Thursday, March 29, 2012

Impiety, Ancient and Modern

In the Plato course this morning, Prof. David Keyt tried to help the modern student understand the meaning of "pious" and "impious" as used in the context of Socrates and his trial for impiety and the dialogue on the meaning of impiety in the Euthyphro.  You should think of the Greek "to hosion" as "religious" or "reverent", he said.

But he left out the most obvious way in which modern students interact with the pious.  It's pretty obvious when you think about how Socrates got into trouble with the censors.  It was because he was corrupting the minds of the youth and "creating new gods while not believing in the old."

We tend to be rather patronizing when tut-tutting about the Greeks for putting Socrates to death for meddling with the young.  But, of course, every society sanctions people that want to dissent from orthodox ideas and teach the youth something new.  Our liberal friends bend our ears endlessly about the evils of putting witches to death and of censoring the noble Galileo for the impiety of  publishing an innovative science that had the earth revolving around the sun instead of the other way around.  They are outraged that fundamentalist Christians want to hand on to pre-evolutionary ideas about human origin.

But our age is the age of liberal piety.  Today's Euthyphro would tell students that piety is action or speech pleasing to liberal professors.  Violate the canons of liberal piety and watch the gods of the university administration fall on you.

Election time is a good time to watch for the dance of the pieties, and the 2012 election is shaping up as a dandy for the piety watcher.  In just the last month we have had the indictment, the graphe, of Rush Limbaugh for the impiety of calling a middle-aged female liberal activist by the s-word.  A casual watcher of the culture might have been surprised.  Isn't casual obscenity considered rather "edgy" and anti-establishment?  Not when the liberal pieties are involved.  Defenders of public decency rushed on the air and into print.  President Obama himself called the middle-aged woman in question because, he said, he thought of his daughters.  Hemlock was not required to bring Rush Limbaugh to heel; merely the threat of advertiser defection.

After the Sandra Fluke affair about sexual impiety had died down the Trayvon Martin case reared its head.  Here we have a case of racial impiety in which a white man allegedly shot a black teenager.  The man from Mars might be excused for not getting the point here as well.  Although there were 346 white-on-black homicides in 2005 there were 945 black-on-white homicides in 2005.  So black on white homicides are a big problem, especially when you consider that there is a pool of 230 million "whites" in the US available to commit racial homicides and only 34 million "blacks."  Yet the narrative is that the homicide of a young black by a white is a national outrage, and it is impious to suggest otherwise.

In the Euthyphro Plato makes clear through Socrates' ironic questioning of the young twerp Euthyphro that the definition of impiety is arbitrary.  It is what society says it is, and what society says is what its loudest voices and sharpest elbows insist.  In America today it is our liberal friends that have the biggest megaphones because of their power in education, the media and the culture.  And so American piety today is liberal piety.

So whatever Socrates and Euthyphro might have decided in their dialogue we can say, with our modern knowledge, that humans are social animals and cannot allow people to veer too far away from generally accepted ideas and behaviors.  We have a way of describing people on the wrong side of the line: impious.

So in America you better watch how you corrupt the youth when a liberal is listening.  And you better not suggest that you think that the liberal idols: Social Security, Medicare, the "common school" are all superstitions.  You could get indicted and tried for impiety.  Hate speech, I think they call it.


1 comment:

  1. I agree with you that "we have a way of describing people on the wrong side of the line: impious." I disagree with your assertion that Americn piety today is liberaly piety. Both the political right and the left have claim to "American piety" and "American impiety".
    I do dislike your tendency to lump people into being either liberals or conservatives. I prefer political left and right, which allows me to inhabit the derided middle. I am a fiscal conservative (who likes your website on the federal budget), a judicial and moral conservative. Yet, when it comes to helping the less fortunate, I confess to being a liberal.
    In reading your article, one thing wasn't clear to me, do you suggest that to believe in science makes you a liberal? When I disagree with fundamentalist Christian bashing of evolution, I don't believe that I'm expressing any "liberal" ideas. As a scientist, my belief in evolution comes from broad readings of both the biologic and physical sciences. Evolutionary theory is the keystone of all modern biology and is supported by studies ranging from the very old, e.g., paleontology to the very new, e.g., molecular biology. It is not a matter of political leaning!

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