Socrates Is Not Amused.

September 5, 2007


This is bullshit.

It’s also ten years old, but I saw it being linked around recently, so I had to write something about it. There’s probably, after all, a lot of people who haven’t seen it.

For those without the patience to read through that entire link – i.e., everyone – it is a link to a theoretical discussion of philosophy between Socrates and Jesus, written by a James L. Hart. The content of the post is largely composed of Jesus saying stupid, contradictory shit and Socrates poking holes in it. A few of Jesus’s arguments are actual biblical quotes; most are just paraphrased chunks of drivel that you’d expect to issue from the mouth of a southern Baptist preacher who’s been the victim of multiple concussions.

So basically, it’s an elaborate setup in which “Jesus,” or the representative of Christian religion, is given a series of untenable positions and defends them in the weakest manner possible, while “Socrates,” the representative of rationalism, tears them apart. This is what we in the business of, um, arguing call a strawman – an target created by the attacker to be as easy to destroy as possible. Politicians of both stripes, bloggers of indifferent writing skill, and Terry Goodkind are all experts at this sort of thing.

To be honest, this resembles a great many of the actual Socratic dialogues, because Socrates was a man who enjoyed poking a finger in the eyes of the stupid. I have little beef with Hart-Socrates’s dialogue, apart from how goddamn repetitive the whole thing gets. It’s perfectly rational and logical, and not everyone Socrates really went up against was an intellectual powerhouse. It reads pretty much like what it is – someone familiar enough with Christian doctrine to know it’s not for him.

The issue I have is two-fold. Firstly, the Christian strawman – it’s pathetic. Mr. Hart’s Jesus might as well be reading Chick Tracts out loud; he represents the worst of Christianity and the dearth of intellect. He inserts tired and well-worn Biblical quotes seemingly at random, when they have little or nothing to do with the subject being discussed. Finally, he commits the cardinal sin (pun intended) of religious debate – he tries to justify faith with logic, despite saying near the end of the dialogue “We must believe without asking for proof.” Mr. Hart’s Jesus uses faith as a fallback position when logic fails him, and that is a pretty sad representation of a believer.

My second issue is – why was this written? What was the point of this imaginary dialogue? It doesn’t take an intellectual powerhouse to understand that religious belief is not based on logic; it is an attempt to explain the inexplicable, to apprehend the mysteries of the world and provide comfort and meaning to human beings in a world sadly lacking in either. It’s a crutch. Again, I’m not breaking any new fucking ground here by saying this. The jackhammer is elsewhere at this point in time.

So why this extensive restatement of well-worn positions, in the puppet-mouths of philosopher and prophet? For agnostics and atheists, it’s nothing but confirming what we already knew. Christians are either going to apprehend it, in which case they’ll spot the logical fallacies (beginning with “Socrates” using the religion of his times, as charged with superstition and absurdity as any version of Christianity) and laugh it off, or they won’t, in which case they’ll just resent it as anyone does when reasonably educated people try to brute-force their way over the less well-educated.

Because that’s really what this is – a man with a decent education in the classical and the Christian alike using some of the crudest debating tactics imaginable to poke holes in a ship that’s already leaking from all sides. There’s no penetrating insight here, and nothing revolutionary like the original Socratic dialogues. All it does is purposefully make Christians look bad without offering other options; “Socrates” answers most of his own questions and “Jesus” seems to be fine with that.

The purpose of this blog is to “poke a finger in the eyes of the stupid.” A finger in the eye fucking hurts, but it also sure as hell wakes you up. It’s the sort of thing you think about. “Why did that man put his finger in my eye? What could have caused that? How can I not get my eye poked again?” James Hart is not waking anyone up; he is bludgeoning them into unconsciousness with large bales of straw. It’s one of the hallmarks of modern atheism that keeps me identifying myself as an agnostic; being offended by the mere existence of another man’s faith, to the point of destroying it out of sheer spite instead of urging him to question it with his own intellect, is just a new incarnation of the vituperative, canonical spite that’s driven religious extremism for centuries.

Socrates was first and foremost a teacher, and he taught by making his students question. He did not give them to answers, and he sure as hell did not browbeat the answers into them. A teacher cannot force knowledge, especially a heavily contested religious position, upon his students – that’s not education. That’s something else entirely. For lack of a better word, we’ll just call it re-education – and we all know who did that.

Yes, that’s right. I Godwin’d my own fucking blog post. It was the only way to stop myself from ranting. So I’ll just give Mr. James L. Hart, self-satisfied, unquestioning atheist, The Finger and move on.