The Gospel of Socrates

Ancient thought, relevant for today.

“The Gospel of Socrates”

I first read Plato in an introductory Philosophy class in the Evangelical college where I majored in both Religion and Philosophy.

When I re-read Plato’s little book titled Euthyphro, I re-discovered why I was born again … as an unbeliever.

When I left my ordination as a Christian Minister I said,

“Jesus led me out the door of the Church.”

If that is true, it was probably Socrates (along with Martin Buber, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Thoreau, Emerson and others) who first showed me the door, the exit.

In Euthyphro, Socrates starts a discussion with a “Religion Expert”–a theologian named Euthyphro.  As they stand outside the courthouse in Athens, where Socrates has been summoned to answer charges of Atheism and corrupting the youth, Socrates asks the famous Religion teacher to explain what faith really is.  He wants Euthyphro to tell him what “piety” (holiness) is and what purpose it serves.  The exchange is perfectly relevant 2400 years later.

A brief summary of the discussion:  Euthyphro is prosecuting his own father for manslaughter, claiming that “divine law” demands piety (holiness, religious duty, true faith) in these matters.  Socrates pursues a line of questioning by asking, What is Holiness (True Faith)?  The answer he hears is:  Pleasing the gods is true faith; displeasing them is impiety (unfaith).  True faith is what the gods love.  Not showing faith is what they hate.  The believer is loved by the gods because they believe.  And so, a fearfulness of believing, serving and pleasing the gods is the basis of reverence. For Socrates, it seems, where there is reverence there is fear, because reverence is a form, a kind of fear.

And, maybe, where there is faith … there is a sense of “right.”

But, what is “Right”?

Euthyphro says that faith is a kind of Right concerned with tending to the needs of the gods.  Faith is “service to the gods.”  The religious teacher thinks that, “If a person understands how to say and do, in prayer and sacrifice, what is pleasing to the gods, this is faith.”

Socrates, the heretical hero of the story, summarizes, “True faith would be a science of asking (prayer) and giving (service).”  But, he asks, “What benefit do the gods really get from the gifts they receive?”
Euthyphro responds that it’s not about benefits.  The “gifts” are honor and esteem and gratitude.

So, Socrates wonders, True Faith is what is pleasing and dear to the gods.

Euthyphro agrees, but Socrates feels the discussion has come full circle with no real answer to What is Faith?

He feels that Euthyphro hasn’t really shown that he understands the conflicts with these issues.

Socrates isn’t convinced, but he’s sure the eminent scholar “thinks” he knows all about what faith (holiness, religious duty) is, and what is not.

The philosopher wants to hear more but Euthyphro has to go.  He has an appointment.

Socrates is disappointed, but not surprised.  He is left wondering, as Euthyphro goes off to his “faith duties” and Socrates goes off to be executed for seeing things another way.  He’s always been the wondering, wandering teacher of questions.  Irritating to the “true believers.”  A threat to the experts, authorities and powers that be. Forever awaiting real, honest answers to these claims of what is the best faith, what is right, what is true and what is just.

Socrates is always waiting, probing, waiting some more.  And so, we continue to wait for the “experts” to tell us.  Or, maybe there’s a better way … asking the questions together, working out the solutions together, doing what is true and right together, faith or no faith.

Anyone with serious “faith questions” or who thinks they “know God” ought to read The Gospel of Socrates.

The great man of wisdom, accused like so many heretics of being an Atheist because he chooses to listen to his “inner voice” instead of the Olympian gods, sends his voice echoing down the streets of the centuries.

His “good news” is very old news, but it’s just the relevant, reasonable news we need to hear in our faith-saturated world filled with “God Experts” selling their “wisdom” for the price of a soul (at least, a mind).

Chris Highland

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