Sorry Alcibiades: Plato's Symposium and Genesis

October 16, 2005

I am going somewhere with this. Don't worry -- I'll get there eventually.

Background: a bit from the Symposium

Plato's Symposium is a truly great work, and there are many aspects of this book worth examination. However, for today's discussion, I'd like to reference only a single concept. Alcibiades was a popular, successful, charismatic young Greek. And he wanted Socrates to be his....well, let's say his teacher. Yet, despite Alcibiades' pleas, Socrates resisted the young man. And the reason had something to do with Socrates' notion of human interaction.

To Socrates, the human interaction consisting of one person pouring knowledge into another person was flawed. In fact, any interaction between two people in which one person just gave and the other just took was flawed. And since Alcibiades lacked any wisdom to share with Socrates, if Socrates did teach him, then it would have been just such an exchange. So, what sort of exchange was ideal in Socrates' mind? The sort of exchange between two people that lead to the creation of something outside them both. A man and a woman can interact and thereby produce a new life. Two people, in conversation, can come up with ideas that neither person would have had alone. A team of people working together can construct a bridge that no one person could have made. And that, then, is the very best sort of interaction according to Socrates -- the sort that generates something outside of all involved. So, to Socrates, the very best sort of philosophical exchange is that in which everyone involved learns something, and ideally, there is some new truth or wisdom or understanding found that no one possessed before the conversation.

And that takes us to God.

In the beginning, God said, "Let there by light." And now do you see why what I wrote above matters? God, in this story, creates the world by means of word. He doesn't wave a Magic Wand, nor does he just will light into being. He speaks. And now, think back to the beginning of John. "In the beginning was the Word." John equates Jesus to Word. And isn't that exactly what God uses in Genesis to bring all things into being -- word? The passage in John goes on to describe Word as a creative entity -- all things were made through this Word. And of course, if you're looking for a further account (pardon the pun) of Word being used as a creative entity, just go read some Heraclitus. After all, Word is just an awful translation of the original Logos.

OK, so why does all of this stuff matter? Go on, Rich, tie this all together. If we listen to what Socrates said, the best sorts of interactions are those which produce something outside of those acting. And isn't that just what is sounds like is happening in the Genesis story? Isn't there some interaction between God the Father and Word which creates something new?

I'm just speculating here, of course -- this all just came to me as I took a walk. But maybe, just maybe, thinking that just one person of God created the universe alone isn't quite right. Maybe, rather, it was the interaction between the persons of God which created the universe, just as people working together might bring a new idea or concept into being. (Of course, this does nothing to contradict monotheism -- in Christianity, a single God has three persons)

Perhaps the universe, too, is the construct of an interaction between the persons of God. For centuries, philosophers have struggled with the concept of a "first cause," a singular entity from which all else sprang. Yet, of course, nothing on the Earth is anything except inert in a vacuum. Fire is an interaction with oxygen. Decay is an interaction with bacteria. Rain is an interaction between clouds and pressure and temperature. Is the world, too, some interaction?

Note: None of the above is to indicate that I believe that the world is created in a week or anything of the sort. I'm a strong believer in evolution. And evolution in no way contradicts the bible. But the bible often speaks to us in metaphor. And so I understand the creation story(ies) therein. But I suppose that would be another entry, for another day. But I'm not quite done yet with today.

And what about us? And that leads to what troubles me about all of this. Even if you disregard everything that I'm tossing around regarding God and creation, and you certainly can disregard that as the ramblings of a sleep-deprived student, I do think that there is something powerful to what Socrates said of interactions. And yet, how then are we to interact with God? After all, if there is something unwholesome about a one-sided exchange, then we face the problem that any interaction with an all-powerful being is pretty much going to be forced to be one-sided. What wisdom can we offer God? To put that another way, what logos can we offer Logos?