Plato, Isaiah and Paul on The Perfect Man

In Plato’s Republic, in book 2, Socrates’ is talking about justice with his fellow thinking man, Glaucon. Glaucon paints a portrait of the perfectly just man.

Beside our picture of the unjust man let us set one of the just man, the man of true simplicity of character who, as Aeschylus says, wants “to be, and not to seem, good”. We must, indeed, not allow him to seem good, for if he does he will have all the rewards and honours paid to the man who has a reputation for justice, and we shall not be able to tell whether his motive is love of justice or love of the rewards and honours. No, we must strip him of everything except his justice, and our picture of him must be drawn in the opposite way to our picture of the unjust man; for our just man must have the worst of reputations even though he has done no wrong. So we shall be able to test his justice and see if it can stand up to unpopularity and all that goes with it; we shall give him an undeserved and lifelong reputation for wickedness, and make him stick to his chosen course until death … The just man, then, as we have pictured him, will be scourged, tortured, and imprisoned, his eyes will be put out, and after enduring every humiliation he will be crucified, and learn at last that in the world as it is we should want not to be, but to seem, just.

That was composed 360 years before Jesus was born.

Which makes you think of a passage written 400 years earlier again and which Plato, Socrates and the Greeks never encountered:

Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Isaiah 53 and Plato agree on what the perfectly just man would look like. He looks like this:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Your Correspondent, Going back to read more of Romans

One Line Review: Cedar Rapids

This is needlessly twee, features a prostitute with a heart of gold and yet is still a consistently amusing, well paced, excellently scripted buddy movie about the most hardcore weekend a smalltown insurance salesman could ever have.

Your Correspondent, Believes the separation between religion and insurance is in the constitution

One Quote Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

My first Margaret Atwood book. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t expect 1984. This is thought provoking novel but it won’t make you feel lovely and gooey inside. In fact, while an interesting proposition, it comes out perhaps as a dull finished product. I’m not saying it needs some ninjas and an alien, but the novel is largely inside someone’s head.

America is taken over by some quasi-Christian cult. Their Ayatollah style regime is obsessed with fertility. The handmaids are women who failed to meet the strict moral regulations and are trained to be nothing more than birthing tanks.

One of the most dreadful passages, in the sense of evoking dread, takes place when the protagonist is out for her daily walk:

At the corner is the store known as Soul Scrolls. It’s a franchise: there are Soul Scrolls in every city center, in every suburb, or so they say. It must make a lot of profit.

The window of Soul Scrolls is shatterproof. Behind it are printout machines, row on row of them; these machines are known as Holy Rollers, but only among us, it’s a disrespectful nickname. What the machines print is prayers, roll upon roll, prayers going out endlessly. They’re ordered by Compuphone, I’ve overheard the Commander’s Wife doing it. Ordering prayers from Soul Scrolls is supposed to be a sign of piety and faithfulness to the regime, so of course the Commanders’ Wives do it a lot. It helps their husbands’ careers.

There are five different prayers: for health, wealth, a death, a birth, a sin. You pick the one you want, punch in the number, then punch in your own number so your account will be debited, and punch in the number of times you want the prayer repeated.

The machines talk as they print out the prayers; if you like, you can go inside and listen to them, the toneless metallic voices repeating the same thing over and over. Once the prayers have been printed out and said, the paper rolls back through another slot and is recycled into fresh paper again. There are no people inside the building: the machines run by themselves. You can’t hear the voices from outside; only a murmur, a hum, like a devout crowd, on its knees.

Your Correspondent, Almost always does a whole-arsed job of it.

A Theme Tune For Hauerwas’ Theology

Stanley Hauerwas is a very important thinker round these parts. At Maynooth Community Church many of us are pretty convinced that the writings of this 70-something bricklayer from Texas have a direct relevance to what we’re trying to do. The moral theology of Hauerwas has tended towards spiralling back onto medical ethics again and again. Whether he is talking about people with disabilities, the care for the dying or the topic he is famous for, not using armies to kill people, he is a man who wants Christians to grapple with death.

So I only half in jest propose this uplifting number from William Shatner’s hugely under-rated album Has Been as our anthem for Hauerwas’ medical ethics.

Your Correspondent, Still intends to get out of this life alive.

Maps Are New Ways To Get Lost

My friend Mary was at Electric Picnic this year, which is like Glastonbury’s much smaller, considerably younger, slightly smarter Irish cousin. She spoke about maps and it is so brilliant you should watch it and then consider applying to do Geography at college.

Your Correspondent, If geography is prose, maps are iconography.

One Line Review: Drive

This is a good movie marred by hyper-violence and suspected (by me) of being so critically acclaimed because a nice trick is making a movie notionally about driving cars very fast on city streets and actually filling it with slow motion shots of people moving close to each other in enclosed places.

Your Correspondent, Made his fortune doing open-casket caricatures

One Line Review: 30 Minutes Or Less

While this has the potential to be a rip-roaring bit of fun, the screenwriters forgot to make sure we liked even one of the characters and so as a result the premise that should be thrill-inducing is just another prop to facilitate jokes where the punchline involves some synonym of “cock”.

Your Correspondent, Has 99 problems and they’re all red balloons