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Monday, September 27, 2010

The Gospel of Beckett

This article is a POE of Christianity, inspired by Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

And Godot’s Messenger said unto them:

“Blessed be the willfully ignorant, for they shall make the ignorant willful. Cursed be the knowers, for their knowledge is their tower of Babel. These intellectuals use knowledge as authority, so they compete with our Lord Godot. The intellectuals become dictators, using the authority of reason to oppress the ignorant with their reeducation. The intellectuals treat the willfully ignorant as barbarians and shove their godotless policies down our throats. Our Lord Godot, for whom we wait, has higher reason, which it infinitely greater than our own human unreason. The sheer fact that we cannot understand His reason proves He is wiser than ourselves. And Godot commands us, ‘Go out and make willful the ignorant of all nations,’ for this is His great commission.

“Blessed be the self-enslaved, for Godot is their Lord in mind and body. Cursed be the free, for they are unaided in their human struggles. When asked, ‘Where have our rights gone,’ respond, ‘We have gotten rid of them.” The self-enslaved rid themselves of these rights which make man his own authority. To be in His flock, be like sheep. Jesse, Godot’s son, commands me to be a German shepherd for you my fellow Jestians. I will bark at you from all sides, motivating you with blind fear in the straight and narrow. And fear the Jessane must the wolf that endangers them with his hungry free mouth. Only those strong in fear can fight the temptations of freedom and the infection of the Lupus.

“Blessed be the sneeezers, for they bring blameless death and great Heaven. Cursed be those who heal, for they love life. Socrates, man of knowing ignorance and great piety to the divine and customs who became a martyr of his divine mission, told his companions not to weep at his death and that death is a cure for life’s ills. Pascal, whose wager confirms our belief that doubters are foolishly unrestrained thinkers, taught us that Heaven is of infinite value. Death is of no cost and life of infinitely less value than Heaven; therefore, let us embrace sickness. We do willfully die this way, for sickness puts no blame of suicide on us. And remember flock that it is those who love life who waste it by enjoying the fruits of wide and sinful path, for this life must be dedicated to Godot in order to get to Heaven.

“Blessed be those in Heaven, for they were right! Cursed be those in Hell for they were foolish not to see we were right! Heavenites say to those Hellites, ‘told you so!’ When you meet a doubter, tell him, ‘Death shall prove finally to you that I was right.’ For what truly matters to us willfully ignorant, is that we are right and we get to go to Heaven. We will lie on the purple couches and look out the window into Hell and partake in one laugh with Godot. One eternal ha….

“Just a minute, this is not a fair trade, one laugh for pork and sex. There is no way an eternal moment of non-changing bliss is worth more than the variety of emotion during life. I just cannot shake my love of life, the flux, the roller coaster ride of emotion. Good-bye willfully ignorant, I have ceased to be willful.”

*

“Looking back, religion is buffoonery…I cannot believe what I was not thinking. Oh look the thought-police have come to take me to the guillotine…I should have know that speaking out my deconversion from the pulpit would be suicide. To think for the first time is not thinking, for I have had no practice.”

*

And they led him to the scaffold, and before he was executed they asked him if he had any last words. He spoke, “I will have my last laugh.” He laid his head upon the wooden collar. Time seemed to stop. He breathed slowly while attempting to shape his face into a smile, but he could not muster the strength. Before he could not laugh, the blade fell.

Time began again. His head rolled into a basket and blinked thirteen times before Death accepted his exchange. Whether he died between two thieves or in the midst of the youths that atheist had corrupted, it matters not. This is a fictitious story anyways.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Ethea and Society: The Imprisonment of Socrates and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Eric Stockhausen

September 16, 2010

Word Count: 1,214

Ethea and Society: The Imprisonment of Socrates and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Both Socrates and Martin Luther King, Jr. embrace imprisonment as a consequence of the tension between their ethea and society. Socrates and Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) exercise freedom by following their bioi over local customs of oppression. Ethea are guiding spirits which motivate ideas and actions, but can also refer to ideals and beliefs of a culture. Both Socrates and MLK have guiding spirits, which they appeal to as a higher authority. Bioi is to lead a way of life, and Aristotle “distinguished three bioi which man might choose freedom” (Arendt 13). King and Socrates lead different ways of free living. Though their ethea and bioi are different, imprisonment does not impede their kind of freedom. Applying the trade-unionism-like model of rebellion of Albert Camus, both MLK and Socrates rebel in the sense that they assert values essential to their ethea; though unintentionally in Socrates case, they become examples for their fellow human beings.

