The Euthyphro Dilemma … Nonimugo
“I want to know God’s thoughts – the rest are mere details.”
– Albert Einstein
Jay Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in The Wild” (feat. Frank Ocean) is awesome for so many reasons. It starts with the chorus. The first part: “Human beings in a mob? What’s a mob to a king? What’s a king to a god?” always reminds me of the crucifixion story; I imagine it in an almost reverent and poignant light; and then it turns around and brings out the cynic in you “What’s a god to a non-believer? Who don’t believe in anything?” As if to remind us that belief can be your greatest strength or your greatest weakness, depending on which side you’re on. And from then on the melody is stuck in your head and you know you’re in for a trippy ride.
The subject of this post is a line from Jay’s second verse; “Is pious pious ‘cos God loves Pious”. Or, in other words: Is goodness approved (willed / commanded) by the gods because it is good, or is it good that which is approved by the gods [whatever it may be]? This line references Plato’s Euthyphro, in which Socrates and Euthyphro tackle the problem of piety: (A) If Goodness is an entity in itself, and we all intrinsically know what is morally good and what is not, why do we bother fearing / obeying God instead of being ruled by our universal intrinsic code of morality? Or (B) If God decides what is good, then goodness is arbitrary and (say, in a parallel universe) murder would have been good had God decreed it as such. But we all agree that murder is not so cool, even if God said it was. This brings us back to (A).
I can’t say I have ever really lost sleep over this one. Many an atheist would call me a fool because I worship a God who, Biblically speaking, can be perceived to condone some not so good or pious things that I won’t even delve into right now. Does this make my faith blind? Or is my faith blind because I have never read the whole Bible from beginning to end and I am generally content with what little I know? For me, like a lot of other issues in the Christian faith, the Euthyphro Dilemma is not so black and white. One cannot assume there are only two options to choose from, which makes this dilemma a false one. Take option (C): Goodness is a part of what God is which means God is not evil, but this does not define all that God is and God’s essence is not limited to what we deem possible or what has been revealed to us, so (D): Heck, the rest are details.
This is not to say that “because I say so” is always a good enough reason for me to obey. Most of the time I honestly believe that if I really wanted to worry myself with the “Why does God allow suffering” question there is a long convoluted answer which can be summed up as “All things work together for good”. And I am content with that. Sometimes this answer does not rest well and I start to question my faith. I cautiously drape the curtains between what I believe and what I should believe; how I behave and how I should behave. And isn’t that what spirituality is? The personal space between religion and faith, where you are allowed to just be one (hence, content) with you? I could be wrong but I like to think of it that way.
And for a worldlier example: imagine yourself on a particularly vulnerable morning, sitting by the phone after sending a considerably provocative Valentine’s Day flirxt (flirty text — new word alert!) to your most recent all-time crush. You are wondering what is taking this person so long to get back. Hello, last seen, two ticks, you know the fool read it!!! Your first instinct is to have a small mental breakdown because of doing something so stupid. But your ego quickly comes to the rescue, causing you to imagine them lying in a pool of blood as their phone rings off the hook in their pocket. Then come a number of other gruesome imaginings, each one worse than the last, until you have nothing left of your target but a puddle of primordial soup (see what I did there). The possibilities are endless. But two questions remain unanswered: “Am I upset because A) my all-time crush just totally rejected my flirxt; or B) because they might be dying a slow and painful death?” Whatever the case, you ARE upset, and clearly, bigger issues (of the emotional stability kind) are at hand. Surely, the rest are details.