During the first weeks of class, in Core II, students are introduced to the dialogue existing between Christianity and culture in the classical world. All students read Plato's Crito, which describes the impending death of Socrates as seen through his interaction with one of his students, Crito. This text can be read in conjunction with either 1 Corinthians or 1 John from the New Testament. For this week, we will focus on the latter, and examine 1 Corinthians next week.
Plato's Crito is fascinating to explore with students, as they, like most of us, can identify with the sentiments of Socrates' loyal student, Crito, who wishes him to escape to avoid being executed. Painfully, Crito is convinced by Socrates that it is not the right thing to do to escape death if one is dying for the right reasons. Socrates argues that he must respect the state, even though he clearly believes it is wrong. He is convinced that by dying for the truth he will ultimately be helping his fellow Athenians, even as they are rejecting him and condemning him. Clearly, Plato portrays Socrates, who, of course, was also his former teacher as both heroic and calm in the face of death. Truth and reason give him this confidence.
In first John, we have an early Christian text that also deals with fearlessness in the face of death. The author writes with passion and clarity that love releases us from fear. In one of the most well-known passages, he argues that "there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love because He first loved us." Like Socrates, the author wants the reader to understand that fear (whether of death, a real threat to the early Christians, as for Socrates, or of something else) can be conquered by the experience of love. Though First John also affirms truth as being central to the experience of believers, the ultimate freedom from fear is achieved through love (experienced in the truth, but going even deeper into our being). It is rooted in God's love for us, which – the text strongly argues – must be shared with one another. "He who says he loves God but hates his brother is a liar," (1 John 4:20).
The dialogue will continue as the weeks go by, but in Core II these two very meaningful and provocative texts get us off to a good start.