Socrates didn’t believe in God. Apparently. Socrates did, though, have an argument with a guy named Euthephro about holiness.
Is a thing holy because it has been favored by the Gods? Or is it favored by the god because it is holy?
Socrates was always looking for something. Searching amid the rubble for something. A reason for living. An answer to the question: what is right? What is virtuous? Is there an afterlife?
Does day follow night? And does, then, night follow day? Does summer follow winter? And then, does winter follow summer? Do we sleep and then wake and then sleep again? Why should death be different?
But, Socrates, you have never been dead. And neither has anyone else. At least not so we can remember. So, all your arguments are for naught. No living man knows whether or not there is an afterlife.
So, says Socrates. We can both agree that no man can prove what happens beyond this life. But at least grant me this: Are we not more inclined to live a virtuous life if we believe that there is another life beyond this life?
(I’m taking huge liberties here. Socrates never actually said this stuff. The progression of his thoughts is more elegant than the progression of mine. And his thoughts, in themselves, are more solid. And his words were, therefore, more eloquent. I don’t speak ancient Greek. And I never will. So I do what my laziness will permit. I’m at the mercy of shifting language and shifting memory and the internet.) So, forget what Socrates said or didn’t say. In fact, fuck Socrates altogether. Answer this: Are we more inclined to live a virtuous life (a holy life) (an inherently good life) if we believe there is another life beyond this one? If there is a solid truth beyond all the misty half-truths we are so well acquainted with? And what if there is no God? No second life? Or third? Nothing beyond us. No spirit encompassing us. Does it make any difference one way or the other?
I was doing a reading at a book club two nights ago and I kept talking about how the world brings us to a place where we need to choose. “We don’t wake up every morning and choose to go to work,” I said. “We don’t weigh all the pros and cons every day. We just. . .go to work. It’s what we do. We don’t decide, each day, to be married. Or single. Or to stay with our children. Or abandon them. It’s like, we’ve already made those choices and we don’t need to re-make them each and every minute of our lives. And time goes on like that. We fall into these chutes of time. Like chutes and ladders. And years go by. Ten years goes by. And, when we think about it, we realize we haven’t made a single choice. Not really. Maybe between Chunky and Progresso. Or (what’s that guy?) Wolfgang Puck or whatever. But nothing big. Just these little shitty ass decisions. And maybe we don’t want to make a big choice. Maybe we want to keep it on autopilot and just keep going until it’s over. But we are not afforded that luxury. God brings us to a place where we need to make a big choice. A flood comes and changes everything. And we need to answer those questions again.”
“You keep talking about miracles and God and stuff,” said one woman. “Can’t it be just. . .life? Like, the way things are?”
“Sure,” I said. “Sure it can. And maybe it is. Let’s see. . .who believes in God?”
The women, about ten in all, hesitated and exchanged glances. “Which ones of you believe in God?”
Three or four raised their hands.
“How many don’t?”
Two women raised their hands.
“How many don’t know?”
A few more.
I told the women that I agreed with all of them. Each one of them. “I believe in God. And I don’t believe in God. And I don’t know,” I said. “But. . .I do want to believe in God. I do want to.”
I was tempted to say something like, “Either there is a God or there is not. Since no sane person ever holds any kind of steady correspondence with God, and no one ever actually sees God, I don’t see as it makes much difference what we believe. If there is a God, I don’t think (he, she, it) would enter into existence or go out of existence based on what we believe or don’t believe.” But I couldn't say these words because I considered love. There are bumper stickers that claim “God is Love.” And if that’s true, since love does come into existence and go out of existence depending upon whether be believe in it or not, then the same may be said for God.
Hard lines are drawn between the people who believe in the existence of God and those who do not. People far to one side or the other seem quite sure of themselves. Most of the time, when the subject comes up, someone gets all pissed off about it and thinks the person on the other side of the fence is a fool.
I’d like to get to the bottom of it. What is the correct answer? Is there or is there not a God?
Okay, let’s answer this question: First, we’ll define our terms.
What does “existence” mean?
What does “God” mean?
After we define these terms, and only after we define them, can we enter into a discussion of the existence or non-existence of God.
Unfortunately for those of us who are not fools, that’s where the discussion must end.
For myself, I can discuss it all day long. Why not? It is my fate to talk about things I have no concept of. What else can I do? We have invented words we can’t define. We blow around in the air without any clue regarding anything of the least importance. We’re like little particles of dust in a shaft of light. If there is, indeed a shaft of light. And if dust particles do exist.