-driven human mind would put forth such an absurdity as desirable due to his fear of the unknown. Hence, in drinking the hemlock, Socrates was not giving up the fight inasmuch as he saw death as a fitting end to a life long-lived on principle.

For Jesus, death was a logical exit from the physical plane to which He descended to teach the Law of God. After the Lord’s departure, His followers published what they had witnessed and learned. Hence the four self-titled books of the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Upon making a comparative study of the Christian Gospels and the arguments of Socrates, one sees a striking similitude. So much so, that a scholar is compelled to deduce that both texts stem from the same vein of wisdom. Such reasoning is consistent and in accordance with all guidance attributed to God Almighty throughout all time. It has a Signature. The same Signature, apparently, from which Socrates drew his brilliant method of cross-examination.

Unlike the Sophist who seeks to beguile, trick and dazzle his opponent with abstruse words, Socrates broadcast his clear, succinct talks in marketplace oratory. The Agora was likely in the center of town, a common place where the public milled about. Anyone was free to stop and listen to Socrates carrying on his vigorous, lucid debates with all comers. Note how Jesus Christ broadcast his pearls of Wisdom to the multitudes in the same way. Sermon on the Mount. Sermon on a fishing boat, cast off from the shore.

Socrates saw his death sentence as a way to stand firmly on his premise – much the same way that Jesus of Nazareth did by dying on a Roman cross. By their deaths as innocent men, both Jesus and Socrates gave humanity pause. They had nothing to lose and nothing to fear as both drew their brilliance from the Sovereign of the Universe. By their departures into the feared unknown, Socrates and Jesus became martyred leaders to their many advocates and devotees. These people would write texts on which a philosophy and religion are now plinthed respectively.

In the case of Socrates, he brazenly announced that his intelligence hailed from beyond the paltry realm of organic man. The human brain being a fallible organ, Socrates never claimed wisdom by his own right. He never took ownership of his genius but rather assigned it to God (The Almighty Allah). In so doing he riled the ego-centric ire of Athens.

Most men wanting to be known as wise attacked Socrates intellectually much to their surprise. Upon opening debate with Socrates in the Agora, many of these proud arguers learned that they knew less than they thought and thought more of themselves than they ought. Publicly humbled by their own ignorance, these men banded together against Socrates much in the way as the Jews did against Christ. They fabricated bogus charges against him and rallied the bloated egos of others of their kind to support them in a common cause.

This common cause was to make an example of Socrates. He could have escaped with his life by being run out of Athens into a sentenced exile. This would not have had the impact of his opting for the death sentence.

By logical deduction, Socrates knew that he was already an old man and could not expect to live that much longer anyway. Being a virtuous man, Socrates traveled light. His conscience weighed little. His keel was an even one unto death. His comfort carried him there and surpassed gracefully the harried, frantic, chess-like thoughts of man.

Let it speak for Socrates that despite the feverish slander of his enemies and their Sophists, the words of this great man prevail yet today. The schools of law employ his methods for smelting out the truth. That this is done in pursuit of justice should be a clarion-blast throughout all the land and time. Let it lend credence to the efficacy of virtue, especially since the court of law is supposed to be a place where justice is served.

Like the days of Socrates, there are still Sophists-for-hire who will argue the law, mixing truth with lies for a fee. Justice and truth require a Socrates to make them stand against this barrage of wily iniquity. It would be a plausible supposition to infer that Socrates had a mission on earth as he stated in his own defense – to be a gadfly unto erring man. His motive for sharing his knowledge was, unlike the Sophists, not to make money. Let that speak for him also.

Based on Plato’s Apology, Socrates attracted a group of inquisitive youths who sought his wisdom. Plato was among them. In this way a scholar can compare Plato and his contemporaries to the followers of Christ who would later write testimonies of what they heard and witnessed. This is piquant because for every assailant of virtue there stands an advocate to defend it. For every Pharisee there is a Peter the Rock. For every hubris-bloated Sophist there is a Plato.

Socrates was disgusted with the politics of his times as it was diseased with corruption. A mission thereby remains for him today. He is too soon gone away. Let those who thirst for justice and truth call him back. It would not only amuse him but his advocates to see more cross-examinations of pretenders to wisdom.

In the trial of Socrates one learns that men are predictable. It was foreseen by Socrates that once he publicly revealed someone’s pretense of knowledge that there would follow anger and hatred against him. He knew the risks of what he did but continued owing to a great propensity beyond himself. He attributed what he did to a superhuman, external intelligence – the same intelligence that Jesus claimed as God the Father.

To the free-thinker in pursuit of truth it might seem that Socrates was a gift to mankind from a higher place. The workings of his mind share the rank of saints and prophets. There is a kind of oracular brilliance to the words of Socrates that stands the test of time and place. What he taught cannot be bought. Such knowledge is not inherent to ego-centric man. It is priceless and universal.

In leaving this discussion of a great man, one is given pause by the grace with which Socrates accepted his death sentence. He had an internal voice that he called his “divine faculty.” It warned him of all the things that he should not do before he did them. Since this voice did not warn him to flee the death sentence then he calmly accepted dying as the next proper thing to do. Since this inner voice had helmed the steerage of his course throughout life correctly, he trusted it to do so unto death.