Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Would Hitler go to heaven if he believed in Jesus right before his death?

Sam & Socrates


Would Adolf Hitler be saved if he accepted Jesus as his Savior right before his death?

Sam: I was talking to a Christian and they said that if Adolf Hitler accepted Jesus as his Savior right before his death, then he would go to heaven.   I found that offensive and shocking.   How could they say that?

Socrates:  Well let us carefully think about what Christianity does teach and then we can apply it to this particular case.  

Do Christians believe that God will hold people responsible for their actions at their deaths and face a just judgment?

Sam:  From what I understand all that matters is if you trust Jesus as your Savior and there is nothing just about it. 

Socrates:  That may be true of some contemporary versions of Christianity.  But is that what was originally taught?

Sam:  I really don’t know.

Socrates:  Well going back to the early source materials of the first century, which represents the foundational basis of Christian thought,  we would find from the Hebrew Bible and the writings of the Apostles some thoughts on this issue. 

Let me see if I can find some examples:

"The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil."  Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

""Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt."  Daniel 12:2

""But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. "All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them from one another as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' "Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 'When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' "The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'

"Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.' "Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' "Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.""  Matthew 25:31-46

"But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of a man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God."  Romans 2:5-11

"And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,” Hebrews 9:27

So the basic theology of the Hebrew Bible, Messiah Jesus, and the early teachers of Christian faith seem to all be in agreement that the Creator God will judge every human being and will justly render to each person according to their deeds.   This seems to be the underlying philosophy that the people who originated Christian teaching hold to as a foundational truth upon which all their other thoughts are based. 

Sam:  So you are saying that the originators of Christianity taught that God would judge people for their moral actions when they die and every person would get a fair and just judgment according to what they did I this life.  

Socrates:  Yes, some speculate that Plato may have been influenced by Jewish thought when he also speculated on a final judgment following a death in the Republic. In the Myth of Er   [1]

The philosopher Kant also felt that the only way to maintain a system of justice and order in society that was rational was if one held to the reality of a final judgment by God.  [2]  So this idea of a final day of judgment on all human beings is one that has existed from ancient times until today. 

Historic Christian thought seems to be in agreement with these ideas.

Sam:  If that is the case then why isn’t what we hear?  Clearly from this point of view then Hitler could not be saved but would face just punishment for all the evil he did.  Justice would be fulfilled in this final judgment.

Socrates: I think that is a correct conclusion based on this foundational truth.  Christian philosophy said that there would be degrees of reward in heaven and degrees of suffering in hell.  No one would suffer more than would be just for him or her to suffer. 

The main point is that God will ultimately be fair with every human being. 

Sam:  So then original Christian sources teach that good people will be rewarded and go to heaven and bad people will be punished and go to hell. 

Socrates:  Yes and no.

Sam:  What do you mean by that?

Socrates:  While in theory all good people will be rewarded, there is extreme pessimism by the early Christians thinkers that people actually successfully achieve living righteous lives.  From the originators of Christian thought, the idea is that none of us would do well at judgment day based only on our own efforts.  Let me see if I can find that quote from on of the early Christian scholars.  Yes, here it is.

"What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, "THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE." "THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN GRAVE, WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY KEEP DECEIVING," "THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS"; "WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS"; "THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD, DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS, AND THE PATH OF PEACE THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN." "THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES." Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin."  Romans 3:9-20

So while good people will be rewarded, the viewpoint of the founders of Christian faith is that “none are good.”  So based on a totally fair judgment of moral performance, all have fallen short and need underserved forgiveness for their moral failures in order to not come under a just and fair condemnation of our moral performance in this life.

Sam: Then this would mean that  all of us  would face just and fair judgment for our moral failures at death?

Socrates:  From the Christian world-view this would be the truth.

Sam: Then how do Christians feel we can gain forgiveness?

Socrates:  This is where they expand upon the sacrificial system of Israel and connect it to the vision of a suffering Messiah who makes the ultimate sacrifice for the moral failures of God’s people as spoken about by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 53).

"Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way, But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him."  Isaiah 53:4-6

The converted Jewish theologian Saul reflects on this idea when he writes.

