Epicurus muttered, "None of this affects me at all," excused himself, and slipped out the back door practically unnoticed. That left the table unbalanced. On one side were the ancient worlders: Plato and Aristotle, heads together in deep discussion, and Socrates, who appeared to be gently questioning Miletus while Sextus Empiricus studiously withheld judgement on the proceedings.The opposite end of the table was mostly held by the enlightenment gang, with Lao-Tze as the sole outlier, holding down the farthest end of the table as he watched the proceedings, imperturbably. Voltaire had given up on his hopes of getting Lao-Tze to appreciate his witticisms, and shifted his focus to Rousseau, who was trying to hide behind the equally imperturbable bulk of David Hume. Neitzsche was berating Hume, loudly, and making wickedly poetic assertions that made Spinoza occasionally put his head down and "facepalm" though he quickly converted the gesture to what appeared to be a thoughtful forehead-rub. Lao-Tze caught his eye on one of these occasions and his face lit with a brief smile of utter joy, which Spinoza found himself sharing.
In the center of the table, of course, was the guest of honor's seat. When Jesus arrived and sat down, quietly, you could hear a pin drop. The assembled lovers of wisdom stopped what they were doing, Voltaire with his hand raised and crooked, frozen in the middle of an elegantly airy gesture, and Hume with a very fine piece of smoked fish halfway to his mouth. Sextus Empiricus raised a sardonic eyebrow, as The Nazarene made a gesture encompassing them all, "I greet you!" he said.
The silence in the room would make your ears ring, until Socrates stood and asked gently, "Whence, therefore, Evil?" Neitzsche blew his breath out through his mustache and sat back, "ah!" and Lao-Tze's smile became more joyful, if such a thing was possible, still. Everyone in the room waited for The Nazarene's reply.
My mind does strange things when I'm flying a red-eye coast-to-coast and have had a couple glasses of red wine prior to boarding. I'd been discussing religion with a fellow I'd met recently and one of the things he'd said the day before was that "Jesus was a great philosopher." I know I cringed visibly when I heard that, but at the time I was playing nice so I didn't say anything. Perhaps you've heard similar things about the "great philosophy" in the bible (or, for that matter, the koran, book of mormon, or much of the buddhist literature) The reason that assertion is so cringe-worthy is because those books contain virtually nothing resembling a coherent philosophy, and none of the characters in those books are remotely anything like philosophers. In the case of Jesus, he was a god-man supposedly part of the supernatural forces that give man morality and free will through assertion (if you're a christian who accepts divine command theory) I was thinking that none of the real philosophers I've read say "Because I said so" and mistook that for a philosophical argument.
If the son of god were a philosopher, and showed up on earth in a form whereby he could be questioned by humans, he'd immediately barraged with important and interesting questions. Not the little piffle like "hey, check out this adulterer we're going to stone, derp, derp!" or "can you turn this water into some more wine? Perhaps a good Zinfandel?" but, as Socrates would ask, "Whence, therefore, Evil?"
Think about it. If you're a philosopher and suddenly found yourself face to face with a real honest to goodness supreme being, you would not ask it whether it wore boxer shorts or briefs. There are so, so many questions that a real philosopher would immediately ask! In my little fantasy scenario above, I imagine that Jesus would have had a pretty hot and sweaty time once Voltaire started backing up Socrates' questions, and with Plato and Aristotle standing by to check his logic, "because I said so" wouldn't get him very far at all. I assembled my cast of characters carefully, because:
- Socrates would be absolutely fearless in being willing to question a god. He died, apparently quite graciously, because he loved philosophy and did not fear what earthly powers could do to his body. He would not hesitate for a moment to annoy the living fuck out of a god, just as he annoyed so many of the politicians and thinkers of great Athens.
- Plato would no doubt wish to resume the question he voiced through Socrates in my favorite of his dialogs, the Euthyphro, namely, "Is there a piety that the gods love, or is something pious simply because it is loved by the gods?" A real philosopher would not let Jesus stand there without explaining whether he was the source of all morals or whether he adhered to a set of higher morals himself and, if so, where those morals came from.
- Aristotle would ask Jesus, in his role as god, "where did god come from?" The great systematizer of philosophy would not allow such an important question to hang.
- Thales would doubtless have some questions about the nature and origin of the universe.
