Government and Justice

Today I started teaching a two week high school government course. Because I can do whatever I want for the class (the Economics class played games of Monopoly), I decided to start with something basic: Plato’s Republic.

I said basic, not easy.

After a horribly brief introduction we skipped to book II, where the question gets clarified. I Justice better than Injustice? Of course they said yes. So we read more.

Is Justice better than Injustice because of something that it gives us – it’s consequences – or for its own sake? If it is merely because of the consequences of justice, than it is very possible that injustice could lead to the same results, and therefore be better or at least just as good.

Furthermore, let’s juxtapose the just man from the unjust man by making them totally just or unjust, respectively. The unjust man has to be gifted, and his supreme gift is this: that he seem just though he is not. Additionally, he is capable of correcting whatever might go wrong, either through deception, persuasion, bribery, or force. This continue till the end of his life.

The just man is the one who, like Aeschylus says, “does not merely wish to seem, but to be just”. Therefore, take away all the seeming justice from just man. To everyone around him seems unjust – a blight on the face of society. What happens to this man? He will be “whipped; racked, he’ll be bound; he’ll have both his eyes burned out; and at the end, when he has undergone every sort of evil, he’ll be crucified.”

Caravaggio - The Crucifixion of St. Peter

So how can it be better to be just rather than unjust? If I love justice for its own sake, won’t I be doing something wrong, or something not as good I could be doing? Who would choose such a fate? (Besides Socrates and Christ).

Socrates mentions two things that might make someone do the just for the sake of justice, and not its consequences: either one has a divine nature that won’t let him do something unjust, or one has knowledge that keeping company with injustice will be living with the greatest evil.

My students, like Glaucon and Adiemantus, felt the purchase of this dilemma, but still felt compelled to say that Justice is better than Injustice.

And I like Socrates exclaimed: “something quite divine must have happened to you”!

There might be hope for the West after all.


Schmemann and the “Evangelical” Eucharist

There are two attitudes one should avoid when looking at the Holy Mysteries. First, there’s the “magical”, or “spooky” attitude. This sees the Mysteries as something that are made like a mystical recipe: say some words, dance around in a dress, and call upon a higher power for a neato trick to happen. Very few ever reach this extreme, but it doesn’t take much to see this mindset in the denominations that take the Mysteries seriously; it’s the “holiness factory” mentality.

“Hocus Pocus” came from the first Latin words of Institution by the way.

Then there’s the un-mysterious way of looking at them. They become an audio-visual aid, a mnemonic device, an interactive illustration of… something about Jesus, usually the Passion. This mentality is “sensible”, but sadly un-Biblical. Put another way, we tend to view the Mysteries either as merely a means of preaching the Word, or as something apart from the Word. The late Fr. Alexander Schmemann puts it well:

This “rupture” between word and sacrament has pernicious consequences also for the doctrine of the sacraments. In it, the sacrament ceases to be biblical and, in the deepest sense of the word, evangelical. It was no accident, of course, that the chief focus of interest in the sacraments for western theology was not their essence and content but rather the conditions and “modi” of their accomplishment and “efficacy”. Thus, the interpretation of the Eucharist revolves around the question of the method and moment of the transfiguration of the gifts, their conversion into the body and blood of Christ, but with almost no mention of the meaning of this transformation for the Church, for the world, and for each of us. As much as it may seem paradoxical, “interest” in the real presence of the body and blood of Christ replaces “interest” in Christ. Partaking of the gifts is perceived as one of the means for “receiving grace”, as an act of personal sanctification, but it ceases to be perceived as out participation in Christ’s cup: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mk 10:38). Alienated from the word, which is always the word of Christ (“You searched the scriptures… and it is they that bear witness to me – Jn 5:39), the sacrament is in a certain sense torn away from Christ. – from “The Eucharist” p. 67-68


Oh boy, fasten your seatbelt.

From the director of Borat comes a new documentary about the insanity of religious folk: and it seems to center largely on Christianity. Interestingly, Bill Maher sees the issue being about the foolishness of faith. The second clip has him talking about the virtue of epistemological skepticism.

“The topic of religion is just so inherently funny.”