plato“How malicious philosophers can be!” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Plato is the Anti-Christ? I am fervently of the opinion–so fervently of the opinion, in fact, that should the opinion ever be wrenched from me and sunk ten fathoms deep into the ocean, I would swim after it, even if most probably it meant most certainly my most probable doom–that all theological reflection should begin with a joke, or–do not think I cannot unbend–two lies and a truth, but however deep the contention, the conviction, within me, I find I must begin such a theological inquiry as this one with neither a joke nor a lie but with two things: first, with a gratitude for that this day is a Sunday, that I have been assigned to write on Sundays. Who could ask but more than to be able to write on Sundays? The second is an observation, a recollection of late of events in my own life. I write, of course, from Galway, Ireland. Indeed, I arrived in Ireland only today. And what a strange and new and exciting place it is. On the bus ride from the airport at Knock to the Galway station whence I departed, I saw–though I could never swear it–dozens, maybe hundreds of statues of the Great Virgin. Yes, the Virgin Mary. It is the stereotype, I am told, that Ireland is a very Catholic country. How very interesting–how very interesting indeed. For–one simply does not know whether such stereotypes such as this which are propagated are true or not, and if false, what harm–if it is indeed true that Ireland is such a catholic place, then surely, surely most surely, I say, it is far from absurd, far from irrational to find it only most curious that not one person has remarked to me in the five hours I have been here that Plato is the Anti-Christ. Surely–forgive my repetition, but understand my bewilderment, dear reader–this is a curiosity heightened in infinite proportions!

We do not speak enough of the Anti-Christ nowadays. To speak openly and democratically about such a concept as the Anti-Christ is surely a wonderful tradition, but today, such speech–and I am sure very few would disagree with me–has fallen into desuetude, out of vogue, if you will. But I fervently, adamantly, enthusiastically, support the resuscitation of such speech. Today, the only ones who speak of the Anti-Christ I find most bewildering and not a little bit troubling, yet it seems the natural fate of such a discourse should it continue on its projected death. So let us speak, openly, candidly, about such things.

Of course it is most curious that all my life, none of my friends have ever uttered to me such obvious words as ‘Plato is the Anti-Christ.’ Surely, it is absurd! For surely, we can read in Christ’s crucifixion the continuation of Plato’s condemnation of poets, and who if any, but Christ himself, warrants so sublime an appellation as ‘poet’? Oh, but I hear objectors. The fingers have been wagged! (The heads meanwhile, have been scratched). But how was Christ a poet they say–surely he was not. But, dear reader, we must not be beguiled by such hypocrisy; indeed we must be resolute against it. For observe how easily the philosophes acclaim Christ the philosopher. But one mention of the poet–Christ, we say, was a poet, nay more, nothing short of the most sublime poet in all of history–and it is ridicule for us. What hypocrisy! But does this in the least surprise one? Not at all. Do we, after all, expect a philosopher to understand what this means–what it means to be poetic? Surely not. Do we expect frogs to understand the flight of a bird? Birds born in a cage, it is said, think flying is an illness. How much more perplexed the toad must be to speak of flying. An illness certainly. But let us not be mistaken: I do not here speak mystically. Poets are considered ill all the time. Simone Weil–the only poet of the modern era–died in a mental asylum. George Orwell suggested that in times of universal deceit, telling the truth is revolutionary. I go one step further: telling the truth is insane. The truth is a sickness. Surely this is the lesson of the crucifixion as well: that no truth goes unpunished.

But yes, let us speak of truth–and of poets. And the greatest of all poets, the Nazarene! For what is a poet but one who lives the truth? Ah, but again my objectors torment me. The fingers have been wagged! You know what happened when the fingers have been wagged. (And the heads scratched, scurrilously). They cry out, ‘but Jesus never wrote one line of poetry.’ As if a poet were one who writes poetry–absurdity of absurdities! I am not a poet, I am not artist, I cannot speak on such matters within even a modicum of intelligence. But it is not I who say as much; it is one who is poetic in the highest degree. Oscar Wilde writes, “A great poet, a really great poet, is the most unpoetical of all creatures. But inferior poets are absolutely fascinating. The worse their rhymes are, the more picturesque they look. The mere fact of having published a book of second-rate sonnets makes a man quite irresistible. He lives the poetry that he cannot write. The others write the poetry that they dare not realize.”