- Sextus Empiricus (assisted ably by David Hume) would confuse Jesus unbearably by querying his epistemology: if god is the source of all knowledge, how did god come to know? I am sure that they would do it gracefully perhaps as a tag team but Jesus would quickly find himself in an infinite regress (pyrrhonian trope #2) as he attempted to certify his criteria without being dogmatic. I imagine that Hume would watch Sextus at work, while mentally composing a brilliant essay on "Is god naturally dogmatic?" Many of the christian apologists I've encountered have claimed that god is the anchor for all claims of knowledge. "Well, how do you know that?" I wish I could watch Sextus Empiricus and David Hume work that particular topic.
- Lao-Tze and Epicurus both recognized in their philosophies that the actions of the gods are more or less irrelevant to the affairs of men, and that wise men should act accordingly. After all, if the gods chose to serve you as they did Job, then you're going to get fucked and there's nothing you can do about it. Conversely, if they're going to raise you high and make you mighty, you're hardly in a position to take credit for it. I imagine that Epicurus and Lao-Tze would wind up in the garden, enjoying the stars and the breeze. Of all the conversations in philosophy that I would want to hear, it would be this one.
- Spinoza would eventually join Lao-Tze and Epicurus in the garden.
- Nietzsche would be a potentially delightful interlocutor for Jesus, who could ask him, "so, do I appear dead to you?" "Not until tomorrow," would be Nietzsche's snappiest come-back, though it would be way too brief for him.
- Rousseau would doubtless have some questions for a god, regarding the origin of its authority. If this were a Monty Python sketch, I could see Rousseau asking Jesus, "Supreme authority comes from a mandate from the masses, not from mere supreme power!" ("Come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help! Help! I'm being repressed!")
- Voltaire would provide a witty, clear, and devastatingly arch summary of the discussion.
I'm also sure that Jesus' disciples were not philosophers. Indeed, you've got to wonder "what's wrong with those guys?" Here they were following around god, and didn't think to ask him any interesting questions? Or, if they did, they didn't take notes. Like the time Matthew was busy re-tying his sandal during the sermon on the mount and missed the part where Jesus said, "By the way, load up on Cisco on its IPO. Stay away from Facebook, it'll tank." Joking aside, you'd think that, as Aristotle almost certainly would have, one of Jesus' disciples would have asked him, "what causes people to sometimes get sick when nobody around them does?" and Jesus could have told the great systematizer about bacteria and viruses. Perhaps, you'd think Jesus would have mentioned en passant to Matthew, "by the way, Matt, Earth goes around the Sun, not the other way around. Write that down in your testament and people'll respect you for actually knowing something."
No, Jesus wasn't a philosopher. Nor were any of his disciples. If you think about it, if Jesus really was god come-to-Earth, he did the most piss-poor performance possible. It could have only been worse if he'd worn a gag arrow-through-the-head hat and played banjo. "Oh, I'm not here to actually talk philosophy or teach, I'm just here to be bloodily slaughtered. And Mel Gibson's going to make $100mil on a movie about it. W00T!"
And people wonder why we atheists laugh at religions.
Addendum: Note that today's philosophers actually do have a chance to question gods. For one thing, there's good old Tenzin Gyatso, that wretched platitude-spouting conman who allegedly is a multi-incarnated partially supernatural being of supreme wisdom. You'd think that he could explain the problem of evil, or perhaps refute Sextus Empiricus in detail. But, instead, he's concerned with heavy issues like whether oral sex is "sexual misconduct" or whether homosexuals should have human rights. As an armchair philosopher, I am disgusted by the intellectual slack that this cheese-brained theocrat gets granted. Why hasn't someone asked him (as Sextus Empiricus would) "How do you know that you've lived before?" Another diety among us is the Emperor Of Japan. I don't think he makes any specific claims to specialness other than direct descent from goddess amaterasu. But for a divine being, his grasp of geopolitics and warfare are about as good as the dalai lama's grasp of quantum mechanics. For that matter, someone could ask the pope Socrates' question to Euthyphro. I'm sure his little toesie-woesies would curl helplessly in his silk prada slippers, and he wouldn't have an answer. This is a guy who claims divine knowledge regarding who should stick their penis into whom, but doesn't want to tackle the really interesting questions that philosophers grapple with all the time. Whence, therefore Evil? Indeed!