In an earlier post (Plato’s March of Folly), we looked at the sad state of affairs humanity has had to endure, courtesy of Plato and his descendants. The beguiling aspect of philosophy is such that, were one to be fully and entirely devoted to it, the practical aspects of living would disappear.
In his Republic, Plato introduces us to the image of a person living in a dark cave and then, when liberated from the darkness, that human being slowly begins to see as their eyes adjust to the light. Obviously, the cave is a metaphor for knowledge, and of course, you would have to assume the person trapped in the cave is living in a nice climate, since when they leave the cave they automatically encounter sunlight. So, clearly, this metaphor applies nicely to warm weather environments like Athens, but would not really work in, say, Seattle.
Of course, there are other logistical issues with all of this. Like, how did the person in the cave get their food? Who raised them? Who protected them? Sure, they had no sight, but their hearing would have been attenuated — what would they have heard in their many years growing up?
The logistical aspects of philosophy, clearly fail. The “what if” aspect is enticing and beguiling, and, well, it is just that — beguiling. But it is not realistic in this world. This world.
In Genesis 3, we encounter a situation where Eve is presented with a beguiling offer — to know good and evil, like God. In standard Socratic method fashion, the crafty serpent entices Eve with a question by which she is won over. To have the power of God, well who wouldn’t want that?
Is the serpent a salesman? Yes, definitely. But what is he selling? For one, a road out of the garden. How does he do it? With a question, much like the Socratic method (see Tarazi, The Rise of Scripture, p. 59).
The beguiling aspect of the Socratic method is that it puts the receiver in a disadvantageous position, as a passive participant in someone else’s line of thinking. The end result is a form of control over a person or situation, precisely because it appears to the one being questioned that they are gaining something, in Adam and Eve’s case, knowledge and power. But they gain nothing, losing even time in productive labor.
The consequence of what happened in the garden is that Adam and Eve, who were entrusted with tending the garden (“you had one job, just one!”) left their duties to go into hiding, become idle, and thereby lose their commission. So, instead of tending the garden, they and their descendants came to work the land in toil and labor (a second best option, as an act of divine mercy; Gen. 3. 17 – 19).
So, is there a way out of this?
In Luke, we have several instances where Jesus is approached with a question. In all of these cases, instead of answering the question, He responds with His own. For example, the Parable of the Good Samaritan opens this way:
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” (Luke 10. 25 – 26)
At the end of Luke, Jesus is approached by the elders, scribes, and Pharisees and is asked:
One day, as he was teaching the people in the temple and telling the good news, the chief priests and the scribes came with the elders and said to him, “Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things? Who is it who gave you this authority?” He answered them, “I will also ask you a question, and you tell me: Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? (Luke 20. 1 – 4)
Jesus makes them work for what they think they know. Productive work is not only good for us, it is part of our calling as free people and children of the Jerusalem above.
As Paul says, let us avoid reckless and useless controversies (2 Tim. 2.23), as well as idleness (2 Thess. 3. 6 – 15). This is pastoral care 101.