Previous posts in this series:
- Plato’s and the Bible’s Ideal Laws: Similarities 1:631-637 (2015-06-22)
- Plato’s and Bible’s Laws: Similarities, completing Book 1 of Laws (2015-06-23)
I’m passing over this section of Laws quickly, pointing to no more than a couple of details that meet biblical values.
Safeguarding the Truth with Myths
Many works in the Bible teach that obedience to the law of God brings a blessed and happy life while the ways of sinners were plagued with misfortunes. Of course there are a few works that reassure us that not everyone was so naive (e.g. Job). Nonetheless, it’s a “good moral” that is taught to children and many churchgoers. It’s also the root of so much guilt that has inflicted many who have been taught that God heals the faithful.
Plato knew the reality of life but deemed it wise to teach a lie to keep people good. (Guilt and finger-pointing be damned.) Many know the “noble lie” principle from his Republic but he repeated it in Laws:
[W]ere I a legislator, I should endeavor to compel the poets and all the citizens to speak in this sense; and I should impose all but the heaviest of penalties on anyone in the land who should declare that [662c] any wicked men lead pleasant lives, or that things profitable and lucrative are different from things just; and there are many other things contrary to what is now said . . . by the rest of mankind,—which I should persuade my citizens to proclaim.
Plato knew even the gods knew it was not really a rule that the happiest life is the just one . . .
For, come now, my most excellent sirs, in the name of Zeus and Apollo, suppose we should interrogate those very gods themselves who legislated for you, and ask: “Is the most just life the most pleasant; [662d] or are there two lives, of which the one is most pleasant, the other most just?” If they replied that there were two, we might well ask them further, if we were to put the correct question; “Which of the two ought one to describe as the happier, those that live the most just or those that live the most pleasant life? If they replied, “Those that live the most pleasant life,” that would be a monstrous statement in their mouths. But I prefer not to ascribe such statements to gods, but rather to ancestors and lawgivers:
The reality is not good news . . . .
[662e] imagine, then, that the questions I have put have been put to an ancestor and lawgiver, and that he has stated that the man who lives the most pleasant life is the happiest. In the next place I would say to him this: “O father, did you not desire me to live as happily as possible? Yet you never ceased bidding me constantly to live as justly as possible.” And hereby, as I think, our lawgiver or ancestor would be shown up as illogical and incapable of speaking consistently with himself, but if, on the other hand, he were to declare the most just life to be the happiest, everyone who heard him would, I suppose, enquire what is the good and charm it contains which is superior to pleasure, for which the lawgiver praises it.
Another answer to the quandary is to acknowledge suffering, mockery and rejection as the badge of honour that the virtuous soul must endure. This is the solution that we find from Genesis (Abel, Joseph. . .) to the Christian era (Jesus, Paul. . . ). Yet this solution is not really presented as the final answer: there has to be something more. So the promise of an unseen reward is held out, such as an “inner godly joy superior to all other joys” or a post-mortem existence in heaven.
So then the teaching which refuses to separate the pleasant from the just helps,[663b] if nothing else, to induce a man to live the holy and just life, so that any doctrine which denies this truth is, in the eyes of the lawgiver, most shameful and most hateful; for no one would voluntarily consent to be induced to commit an act, unless it involves as its consequence more pleasure than pain.
Now distance [i.e. delay in rewards and punishments] has the effect of befogging the vision of nearly everybody, and of children especially; but our lawgiver will reverse the appearance by. . . one means or another—habituation, commendation, or argument—will persuade people that their notions of justice and injustice are illusory pictures, unjust objects appearing pleasant and just objects most unpleasant to him who is opposed to justice, through being viewed from his own unjust and evil standpoint, but when seen from the standpoint of justice, both of them appear in all ways entirely the opposite.
And thou shalt eat before Jehovah thy God, in the place which he shall choose, to cause his name to dwell there, the tithe of thy grain, of thy new wine. . . .
And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my new wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to wave to and fro over the trees?
Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, And wine unto the bitter in soul . . .
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess . . . .
So there you have it. No-one can get merry with wine until they’re inflicted with the crabbedness of old age — at 40 years! The serious point to note, of course, is that philosophical ideals of the “pagans” condemned drunkenness and enjoined moderation as much as any biblical precept.