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Jesus and Socrates

            Given their singular significance to the development of Western culture, it is strangely appropriate that Jesus and Socrates led similar lives. Both lived simply. Both were esteemed as excellent teachers, though neither wrote an extant word. Both were regarded as traitors by the political and religious communities of their times. Both were executed for their beliefs. For some Enlightenment thinkers, these parallels suggested that Truth was not the sole property of the Christian religion, nor was it necessarily the result of a divine dispensation. The philosophy of Socrates was as liberating - perhaps as salvific - as the religion of Jesus. Not all scholars agreed. Some, like Joseph Priestley, argued that Socrates' thought was elaborate and beautiful, but Jesus' ideas and life were the very embodiment of God on this earth. Christian intellectuals, drawing on this idea, have often noted that they were students of Socrates and disciples of Jesus.
             They were not political or religious leaders. They both were sublime teachers. Both advanced ideas of the individual over the Establishment. A threatened mob-guided Establishment executed both men for impiety, though neither had harmed anyone or infringed anyone's natural rights. .
             The collectivist Establishment executed Socrates and Jesus for their individualistic, anti-establishment ideas.
             No normal person can live reflectively without making some decision about Jesus' life-changing command, `Follow me!' No one can be called educated who has not thoughtfully responded to Socrates' famous assertion that the unexamined life is not worth living. What links Jesus and Socrates in our imagination is much more than a comparison of their lives and doctrines. It is the recognition that each one calls us to a life both difficult and pure, together with the nagging suspicion that it may not be the same life. Quod vitae sectabor iter? - what path shall I follow in life? - is surely the question that one would expect to dominate any comparative treatment of these two figures.

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