"But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus the Messiah for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Messiah Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law."  Romans 3:21-31

Now the faith that is spoken about by Saul is a morally transforming conviction that has deep regret over past wrongs, desire to make restitution for past moral failures, and a hunger to now live a right life.  This is no mere intellectual thought about Jesus but a deep and life-changing encounter with the Messiah Jesus.

Sam:  So forgiveness is gained because the Messiah Jesus has suffered the penalty in the place of those who seek God’s mercy on the judgment day and trust in the Messiah to be the mediator between them and God.   So God is just in forgiving moral failures because the Messiah suffered in their place. 

Socrates:  I think that is a fair summary of Christian thought. 

Sam:  So does that mean that Adolf Hitler would be saved if he accepted Jesus as his Savior before he died?

Socrates:  The problem here is that Adolf Hitler had committed his life to destroying historic Christian faith and recreating the Messiah Jesus into the picture of a Nazi who was not Jewish.   He actively attempted to destroy not only the Jews but also every person who opposed him due to their commitment to the historic Christian faith.   

Hitler’s worldview was largely secular and materialistic.   It would have been impossible for him to have a true conversion without a complete change of mind about every aspect of his worldview.  Christian conversion to be genuine must include a radical change of mind and philosophy in which Hitler would have renounced his Anti-Semitism and taken full moral responsibility and guilt for the torture and murder of millions.   It is hard to conceive how such a total and radical transformation could take place just before death. 

Sam:  So the reality is that Adolf Hitler faced the just judgment of God for committing himself to an unloving and anti-Christian worldview, which led to the deaths of tens of millions of people. 

Socrates:  That would seem to be the case. 

Now if we totally fantasize another history, if Hitler had really repented and been transformed he would not have killed himself but would have ended the conflict, freed the prisoners in the concentration camps, and plead guilty before a world court to face human justice. 

He would have attempted to use all the resources at his command to make restitution to the victims of he Holocaust. 

In theory then the mercy and grace of God could have been applied to Hitler due to the sacrifice of the Messiah.    It would mean that Hitler would have to accept a Jewish Messiah as his Savior and accept the Hebrew Bible as God’s Word.   These ideas are against the core of Hitler’s convictions about life.

So while we can speculate about forgiveness in extreme cases we must understand that historic Christian faith does not endorse “cheap grace.” In which such great destructive immoral actions are not serious and cry out for justice.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor martyred for his efforts to have Jews escape Germany and for his attempt to support the assignation of Hitler stated the important of making clear that historic Christian faith does not hold to “cheap grace.”

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjack’s’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices.

Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or
fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing….

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins….

In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace, therefore, amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. ‘All for sin could not atone.’ Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin…

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession… Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man’ will gladly go and self all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye, which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel, which must be sought again and again, and again, the gift, which must be asked for, the door at which, a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

Costly grace is the sanctuary of God; it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs. It is, therefore, the living word, the Word of God, which he speaks as it pleases him. Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus. It comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”[3]

Sam:  So Hitler could not be saved by “cheap grace”?

Socrates:  No one is saved by “cheap grace” according to historic Christian teaching but only by the real costly grace experienced in the real way with the real Messiah Jesus.  So the reality is that after Hitler’s suicide he confronted with all of his evil deeds and faced divine condemnation and just punishment for them. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

If there is a God, why doesn't God provide clear and undeniable evidence of existance?

Sam & Socrates discuss

If there is a God why doesn’t God provide clear
and undeniable evidence of existence?

Sam:  Good morning Socrates, how are you this morning?

Socrates:  Still drinking my first cup of coffee so things are getting better with each sip?  How about you?

Sam:  Been pondering a question.

Socrates:  Well that is always a good way to start the day.  So what question do you have your been musing about?

Sam:  If there were a God why would God not just provide clear and undeniable evidence to everyone of God’s existence?

Socrates:  That is a question that many have wrestled with as they have thought about God.   What are the possible answers?

