Socrates and Jesus Christ

Socrates and Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ and Socrates are often compared: 

  • Both were put to death for their beliefs. 
  • Both sought to make the people they lived among better, which is the reason they were killed. 
  • Both believed in the immortality of the soul.
  • Both sought to teach humans how to be the best humans they could possibly be.
  • Jesus taught in parables; Socrates by asking questions.  Not the same thing, but both subverted ordinary discourse.

Both lived at approximately the same time in the same corner of the world.  Socrates died first in 399 BCE.  Jesus died around year 4 of the Common Era, about a 400 year difference.  There was contact between Judea and Athens.  Paul’s longest sermon was delivered in Athens (Acts 17:16–34), where Socrates lived and died.  People have wondered about cross-cultural influences, but there probably were little or none.  Philo of Judea, a Hellenistic (Greek) Jewish philosopher, sought to harmonize the Torah with Greek philosophy.  Evidently, he persuaded more Christians than Jews, but played no role in the development of Christianity or Judaism. 

Western Civilization, it has been wisely said, is a combination of Athens, the home of Socrates, and Jerusalem, where Christ was crucified.  Classical Athens valued reason, the examined life, or at least her philosophers did.  Jerusalem represents the value of faith.  It is this combination that has characterized life in the West for almost 2,000 years.  For most of that time faith was dominant.  More recently, faith has taken a back seat to reason, even if this reason is not always very reasonable. 

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Does Hell exist?

Does Hell exist?  

It is not the way of the compassionate Maker to create rational beings in order to    deliver them over mercilessly to unending affliction in punishment for things of     which He knew even before they were fashioned, aware how they would turn out  when He created them.  Saint Isaac of Nineveh, circa 650 CE

Would God, who knows the fate of everyone ever born, or who will be born, consign some of his creatures to eternal torment in Hell?  This is the question raised by those who believe in Hell.  Can you really imagine a loving God who would do this?  David Bentley Hart can’t, and I follow his argument in That All Shall Be Saved.

But doesn’t the New Testament tell us that bad people will go to Hell?

If you read the Bible closely, you will see that it says nothing about eternal Hell.  Paul believed that all are bound in disobedience to God.  But only so that God might show mercy to us all (Romans 11:32).  Not one word in Paul, or the Gospel of John, refers to an everlasting Hell.  First Timothy says simply that God “intends all human beings to be saved and to come to a full knowledge of truth.” (2:4)  This is called the doctrine of universal salvation or universal reconciliation.  People may go to Hell, but they will be redeemed like all the others when Christ returns. 

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Kierkegaard on Prayer. Who Knew?

Kierkegaard on Prayer.  Who Knew?

Three times I’ve posted on  Kierkegaard.    I thought  I understood him.  He is an existentialist for whom belief in God is a subjective truth.  The decision cannot be justified; one can barely give reasons.  All one can know is what one knows about any subjective truth: that it is based on a decision to believe it.  No wonder that Kierkegaard is often called the first existentialist.

Recently I came across a book of Kierkegaard’s prayers.  You could say I should have known about his prayers before.  Perhaps I should of, but philosophers don’t write about this aspect of Kierkegaard’s work.  Neither do most theologians.  It seems irrelevant to most of them.  It shouldn’t be.  The prayers turned my view of Kierkegaard upside down.

Kierkegaard’s prayers

I’ll just summarize the content of several of the prayers.  You will lose the poetry, but you’ll get the idea.

  • “Thou hast loved us first” (prayer 8), Kierkegaard asks God to help us avoid the seductions of the world, and to love others as much as we love ourselves.
  • “Thy forgiveness” (prayer 21).  We are to forgive others seventy times seven.  Will you, God, ever tire of forgiving us?
  • “For faith” (prayer 27).  Teach me not to get bogged down in stifling reflection, but simply to have faith.
  • “To know thy will” (prayer 37).  Keep us vigilant so that we may work for our salvation through fear and trembling. But “grant that we may hear also a gentle voice murmuring to us that we are Thy children, so that we will cry with joy, Abba, Father.”

The first sentence of the last prayer sounds like the Kierkegaard I am familiar with, the author who dwelt on the anxiety and dread that accompanies the life of the faithful.  But the second sentence is like that of a little boy rushing to sit on the lap of his beloved father.  Abba is best translated here as “daddy.” 

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