Monday, February 13, 2006

Plato's "Republic" and the Biblical Worldview

I had not read Plato since my freshman year Intro to Philosophy class at Wake Forest, but over the last year I have been trying to read (or re-read) some of the greats of Greco-Roman literature, and I just finished Francis MacDonald Cornford’s translation of Plato's classic work (The Republic of Plato, Oxford University Press, 1941).

I was repeatedly struck by the social engineering Socrates suggests for his ideal state, much of which repeats the familiar themes of modern humanism. Let me touch on just three examples:
For one thing, Socrates suggests a radically egalitarian view of men and women in his ideal city. All roles, including those in the military, are open to both men and women. He concludes:

"… there is no occupation concerned with the management of social affairs which belongs either to woman or to man, as such. Natural gifts are to be found here and there in both creatures alike; and every occupation is open to both, so far as their natures are concerned, though woman is for all purposes the weaker" (153).

Second, Socrates suggests that the state take the place of the family in raising children. According to Socrates, in the ideal state "no one man and one woman are to set up house together privately: wives are to be held in common by all; so too are children, and no parent is to know his own child, nor any child his parent" (156). In Plato’s Republic "as soon as children are born, they will be taken in charge by officers appointed for the purpose…to be reared in the care of nurses living apart in a certain quarter of the city" (160).

Long before Hillary Clinton was telling us that it takes a village to raise a child, daycare, or Virginia Governor Tim Kaine was telling us that the answer to public education woes is making public preschool education compulsory for four year olds, Socrates was paving the way by arguing that the ideal state can raise children better than their families!

Third, he suggests a method of eugenics for "breeding" a superior variety of men. In matching men and women to mate he suggests the pairing of those "which yields the best results" (158). Breeding men is little different than dealing with dogs or horses:

"…if we are to keep our flock at the highest pitch of excellence, there should be as many unions of the best of both sexes, and as few of the inferior, as possible, and that only the offspring of the better unions should be kept" (159).

Again one sees the modern notions of abortion, terminating Down pregnancies, and genetic engineering to create "designer babies." Soctrates was ahead of his time!

What I was most struck by is the glaring difference between Socrates’ Republic ruled by the Philosopher King and the Bible worldview—though Socrates, like the Bible, rejects amoral and mythic belief in "the gods." How sharp is the contrast between Biblical faith and Platonic humanism!
The Biblical worlview (in contrast to The Republic):

First, men and women are of equal value in God’s sight, but they do not share the same roles in life.

Second, God has created marriage as a life-long committed covenant between a man and a woman. God has also established the institution of the family as the perfect place for children to be raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Third, every human life is valuable and has something to contribute to society, including even the weakest members.

What a winsome alternative Paul and the other Christian missionaries offered to the ancient pagan world when they preached the Christ of the Bible!

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