Sam:  Well let me see: 

1.  No such clear and undeniable evidence exists because God does not exist.

2.  No evidence exists because God does not desire humanity to know of God’s existence.

3.  God does care about humanity.  If this is assumed then it could be that in some way if God did provide such clear and undeniable evidence of divine existence this would harm humanity.

4.  God providing such clear and undeniable evidence of divine existence would hinder some greater good from being attained.

5.  There is clear and undeniable evidence but humanity refuses to acknowledge it because of a lack of desire to know God or the ability to understand this evidence.

Socrates:  That seems a good place to start.  So let us look at each option.  Assuming that no clear and undeniable evidence exists of God being real, then does this prove that God does not exist?

Sam:  No, since the other options would indicate that such evidence does not exist but could be for many reasons ranging from indifference towards us to our indifference towards God.  So if any of these other options are true then God could still theoretically exist.
Socrates:  Also, while some degree of evidence seems to be lacking does this mean that there is no evidence of God’s existence at all

Sam:  No many have pointed to the contingency of the universe and the need of a necessary being, the evidence of design in the cosmos, existential experience of God’s existence, fulfilled prophecy, the resurrection of Jesus Christ and many other things as providing evidence for God’s existence.  

So if one found this evidence to provide a rational inductive argument to justify a conviction in God’s existence compelling, then God could exist, and also some reason that God chose to not provide such clear and compelling evidence to humanity.   [1]

Socrates:  So as long as a there is a possible rational reason for God not providing undeniable proof of the divine existence then the lack of this action by God to give such a demonstration would not require us to accept agnosticism or atheism as the only possible answers to the question of God.

Sam:  That would seem to be the case.

Socrates:  Then the next option we have is that a Creator God exists but there is lack of evidence of the divine existence simply because God does not have any interest in us or desire to make God’s existence known to humanity.  

Sam:  This perspective seems to reconcile the evidence for God’s existence and lack of undeniable evidence of that existence better that the last.  Here we can acknowledge the rational reasons to believe a Creator God exists and yet also understand why God seems hidden from us.  

Socrates:  Yet, we have here testimonies of answered prayers and claims of divine involvement, and even revelation.  Some of this testimony could be false but it is in such a large number of cases that it would be hard to think that none of this revelation and reports of God’s activity was true.   Even today it is reported that 51% of the people in the world believe in God and would feel that there is sufficient evidence for rational acceptance of God’s existence and even care for human beings. [2]  There is even rational defense for miracles and testimonies from modern Western nations that they do occur.[3]  So the claim that God has done nothing to make himself known would not seem to fit all the data and testimony we have historically or currently.

Sam:  So it would be hard to demonstrate that God simply created the universe and then refused to interact with us because of the extent and number of reports that indicate that people have encountered God in various ways.   So while God may not have provided concrete and universal evidence of God’s existence to each person,  it can be argued that God has provided some evidence of the divine existence and this would show a measure of concern for us to know about God.

Socrates:  So let us look at the answer that would say that such a concrete giving of evidence to humanity would do us harm.  

Sam:  I do not see how that can be?

Socrates:  Do you believe that if a person is given undeniable evidence and then rejects this evidence and works contrary to it that this is worst than a person who is given less evidence?

Sam:  What do you mean?

Socrates:  Let us say that a jury was given concrete and undeniable evidence that a person committed a murder.  They had videotapes, fingerprints, motive, and every amount of physical evidence you can imagine. In addition they had a signed confession from the accused person.  Yet, the jury felt that the victim deserved to be murdered and liked the personality of the murderer.  The jury declares the person innocent knowing that he/she is guilty.    Is that jury more accountable than a jury where the evidence is strong but not so absolute?

Sam:  The more knowledge a person has the greater the responsibility to act in accordance with the evidence.

Socrates:  Exactly, so let us assume that God would want the best outcome in providing evidence of the divine existence to us, and that God already knows the outcome of every possible universe.  If we assume a God who cares for humanity the only reason that such a divine being would not provide such concrete evidence is that the outcome would be to make humanity more responsible and yet not lead to a good response to this information.  In other words, the majority of people would not respond in a positive way and therefore be in greater moral guilt.

