70. Christmas and Serpent Killing

Christ ultimately came to defeat the serpent and it would do us good to remember this when considering the true meaning of Christmas.
Icon of Christ depicting him treading on a serpent and a lion, Cappella Arcivescovile (Archbishop’s Chapel), Ravenna, Italy, c. 600 A.D.

In reality, many of us do not look forward to Christmas because it is a time of stress at worst, or syrupy sentimentalism at best. This is because we have lost the true meaning of Christmas – the killing of serpents. Once we realize that Christmas is about killing serpents, then our lives will improve greatly and we will be invigorated with a zest for living again.

Genesis 3:15 is the first prophesy in the Bible announcing the coming of the Messiah, the birth of Jesus.1 It is the first Christmas prophecy, if you will, and speaks about the coming of the Savior, a Savior who came to crush the serpent’s head.

So the Lord God said to the serpent…”I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

– Genesis 3:15 (RSV)
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69. Plato’s ‘Crito’: Crito’s Attempt to Rescue Socrates from Death, Part 1

Socrates' non-philosopher friend Crito tries to convince him to escape his death sentence.
Crito closes the eyes of his deceased friend Socrates in a late 18th century relief by sculptor Antonio Canova

In Plato’s dialogue Crito, we have an account of an attempt by Crito to rescue Socrates from death. Crito had devised a way of escape, but Socrates refused. Socrates’ adamant refusal to save his own life gives us yet another glimpse into the life of this humble philosopher who changed the course of Western civilization.

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68. Plato’s Apology: Socrates’ Defense at His Trial Before His Execution, Part 2

Socrates' testimony prior to his execution seems to indicate that Socrates believed in the one true God.
Socrates Address by Belgian artist Louis Joseph Lebrun, 1867

Socrates left no writings of his own, and all we know about him comes through Plato’s writings, including his dialogue Apology. The Apology is a recounting, through Plato’s eyes, of Socrates’ testimony and the trial leading up to his execution. Of all of Plato’s writings, this dialogue especially captures the human side of Socrates and his belief in a singular god. If we want to know Socrates the man – his desires, motivations, struggles, and core beliefs – then this is the dialogue to read. It is as if Plato takes the two-dimensional, black-and-white image of Socrates that we are all accustomed to and adds vivid color, breathing new life into him and animating him to the point that we feel like we know him.

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67. Plato’s Apology: Socrates’ Defense at His Trial Before His Execution, Part 1

The trial of Socrates, as presented in Plato's Apology, featured an amazing defense of himself, typical of Socrates' style of getting others to think for themselves.
Trial of Socrates by English School

Most defendants in a capital case have the singular goal of saving their own lives. With Socrates, we get a different impression. Although he would have no doubt welcomed an acquittal, we get the sense that Socrates’ primary goal was to enlighten those in the Athenian courtroom the day of his trial – to encourage them to seek the truth – since he was always the consummate teacher.

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66. The Only Way to Save the Earth

This painting reminds us of the awe-inspiring nature of Earth as God's creation. The Christian view of climate change can align with the green revolution and the pop culture idea to save the earth if we keep in mind why the earth was created in the first place.
Noah: The Eve of the Deluge, oil on canvas painting by John Linnell, 1848, Cleveland Museum of Art

I want to save the earth just about as much as anyone else. It’s is all the rage these days. And as I think about it, I probably want to save the earth more than most other people. If you want to save the earth, chances are that your ambitions are actually way too small. You see, I don’t just want to save the earth, I want an entirely new one. This earth seems worn out. Why not replace it?

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65. Euthyphro’s Dilemma and the Relationship Between God and Goodness

St. Thomas Aquinas repopularized the work of the Greeks, including Plato and Aristotle, leading those in modern times to examine what he might have thought about Euthyphro's dilemma.

What is the relationship between God and justice? Is something just because God wills it, or does God will it because it is just? This is the essence of what has been termed Euthyphro’s dilemma. I introduced this in my previous post 64 in the context of Socrates questioning a young, arrogant man, named Euthyphro, on the nature of piety in the eponymously named dialogue by Plato.

In that dialogue, Euthyphro, Socrates posits the question as follows:

Consider this: Is the pious being loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is being loved by the gods?

