Socrates & I: Corrupting the Youth


I’m reposting an oldie but goodie from several years back. -JB

These days, teachers in the news facing charges of “corrupting the youth” are usually repeat sex offenders. But did you know that the great philosopher, Socrates (469-399 B. C.), was also charged, convicted and ultimately executed for “corrupting the youth”? Socrates’ mode of “corruption” however was of an entirely different kind. At his trial, Socrates’ (in Plato’s account) explains the nature of his so-called “crime”:

“I go around doing nothing but persuading both young and old among you not to care for your body or your wealth in preference to or as strongly as for the best possible state of your soul.”

When given the option of acquittal on the basis that he stop teaching this “subversive” philosophy, he responds as follows:

“Gentlemen of the jury, I am grateful and I am your friend, but I will obey god rather than you, and as long as I draw breath and am able, I shall not cease to practice my philosophy, to exhort you and in my usual way to point out to any one of you whom I happen to meet: Good Sir…are you not ashamed of your eagerness to possess as much wealth, reputation and honors as possible, while you do not care nor give thought to wisdom or truth, or the best possible state of your soul? I shall reproach him because he attaches little importance to the most important things and greater importance to inferior things.”

I love this guy! Here is someone willing to obey a divine calling (in this case, the oracle of the Greek god Apollo), question the status quo of the culture, confronting the rampant materialism driving the Athenian culture head-on and challenging his fellow citizens to consider the more signficant, eternal matters of the soul.

As an American disciple of Jesus and youth pastor, I hope I can have as much boldness as this Athenian philosopher, and be ready and willing to “corrupt” the youth of our culture when they, as Socrates put it, “attach little importance to the most important things and greater importance to inferior things.” I have found a new friend in Socrates, and he fits in quite nicely alongside some of my other closest friends.  It’s no wonder early Christian philosopher Justin Martyr considered Socrates “a Christian before Christ.”

“Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

– Jesus of Nazareth

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him, because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions) is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away with all its desires, but the person who does the will of God remains forever.

-John the Elder

“Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Keep thinking about things above, not things on the earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

-Paul of Tarsus

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