Sam:  But why would that be the case.

Socrates:  Do we always do what we know to be the right thing to do?

Sam:  No, many times we fail to act consistently with our highest ideals. 

Socrates:  The whole problem with ethics and morals is not so much that people don’t know what is right or wrong but even when they know what is right they don’t do it.  People do not always listen to their conscience.  So why do we think they would respond positively to greater evidence concerning God?

Sam:  I see what you mean.  Our moral problems are not so much caused by confusion about what we believe to be right or wrong but by our failure to do what we would say is the right thing to do.   So if this included the proper moral response to God, which would be absolute surrender and obedience, then those with greater revelation would be more morally responsible. 

Socrates:  That would seem to be the case.

Sam:  The other idea which is connected to this one suggests that some greater good might be lost if such concrete revelation was given. 

Socrates:  I think that we could imagine such a situation.  It is even possible that the process of needing to seek God and process information might actually lead more people to a deeper faith than if everything was handed to them on a silver spoon.   We value what we have to seek more than what we are simply given. 

There could also be other factors that might actually mean that more people respond positively with partial evidence instead of absolute evidence since it does not seemed forced on them.    Kierkegaard, argue that the only way that God could get the relationship God desires with humanity is by giving us less open evidence of his existence. [4] So in such a situation a God who cared about us would not provide absolute concrete evidence to every person. 

Sam:  So one could have in such a situation a God who cares for humanity and yet not provide concrete evidence of the divine existence. 

Socrates:  This is at least theoretically possible.

Sam:   That leads us to one other possibility and that is that God has provided clear evidence to humanity and we simply have refused to acknowledge it or accept it.  I don’t know how we could consider this a possibility.

Socrates:  It has been argued from natural theology for a long time that the universe itself presents clear evidence of a Creator. [5]  At an existential and experience level many people feel that the order they see around them is best explained by a Creator.  The argument has also been made that our moral conscience is evidence of as an ultimate moral judge. [6] 

In this case the argument is not that God has failed to provide sufficient and even compelling evidence but that humanity has suppressed this evidence because of a desire to avoid God’s existence.   So one could argue the problem is not with God but the problem is with humanity’s honesty with the evidence that does exist.

Sam:  So a God could exist that cares for humanity but who would not give us any more evidence than we have about the divine existence.  The fact that more evidence has not been given is not an indication of God not existing or that if a God exists, that God does not care enough about us to give us adequate evidence of the reality of the divine existence. 

Socrates:  I think this is a reasonable conclusion 

[1] The Cosmological Argument from Plato to Leibniz: (Library of Philosophy and Religion) by William Lane Craig
The Kalam Cosmological Argument by William L. Craig
The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer by J. P. Moreland
How to Think About God: A Guide for the 20th-century Pagan : One Who Does Not Worship the God of Christians, Jews...by Mortimer J. Adler
How to Prove There Is a God: Mortimer J. Adler's Writings and Thoughts About God by Mortimer Adler , Ken Dzugan

[3] Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life by Eric Metaxas

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What is the Socratic Method?


excerpted from Socrates Café by Christopher Phillips

The Socratic method is a way to seek truths by your own lights.

It is a system, a spirit, a method, a type of philosophical inquiry an intellectual technique, all rolled into one.

Socrates himself never spelled out a "method." However, the Socratic method is named after him because Socrates, more than any other before or since, models for us philosophy practiced - philosophy as deed, as way of living, as something that any of us can do. It is an open system of philosophical inquiry that allows one to interrogate from many vantage points.

Gregory Vlastos, a Socrates scholar and professor of philosophy at Princeton, described Socrates’ method of inquiry as "among the greatest achievements of humanity." Why? Because, he says, it makes philosophical inquiry "a common human enterprise, open to every man." Instead of requiring allegiance to a specific philosophical viewpoint or analytic technique or specialized vocabulary, the Socratic method "calls for common sense and common speech." And this, he says, "is as it should be, for how man should live is every man’s business."