Athens sentences Socrates by a two-thirds vote to death. Because Socrates employs reason unaided by sophisms popular at his time, his apology offends his jurors. Athenians already has a prejudice against Socrates taught to them by the accusers, so it was emotion and not reason that sentenced him. Socrates opines that Athenians need him to enlighten them and steer them from folly. In order to live his ethos and follow his divine sign, Socrates considers himself obligated to live the philosopher’s life and prove the claim made by the Oracle of Delphi. Not only is he obligated by his divine quest, but Socrates feels that the unexamined life is not worth living (Apology 38a). Imprisoned, Socrates persuades his elder companion Crito that exile would be worse than death because if the Athenians would not accept him, then foreigners would be even less likely to. He also has attachment to the Law that nurtured him and derives meaning from his obedience, so Socrates feels an obligation to follow the Law. Drinking the hemlock, Socrates has repeatedly asserted to himself and his followers that death may be good in order for all of them to cope with his execution.

Socrates follows bios theoretikos, the life of the thinker or contemplator. Socrates in The Apology explains that he did not take part in the praxis (action) of the bios politikos (life of the statesman) in order to be safe and to concentrate on his philosophizing (Ardent 14). He was a citizen of Athens. He served the military and benefitted from the guiding spirit of the Law. By emphasizing the value of the examined life, Socrates acts freely as a thinker. Prison only restricts his body and capital punishment only shortens his life. Even in prison, he continues his dialogues, living consistently with his bios. Though Socrates used the ethos of the divine as a higher authority, the life of the philosopher represents the freedom of his guiding spirit.

Socrates rebels in the sense that he asserts the rights of others. As Albert Camus claims in The Rebel, “I rebel—therefore, we exist” (Camus 22). Camus means that rebelling inherently means to confirm solidarity. Socrates unintentionally extends the ideal of the philosopher’s life to the people of Athens and eventually to Western thought in general. His followers took on Socrates’ mantle, especially Plato, and out of Socrates came the birth of Western philosophy. In The Apology, Socrates claims not to be corrupting the youth intentionally because by doing so, in his words, he would harm himself. The young Athenians follow Socrates in the streets, learning to question those who claim wisdom and finding entertainment in Socrates interrogations. Socrates asserts that he did not intend for the Athenian youths to take to his dialogues. They also decide to follow Socrates without his approval. Despite unintentionally rebelling, Socrates becomes an example by asserting his particular ethos. Like a slave, who rebels against his master when he or she reaches a limit of oppression, by asserting freedom, Socrates asserts a value on his ethos by choosing philosophy, imprisonment, and death over exile.

Birmingham incarcerates Martin Luther King, Jr., because he had dared to question the local customs. The de facto segregation oppressed the African Americans, in MLK’s opinion, more than anywhere else in the country (King 99). Contacted by a local affiliate, MLK came to Birmingham in order participate in nonviolent direct action protest. The city neither imprisoned King indefinitely nor sentences him to death, but will eventually free him. While in jail, MLK responds to some clergymen. In his letter, he defends his actions, arguing for the effectiveness and necessity of direct action.

Martin Luther King, Jr., rebels against the status quo, asserting a value for justice and for civil rights founded on the ethea of Satyagraha and Christianity. Part of method of protest, to which MLK subscribes, is “collectivization of facts” (King 99). After determining their grievances, a protestor decides if he or she has reached a limit. Satyagraha means holding firmly to truth, which King exemplifies by not breaking from his principles during the “ordeal of prison” (King 100). Both Satyagraha and Christianity had long histories and were passed from generation to generation in order for them to reach MLK. By accepting imprisonment, MLK confirms the principles of Christianity and Satyagraha for all.

