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Jesus Versus Socrates

Entry 1762, on 2016-01-12 at 20:53:31 (Rating 3, Religion)

Recently the old question of the historicity of Jesus (that is, did he really exist) came up again, specifically in comparison to other historical figures, especially Socrates. It's an interesting and controversial subject in itself but I want to discuss a related topic here: the relative merit of the two individuals' ideas (let's assume they both existed for the sake of this discussion).

One of the big problems in discussing a person's contribution to society is deciding on how many of their ideas were genuinely original and not just borrowed from earlier thinkers. There's also the question of whether this matters, because making an idea widely known might be more important than just thinking about it first. To make matters worse there is the problem of contradictions from one person, interpretation of what they really meant, etc.

Of course, there is one more issue in this particular case which needs to be considered too. That is did Jesus have some sort of divine status or supernatural abilities? I mean, if he really was the son of God that sort of gives him an unfair advantage, doesn't it? Again, for the sake of this discussion I will assume he was just some normal person with some interesting ideas.

In many ways it seems like the whole idea of this discussion is hopeless. How do we untangle myth from reality? How do we decide which interpretation to use? Some people use Jesus' teachings to help the poor and promote peace while others use the same thing to accumulate wealth and start wars. How can the same ideas lead to such different actions?

Anyway, I need to move on to the actual central issue. Instead of looking at specific points from the two people I want to look at the underlying philosophy involved. In my opinion Socrates is by far the better person. I'm sure most of my readers won't be surprised to learn this because I am an unashamed skeptic and atheist!

Let's look at the Socratic method to start with. This involves a discussion between teacher and pupil which leads to more questions and deeper thought on the subject. So Socrates is encouraging a dialog between people, careful thought about the consequences of an idea, and rejecting already held beliefs if they don't stand up to scrutiny.

So what about Jesus? Well he really just tells people to do what he says or else you might end up in Hell. He is the only path to truth. No discussion, no argument, and no chance to test whether his ideas can actually withstand any critical examination.

For many people being told what is "true" is so much easier than having to think about it themself so the Jesus approach is good for them. But is it good for society as a whole? I don't think so.

And if you are a Christian and think that being told what to think by Jesus is OK then let's just change things a bit. What do you think about Muslims being told what to think my Mohammed? That hasn't worked out so well, has it? If being told what to think is not good for "them" then it's not good for "us" either.

Some Christians will also claim that they only started following their faith as a result of carefully thinking about it. I call bullshit on this! Just the fact that Christianity is usually called a "faith" shows that it's core beliefs come from revealed "knowledge" rather than critical examination of the facts. And if you read the alleged teaching of Jesus in the Bible it is clear he is more a dictator than a debater.

Another problem I have with Jesus is his incredible arrogance. Broadly speaking Socrates says "I know nothing" and Jesus says "I know everything". Assuming you start with the truth is not a good way to get to a closer appreciation of real facts. I think Socrate's approach is far more honest.

Let me give you an example of why I reject a lot (not all) of Jesus teaching. Here he is, revealing his true perspective, straight from the New Testament...

And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city. (Matthew 10:14 - 10:15)

So for Jesus it's do what I say or suffer the consequences. Maybe he wasn't such a nice guy after all. Give me Socrates any day!

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Comment 1 (4467) by SM on 2016-01-18 at 13:07:54:

“If you take my advice, you will give but little thought to Socrates but much more to the truth. If you think that what I say is true, agree with me; if not, oppose it with every argument”

Happy New Year.

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Comment 2 (4468) by OJB on 2016-01-18 at 21:15:43:

Well done. Nice reply!

Yes, I think Plato is right. We shouldn't take too much notice of what anyone says just because they are a famous philosopher, scientist, or even the son of God! On the other hand, it is worth looking at different philosophical ideas and to evaluate them for whatever truth they might hold. And if one person produces better philosophical ideas then another then we should respect him for that,

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