I think, however, that the Socratic method goes beyond Vlastos’ description. It does not merely call for common sense but examines what common sense is. The Socratic method asks: Does the common sense of our day offer us the greatest potential for self-understanding and human excellence? Or is the prevailing common sense in fact a roadblock to realizing this potential?

Vlastos goes on to say that Socratic inquiry is by no means simple, and "calls not only for the highest degree of mental alertness of which anyone is capable" but also for "moral qualities of a high order: sincerity, humility, courage." Such qualities "protect against the possibility" that Socratic dialogue, no matter how rigorous, "would merely grind out . . . wild conclusions with irresponsible premises." I agree, though I would replace the quality of sincerity with honesty, since one can hold a conviction sincerely without examining it, while honesty would require that one subject one’s convictions to frequent scrutiny.

A Socratic dialogue reveals how different our outlooks can be on concepts we use every day. It reveals how different our philosophies are, and often how tenable - or untenable, as the case may be - a range of philosophies can be. Moreover, even the most universally recognized and used concept, when subjected to Socratic scrutiny, might reveal not only that there is not universal agreement, after all, on the meaning of any given concept, but that every single person has a somewhat different take on each and every concept under the sun.

What’s more, there seems to be no such thing as a concept so abstract, or a question so off base, that it cant be fruitfully explored at Socrates Café. In the course of Socratizing, it often turns out to be the case that some of the most so-called abstract concepts are intimately related to the most profoundly relevant human experiences. In fact, it’s been my experience that virtually any question can be plumbed Socratically. Sometimes you don’t know what question will have the most lasting and significant impact until you take a risk and delve into it for a while.

What distinguishes the Socratic method from mere nonsystematic inquiry is the sustained attempt to explore the ramifications of certain opinions and then offer compelling objections and alternatives. This scrupulous and exhaustive form of inquiry in many ways resembles the scientific method. But unlike Socratic inquiry, scientific inquiry would often lead us to believe that whatever is not measurable cannot be investigated. This "belief" fails to address such paramount human concerns as sorrow and joy and suffering and love.

Instead of focusing on the outer cosmos, Socrates focused primarily on human beings and their cosmos within, utilizing his method to open up new realms of self-knowledge while at the same time exposing a great deal of error, superstition, and dogmatic nonsense. The Spanish-born American philosopher and poet George Santayana said that Socrates knew that "the foreground of human life is necessarily moral and practical" and that "it is so even so for artists" - and even for scientists, try as some might to divorce their work from these dimensions of human existence.

Scholars call Socrates’ method the elenchus, which is Hellenistic Greek for inquiry or cross-examination. But it is not just any type of inquiry or examination. It is a type that reveals people to themselves, that makes them see what their opinions really amount to. C. D. C. Reeve, professor of philosophy at Reed College, gives the standard explanation of an elenchus in saying that its aim “is not simply to reach adequate definitions" of such things as virtues; rather, it also has a "moral reformatory purpose, for Socrates believes that regular elenctic philosophizing makes people happier and more virtuous than anything else. . . . Indeed philosophizing is so important for human welfare, on his view, that he is willing to accept execution rather than give it up."

Socrates’ method of examination can indeed be a vital part of existence, but I would not go so far as to say that it should be. And I do not think that Socrates felt that habitual use of this method "makes people happier." The fulfillment that comes from Socratizing comes only at a price - it could well make us unhappier, more uncertain, more troubled, as well as more fulfilled. It can leave us with a sense that we don’t know the answers after all, that we are much further from knowing the answers than we’d ever realized before engaging in Socratic discourse. And this is fulfilling - and exhilarating and humbling and perplexing. We may leave a Socrates Café - in all likelihood we will leave a Socrates Café - with a heady sense that there are many more ways and truths and lights by which to examine any given concept than we had ever before imagined.

