One of my favorite passages in Plato’s Republic is in Book II immediately after Thrasymachus’ argument with Socrates concerning justice. Thrasymachus argues that justice is only the advantage of the stronger, and Socrates breaks down Thrasymachus’ argument. However, Glaucon, one of Socrates’ friends is unsatisfied with Socrates’ response and he says to him “Socrates, do you want to seem to have persuaded us that it is better in every way to be just than unjust or do you want to truly convince us of this?” Socrates says, “I want truly to convince you if I can.” Glaucon then renews the argument of Thrasmymachus, not because he thinks it is true, (in fact he thinks it is untrue) but rather he wants the argument to receive the strongest response. Glaucon says, “It isn’t Socrates that I believe any of this myself. I’m perplexed, indeed, and my ears are deafened listening to Thrasymachus and countless others. But I’ve yet to hear anyone defend justice in the way I want, proving that it is better than injustice. I want to hear it praised by itself, and I think that I’m mostly likely to hear this from you.” He wants to put forward the strongest possible version of the argument so he can hear how Socrates might take it down.
That is a commitment to truth. Glaucon does not want simplistic, trite answers. He is willing to follow the truth wherever it leads him, and wants to believe good ideas for the right reasons.
Recently, Megan Phelps-Roper, a previous member of Westboro Baptist Church has been more vocal about her journey out of the radical group. And apparently, she no longer professes faith in Christ. I sincerely feel sadness for Megan Phelps-Roper. She grew up believing a few right ideas and many bad ideas but all of them were for terrible reasons. And when those terrible reasons were exposed, she abandoned the Christian faith altogether. The house of her beliefs was made of sand, and so it quickly crumbled. It is easy for this to happen, and people frequently walk away from an idea for bad reasons because they were taught the idea itself for bad reasons. I wonder whether Megan Phelps-Roper can say she has interacted with the best Christian thinkers from Thomas Aquinas to Richard Hays on a given theological topic?
Too often, I’ve seen stupid ideas be replaced with equally stupid ideas. We ought not react to bad beliefs with another set of bad beliefs.
If your primary and sole reason for eating vegetables is because your parents commanded you to, and then you come to find out that your parents are not trustworthy, you should not therefore believe that vegetables are harmful for you and go on a diet of eating red meat. That is reactionary and frankly foolish.
If you grew up being taught that women are inferior to men, that is sad and untrue, but it is just as mistaken to then think that women are goddesses and men are dirt.
The solution to politically correct speech is not to be as cruel and provocative as possible.
The solution to religious extremism is not religious relativism.
Bad ideas should be rejected for good reasons, not because we want to dismiss them outright. That is not following the truth.
Good ideas should always be believed, but they should be believed for the best reasons whenever possible.
Westboro Baptist Church, Fundamentalism, Progressive Christian,
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