Do you not see, Christ was a poet who lived the poetry others dared not realize? Emerson, in his journals, makes mention of the sublime ideal: “transmuting life into truth” (The American Scholar). If this is the poetry that poets can only write, but which they dare not live, then sure the one who is–not speaks, not teaches, not explains, but is–the way, the truth, and the life, is the consummation of this transmuting of life into truth. Surely such a one as he–so immeasurably great a man as he–is the most perfectly, profoundly, poetic poet of what is poetically possible among poets in regard to poetry–poetry in the highest–to ever have lived.

So, ineluctably, he was put to death. Surely we can read in Christ’s crucifixion contiguity of Plato’s condemnation of the poets. This is poetic justice! Surely Plato’s Socrates goes around asking people, what is justice, what is justice? Only one such as he would have spoken so much about justice. Only the truly immoral speak so often of morality. Just as Wilde suggested poets write the poetry they dare not realize, so only the truly unjust blabber endlessly–and as if people paid any attention to them–about justice. This is Socratic justice for you–a farce of justice! Justice put Christ to death. Oh, what a great tragedy it was, but a poetically necessary one–that Christ should have been put to death. Oh, as Nietzsche says, “How malicious philosophers can be!” Oh, how malicious indeed!

Nietzsche knew. Nietzsche sniffed. Nietzsche smelled the venomous aroma of a fully developed, a subaltern, hatred–in the philosophers. It is of course only tentatively that I would dare proclaim such a thing, but provisionally, I suggest, and most, most humbly: Nietzsche had perhaps the best nose in history. He smelled the smouldering core, the wicked stench, of a subaltern hatred festering in the hearts of the philosophers. He was right to ask, “Did that wicked Socrates corrupt him [Plato] after all?” (Birth of Tragedy).

And yet even Nietzsche’s critique was a half-accomplished one: the Christianity he knew and criticized was a Victorian one, on which, with subaltern subtlety, secretly but clearly hated life–hated sex, hated the body, etc, etc.–but shall we not forgive this flaw of Nietzsche’s? Is he to be held responsible for the tragic adulteration that Christianity had become in his time; shall we subject such a thinker to our later developments in knowledge; shall be subscribe to our own historical conceit that we would have done any different? However much we are tempted to for Nietzsche’s own historical contempt of those before him, we must not. Indeed, we cannot–for today is not the very same Victorianism disguised in soft conservatism, and naked in conservatism? So we shall forgive Nietzsche on this point. Nietzsche is not without his tragic flaws, his misogyny, his contempt for democracy, his love of naked, brutal power–we do not forgive him in these regards. But in his misunderstanding of Christianity–do we not owe him a plenitude of generosity? Even greater is the duty to forgive Nietzsche given that it is his own vision which illumines for us the truth of Christianity. What he hated was not so much Christ as Socrates–though he did not know. Shall we hold it against him that all of the tradition before him had transmogrified Christ into Socrates? No. We must take what Nietzsche hated in Platonism as a starting point for what to expunge from Christianity.

Does not Nieztsche, the one immesaurably generous–though seriously flawed, we know, we know–philosopher–does not Nietzsche realize that he does a favor for Christianity? His attack on Christianity is nothing other than an attack on Platonism. His attack on Christ is no more than a misdirected attack on Plato. For he himself writes, “Christianity is Platonism for the ‘common people’” (Beyond Good and Evil 4). but how this all changed when we realize Christ was not Plato at all–how this all changed when we realize that Christ was the Anti-Plato, and Plato-the Anti-Christ. How this all changed when we realize that Plato was the philosopher: Christ was a poet! How luminously this all changes!

How does this all change?–these are but the beginnings of a thought project, the mere beginnings. What does it mean to see in the crucifixion of Christ contiguity with Plato’s condemnation of poets? Such a question is only the beginning!