In The Gay Science, Friedrich Nietzsche said, "I admire the courage and wisdom of Socrates in all he did, said - and did not say." Nietzsche was a distinguished nineteenth-century classical philologist before he abandoned the academic fold and became known for championing a type of heroic individual who would create a life - affirming "will to power" ethic. In the spirit of his writings on such individuals, whom he described as "supermen,’, Nietzsche lauded Socrates as a "genius of the heart. . . whose voice knows how to descend into the depths of every soul . . . who teaches one to listen, who smoothes rough souls and lets them taste a new yearning . . . who divines the hidden and forgotten treasure, the drop of goodness . . . from whose touch everyone goes away richer, not having found grace nor amazed, not as blessed and oppressed by the good of another, but richer in himself, opened . . . less sure perhaps... but full of hopes that as yet have no name." I only differ with Nietzsche when he characterizes Socrates as someone who descended into the depths of others’ souls. To the contrary Socrates enabled those with whom he engaged in dialogues to descend into the depths of their own souls and create their own life - affirming ethic.

Santayana said that he would never hold views in philosophy which he did not believe in daily life, and that he would deem it dishonest and even spineless to advance or entertain views in discourse which were not those under which he habitually lived. But there is no neat divide between one’s views of philosophy and of life. They are overlapping and kindred views. It is virtually impossible in many instances to know what we believe in daily life until we engage others in dialogue. Likewise, to discover our philosophical views, we must engage with ourselves, with the lives we already lead. Our views form, change, evolve, as we participate in this dialogue. It is the only way truly to discover what philosophical colors we sail under. Everyone at some point preaches to himself and others what he does not yet practice; everyone acts in or on the world in ways that are in some way contradictory or inconsistent with the views he or she confesses or professes to hold. For instance, the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, the influential founder of existentialism, put Socratic principles to use in writing his dissertation on the concept of irony in Socrates, often using pseudonyms so he could argue his own positions with himself. In addition, the sixteenth-century essayist Michel de Montaigne, who was called "the French Socrates" and was known as the father of skepticism in modern Europe, would write and add conflicting and even contradictory passages in the same work. And like Socrates, he believed the search for truth was worth dying for.

The Socratic method forces people "to confront their own dogmatism," according to Leonard Nelson, a German philosopher who wrote on such subjects as ethics and theory of knowledge until he was forced by the rise of Nazism to quit. By doing so, participants in Socratic dialogue are, in effect,"forcing themselves to be free," Nelson maintains. But they’re not just confronted with their own dogmatism. In the course of a Socrates Café, they may be confronted with an array of hypotheses, convictions, conjectures and theories offered by the other participants, and themselves - all of which subscribe to some sort of dogma. The Socratic method requires that - honestly and openly, rationally and imaginatively - they confront the dogma by asking such questions as: What does this mean? What speaks for and against it? Are there alternative ways of considering it that are even more plausible and tenable?

At certain junctures of a Socratic dialogue, the "forcing" that this confrontation entails - the insistence that each participant carefully articulate her singular philosophical perspective - can be upsetting. But that is all to the good. If it never touches any nerves, if it doesn't upset, if it doesn't mentally and spiritually challenge and perplex, in a wonderful and exhilarating way, it is not Socratic dialogue. This "forcing" opens us up to the varieties of experiences of others - whether through direct dialogue, or through other means, like drama or books, or through a work of art or a dance. It compels us to explore alternative perspectives, asking what might be said for or against each.

Keep this ethos in mind if you ever, for instance, feel tempted to ask a question like this one once posed at a Socrates Café: How can we overcome alienation? Challenge the premise of the question at the outset. You may need to ask: Is alienation something we always want to overcome? For instance, Shakespeare and Goethe may have written their timeless works because they embraced their sense of alienation rather than attempting to escape it. If this was so, then you might want to ask: Are there many different types, and degrees, of alienation? Depending on the context, are there some types that you want to overcome and other types that you do not at all want to overcome but rather want to incorporate into yourself? And to answer effectively such questions, you first need to ask and answer such questions as: What is alienation? What does it mean to overcome alienation? Why would we ever want to overcome alienation? What are some of the many different types of alienation? What are the criteria or traits that link each of these types? Is it possible to be completely alienated? And many more questions besides.

Those who become smitten with the Socratic method of philosophical inquiry thrive on the question. They never run out of questions, or out of new ways to question. Some of Socrates Café’s most avid philosophizers are, for me, the question personified.