In the Apology 30e Socrates appears before the Athenian counsel to face charges of corrupting the youth and introducing new gods during which he offers a description of his divine calling for the city: “I was attached to this city by the god—though it seems a ridiculous thing to say—as upon a great and noble horse which was somewhat sluggish because of its size and needed to be stirred up by a kind of gadfly. It is to fulfil [sic] some such function that I believe the god has placed me in the city.
I never cease to rouse each and every one of you, to persuade and reproach you all day long and everywhere I find myself in your company” (Plato, 1997, p. 28). Socrates views himself as a prophetic voice in the din of Athenian society, and with quasi-religious language he describes his role as “gadfly” in waking up the lazy horse. Just as in Athens of 2500 years ago, America also hosts prophetic characters—characters who are able to address the complacency of modern society while holding fast to unshakable standards of truth. Socrates-like characters have certainly existed in the history of American culture.
We have no better example than in the prophetic outcry of Martin Luther King Jr. against racism and oppression of African Americans through the push of the civil rights movement. This parallel is strengthened even further by King’s own reference to Socrates and “nonviolent gadflies” (King, 1963) in his letter from a Birmingham jail. However, it is clear that American society has changed much in the last half-century and that contemporary gadflies do not exist in the same forms as they did in the 50s and 60s; nevertheless, I believe that the prophetic voices exist, albeit in a more nuanced form, in certain non-traditional evangelical pastors.
By non-traditional I mean those pastors that refuse to be defined within the boundaries of the conservative religious-right and that refuse to accept the liberal agenda of the left. Greg Boyd, the pastor for Woodland Hills Church in Minnesota, writes in his influential book The Myth of a Christian Nation about the importance of not falling into the trap of cultural conformism and warns other evangelicals about the danger of “allowing our understanding of the kingdom of God to be polluted with political ideas, agendas and issues” (Boyd, 2007, p.
11). Regardless of one’s own convictions about Christianity in America and despite one’s own belief or absence of belief, it is crucial to notice that Boyd, among others, has taken on a Socratic role within his own cross-section of American culture. By forcing difficult questions upon American evangelicalism, by refusing to accept right-wing agendas as a consequence of faith, and by holding fast to standards of truth in addressing certain political issues of the left, Boyd has indeed engaged the sleeping horse.
Although Boyd has not been treated by America to the same fate as Socrates, namely execution, his opinions have led to a great deal of criticism not only within the secular press or evangelicalism at large, but even within his own congregation (Boyd, 2007, p. 10). Many people choose to ignore what Boyd says and write him off as an extremist; others choose to listen and are offended, while still others listen and change their own self-understanding.
In this respect, though the response to a modern-day Socrates in America such as Boyd is greatly varied, Boyd has succeeded with a certain portion of the American public to push them forward in the Delphic maxim given to Socrates so long ago: know thyself. References Boyd, G. (2007). The Myth of a Christian Nation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan King, M. L. Jr. (1963). Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Retrieved from http://historicaltextarchive. com/sections. php? op=viewarticle&artid=40 Plato (1997). Apology. (G. M. A. Grube, Trans. ). Indianapolis, Cambridge: HackettSample Essay of PapersOwl.com