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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Kierkegaard is wrong: an absurd God is not good

Kierkegaard is wrong: an absurd God is not good.

I’ve posted three times previously on Søren Kierkegaard   As with all my posts, I’m always trying to figure out the gist of someone’s argument by presenting it to others—that is, you dear reader.  I think I’ve finally “got” Kierkegaard, and I think he’s fundamentally wrong.

The three stages of life

Kierkegaard says that there are three stages to life: the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious.  The aesthetic life is concerned with pleasure.  The ethical life is concerned with living by principle.  If married, I should follow the principles of marriage, which are loyalty, care, and love.  The ethical man acts in a way he would want others to act.  It’s actually pretty close to the golden rule, which in turn is pretty close to what Immanuel Kant called the categorical imperative.

The religious stage is where it gets complicated, because Kierkegaard subdivided the religious stage into A and B.  We reach the religious stage when we see that the principles that guide our lives are not merely a product of human reason, but a divine imperative.  Failing to live up to these principles is not only unethical; it is an insult to God.

Kierkegaard makes a big deal out of the difference between what he calls “religiousness A and religiousness B.” (CUP, p 494)  The main difference is that in religiousness A, God is thought of as comprehensible by humans, and understandable by reason, at least to a certain degree.  There is continuity between the ethical and religiousness A.

Stage B, which Kierkegaard sometimes calls simply Christianity, is where God is beyond human reason, infinitely different and utterly inexplicable.  Kierkegaard frequently uses the term “absurd” to characterize this God and his commandments.  The experience of God as absurd is good, for it means we have abandoned trying to understand him.   To act on the absurd is to act completely on faith (Journal).

“Religion B” is a bad idea

In Isaiah 55:8, God says “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”  This makes sense.  We should not expect God to be a larger and more powerful version of a human.  To fail to recognize and appreciate God’s otherness is a mistake.  Nevertheless, God’s commandments, his presence in our lives, must be recognizably good, decent, and moral, or he is no longer a God that humans can worship.

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