In September of 1984 I was reading in Plato’s Euthyphro, a dialog on what is piety or impiety. It begins in a very interesting way. Some kind of court suit has been brought against Socrates by a young man known as Meletus. The charge is that Socrates is corrupting the young.
Socrates states, “He says he knows how the youth are corrupted and who are their corruptors. I fancy that he must be a wise man, and seeing that I am the reverse of a wise man, he has found me out, and is going to accuse me of corrupting his young friends. And of this our other, the state, is to be the judge.”
Then Socrates observes that “this is only the first step; he will afterwards attend to the elder branches; and if he goes on as he has begun, he will be a very great public benefactor.” At this point the person with whom Socrates is dialoguing responds, “My opinion is that in attacking you he is simply aiming a blow at the foundation of the state. But in what way does he say that you corrupt the young?”
Socrates then replies that he is “a poet or maker of gods, and that I invent new gods and deny the existence of old ones; this is the ground of his indictment.” This is a very relevant discussion for the situation that exists today in our world—the rise of radical Islam with its emphasis on Sharia law and the forced conversion of all who oppose the rule of Allah’s leaders; the rising anger of secular thinking considering all religious belief as wrong-headed and to be denied any hearing anywhere; hostile gender/politically-correct police who oppose any who question or deny them and what they want to force on all society. How does this dialogue apply to our situation today? It applies because Christians have invaded the temples of “secular gods,” “gender gods,” and “political gods,” raising questions and seeking to point to what they believe is the true God. Christians are not trying to force people to believe, but to convince them intellectually and spiritually. Thus, Christians are being challenged by the priests of these systems in order to preserve them.
Socrates then put his finger on the real problem in saying, “For a man may be thought wise; but the Athenians, I suspect, do not much trouble themselves about him until he begins to impart his wisdom to others; and then for some reason or other, perhaps as you say, from jealousy, they are angry.”
This is the key. A man can have his religion and believe it, but when he begins to try to share it with others, then . . . ah . . . then that is a problem. We can have freedom of speech, but when we begin to exercise it and speak about the evils and sins of society, then . . . ah . . . then that is a problem. We have pointed out a serious problem as we seek to share our faith and its solution to obvious failings.
Public discussion, a public conversation, or what I’ve been terming in these columns in the past “a community conversation,” becomes a problem. The state doesn’t mind us talking about religion behind the walls of the church, but it is when and where we get out from behind those walls that problems come. The state doesn’t mind us talking about religion in church, it is just when we begin to hit them in the pocket book and to teach what is contrary to their views and to take children out from their influence that problems arise. The state, however, is not the controller. It is the controlled. The state does not exist to see that I do right. It exists because of me. We are the state. The state is not separate from us, it is an extension of us. We believe, as our Declaration of Independence and Constitution clearly argue that the state is a “social compact” voluntarily entered into for the mutual benefit of all. If a majority becomes convince that the state is wrong, then we can change the state. This is the very point that is now emerging in the confrontation between Conservatives and Progressives in the political arena, between the Tea Parties and the Traditional Political Parties. There may even be problems with what we say behind the church walls.
Plato was not correct in his statement that the state is a “mother.” It is not a mother. It is not a guardian. It is not a parent. It is a compact of persons. That compact is not greater than the parts of which it is composed. The state cannot “lord it over” all in society and dominate them, dictate to them. It can only act when one individual or group of individuals become abhorrent or wayward and rises against the compact. But our Declaration of Independence clearly states that there is virtue in those who rise against such dictation and dismantle the “compact” to create another more reasonable and right. In this very situation I favor “the tea party” movements. There are many examples of wayward government and political leadership that point to this real problem.
Our “community conversations” should result in some common agreements and commitments to act reasonably and appropriately to strengthen and sustain our country. As citizens we should be patriotic and active as voters. I would ask again, as I have done before, don’t you think we need some “tea”? We should all embrace the same fundamentals and basics regarding our government and political process. When those basics and processes are violated, then we should remove those from office who are guilty, regardless of race, religion, color, gender or political party. What do you think about what is happening and the direction our country has taken in recent times?