– Plato, Euthyphro 10a

We can really substitute the words “justice” and “goodness” for the word “piety” to frame the question in more modern terminology. In other words, is something good because God wills it, or does God will it because it is good?

And lest we think that this discussion is not relevant for today, consider the following line by rapper Jay-Z from the song “No Church in the Wild”:

Is pious pious ’cause God loves pious? Socrates asked ‘Whose bias do y’all seek?’1

What is the significance of this dilemma for us today and why did Jay-Z reference it?

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64. Socrates’ Authentic Search for Piety in Plato’s Dialogue ‘Euthyphro’

Socrates found himself in some trouble in Plato’s Euthyphro. He had just been indicted on serious charges by a relatively unknown Athenian citizen. Miletus, his principle accuser, was simply a mouthpiece and puppet for Socrates’ true arch-enemy Anytus, a powerful Athenian politician.1 Miletus’ affidavit stated that Socrates was guilty of corrupting the youth and also of impiety towards the gods – both serious offenses, the impiety charge being especially so.

When the dialogue opens, we find Socrates at the king-archon’s court to answer his indictments. King-archon was one of the nine principle magistrates of Athens.2 This particular court had oversight of legal cases involving alleged offenses of impiety toward the Olympian gods. The worship of the gods, which included various rituals and purifications, fell under the purview of the civil government.

At the court, Socrates just happened to run into Euthyphro, a professional priest who considered himself, and was considered by others, to be an expert in such matters of piety and ritual.3 Euthyphro tells Socrates that he is there to file murder charges against his father.

What is the purpose of this dialogue? At the end, I will give you my unique perspective that I have not seen anywhere else.

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63. Plato’s Dialogues: Alcibiades and the Challenge of Self-Examination

Socrates had a challenge with the prideful Alcibiades in guiding him through a journey of self-discovery in which he realized his own ignorance.
Alcibiades Being Taught by Socrates (1776) by neoclassical French painter François-André Vincent

Alcibiades was a young man in Athens who seemingly had everything: looks, noble birth, friends and connections in high places, and intense ambition to go with it all. He was a proud young man who elicited envy from his peers. One person who wasn’t envious, but instead, deeply concerned, was none other than Socrates himself. Socrates’ line of intense questioning led the nineteen-year-old Alcibiades on a journey of self-discovery with hopes of his betterment as a citizen and leader.

Welcome to one of Plato’s earliest and most intriguing dialogues – Alcibiades. It is also one of the most foundational because through the entertaining interchange between Socrates and Alcibiades, Plato brings us into the deeper philosophical waters of self-examination and the meaning of human nature.

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62. Plato’s Great Political Failures in Sicily and Beyond

Plato's failures in Sicily with Dionysius I and II indicate how difficult it can be for a government to rule with principles of virtue. Today, we recognize Plato's teachings as ultimately focusing on virtuous leadership.
Dionysius II makes Damocles aware of the sword hanging above his head in a painting by Richard Westall, 1812

Plato failed. He failed three times in trying to establish his ideal philosopher-king in Syracuse, Sicily. But when we think of Plato, we do not think of failure; on the contrary, we think of one of the most accomplished people in history. After all, he did leave an impressive corpus of philosophical dialogues that proved to be indispensable in laying the foundation of Western civilization. He is in that exclusive club of the top five most influential philosophers of Western civilization that includes, aside from himself, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, and Marx. But Plato also failed, and failed miserably. In this post, I want to talk about why this aspect of Plato’s life is relevant for us today.

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61. Plato Establishes His Academy – The Greatest Philosopher 5

Plato established his Academy in Athens after a run-in with Dionysius I, being sold into slavery, and almost being sentenced to death in Aegina.
The modern Academy of Athens, ext. March 18, 1926, is based in principle on Plato’s Academy.

This is part five of a fictional dialogue amongst friends discussing the life of Plato. Please read the previous post for immediate context. If you want to start at the beginning, see post 57. Plato fled Athens after the execution of his friend and teacher Socrates for obvious reasons. Plato traveled for almost two decades afterward, his most significant time being spent in Egypt. After his time in Egypt, he traveled to Sicily where he found himself in hot water with Dionysius I, tyrant of Sicily. We pick up the story at the end of a conversation between Plato and Dionysius that quickly turned sour.

Come and join Xenon and the other guests as they meet at the home of Damien for dinner and conversation about the life of Plato….

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