Martin Luther King, Jr., had the bios politikos or life of the politician. He led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, aided his organization’s affiliate and appeared on national news (King 99). Basically, he backed his bios with praxis (action). In this case, he followed the tradition of nonviolent direct action. Politikos means man of the city, and in A Letter From Birmingham Jail, MLK partakes in both local and national politics. MLK expressed the freedom by following his ethea in political action.

Both Socrates and MLK exist within the authority of their respective ethea can exercise freedom by the means of their bios. For both, there is a concept of the Law, which has a divine basis. By living within the ethical limits of this Law, they act freely. For them a human being wants to act justly, and to act according to that desire is freedom. The guiding spirit, whether a divine sign or some Judeo-Christian deity, establishes those ethical boundaries. But just having boundaries and knowing the just from the unjust is not enough, Socrates and MLK also have bioi. For Socrates, he leads the life of the philosopher. MLK leads the life of the politician. While these are different faucets of action, they have a kind of freedom that imprisonment does not take from them. This means that because society is unjust for not letting them act according the highest authority; for Socrates and MLK, being ethical necessitates aggravating society and being imprisoned.

Tension between the just individual and the unjust society results in innocent people being incarcerated, but as Socrates claims a “good man cannot be harmed” (Crito 48b), the just person remains free while embracing imprisonment. Despite Martin Luther King, Jr., and Socrates having a freedom from righteousness, the question of who is freer still stands. Is political freedom greater than philosophical freedom? Is it better to be the founder of a new freedom (like in Socrates case) or an inheritor of the rebel’s tradition? Even with these questions of value, both MLK and Socrates are great spirits, becoming authorities on justice for inheritors of the freedom tradition.


Works Cited:

Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. New York: Doublebay and Company, Inc.: 1959

Camus, Albert. The Rebel. Translated and Revised by Anthony Bower. New York: Vintage International, 1991.

King, Martin Luther, Jr. A Letter From Birmingham Jail. 1961.

Plato. The Trial and Death of Socrates. Translated by G. M. A. Grube and Revised by John M. Cooper. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2000.

Appendage:

Henry Thoreau derived nonviolent protest from Eastern philosophy. Reading Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, Mahatma Gandhi conceived of Satyagraha, which means holding firmly to truth. Gandhi’s protests in India inspire MLK’s nonviolent direct action protest.

Martin Luther king, Jr., and Socrates rely on ethea, utilize rational arguments, act freely while imprisoned and assert values with rebellious actions. An ideal as concept of rebellion is “if not religious at least metaphysical” (Camus 170). Guiding spirits provide individuals ordering principles for their lives, so that they can believe away the absurd or meaninglessness. A divine sign and the tradition of Christianity supply MLK and Socrates respectively with abstract ideals in which to make their lives ultimately meaningful. The actions that this ultimate meaning necessitates make them free in the positive sense.

Neither MLK nor Socrates abandons humanity for this ideal presented by their ethea. As Socrates is an Athenian, MLK is an American. These group identities are human, as opposed to divine, in nature and represent their humanism. Humanity as an ideal can become a replacement for a deity, as it did for the Soviets. Because MLK and Socrates have solidarity with their tribes, their humanism is not religious. With humanism comes secular philosophy, which is characterized by open-endedness and reliance on reason. In order to persuade, both MLK and Socrates rely on arguments appealing to both human and divine concepts. Now an ethos can be secular if it is a custom or a social contract. In MLK’s case, the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court cases are secular entities, receiving their power from the consent of the governed (though often a deity is referred to as a higher authority in the people’s place). While in prison, both exercise their bioi, so are still essentially free. Their rebellious praxis represented their particular values, which make them examples for society.