Nile needs a history lesson with Socratic method
Many citizens don’t agree with Fred Nile’s bold assessment of himself as a modern-day Socrates.
They argue that while the great Greek philosopher deployed reason against dogma, the Christian politician’s opposition to secular ethics classes in schools is demonstrating exactly the opposite.
In addition to calling Nile an intellectual bantamweight, critics are questioning the good Reverend’s framing of himself as suffering tyranny because of his faith.
Instead, they claim that the real people being persecuted for their beliefs are non-Christians because Nile is forcing his particular brand of evangelism down their throats (or at least down their school curriculums).
Some have even been mischievous enough to suggest that if Nile really thinks he has so much in common with Socrates, then perhaps the government should offer him a man-sized serving of hemlock at its earliest possible convenience.
Dying at the hands of an unsympathetic state would certainly cement Nile’s status as both Socrates-esque and Jesus-adjacent.
Yet executing the leader of the Christian Democratic Party is unnecessary given that there is plenty of non-fatal proof showing that Nile and the man known as the founder of Western philosophy are, in fact, identical intellectual twins.
But first, the back story. Alert followers of New South Wales politics will be aware of the almighty commotion over ethics classes in the state’s public schools.
These were introduced on a trial basis last year so primary school students who did not attend scripture had options other than watching Lilo & Stitch on old TVs that had been dug out of the janitor’s cupboard.
(This was an actual summary of the pre-ethics class agenda from one of the state’s many pagan students.)
Of 745 community submissions received about the pilot project – in which children pondered issues such as fairness, virtue and living a good life – 730 were in favour of the new program.
This led to the 2011 roll-out of ethics classes alongside Special Religious Education classes in all public schools.
It has also led to frenzied efforts by Nile to put a stop to the classes via classic philosophical moves such as:
- threatening to use his party’s balance-of-power votes in the NSW upper house to “torpedo” the government’s public service wages policy;
- claiming that ethics classes teach children the philosophy behind Nazism and Communism; and
- suggesting that he and Socrates were pretty much separated at birth
And thus we return to where we started: Nile’s case that – far from being diametrically opposed to the methods and ideas of Socrates – he is just like the lauded philosophical contrarian in that he’s questioning “the majority world view” and what young people are being taught.
Well. As always, it’s tempting to dismiss Nile’s “call me Socrates” claim as yet more look-at-me-ism from a prayer-drunk interventionist who engages in the clerical equivalent of shock jock-ism.
This is, after all, the clergychap who, in 2001, called for child psychologist interventions in Pottermania because it was “strange and unhealthy” for children to be queuing outside shops for J. K. Rowling’s witchcraft-promoting books.
This is the politician who says he avoids unbridled licentiousness by ensuring he’s never alone with a member of the opposite sex, who claims his parliamentary staff only look at so much internet pornography for research purposes, who thanks Almighty God for the fact that his party holds the balance of power in the NSW Legislative Council despite receiving only 3.12 per cent of the vote, and who compares the singer Eminem to Hitler (well, they did both have very successful rap careers).
Perhaps most infamously – this is the man who routinely attempts to wash out Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras by imploring his sky bully to send rain.
(Last time I marched past the Festival of Lighter and his militant prayer group in this parade, they’d only manage to summon a camp little rainbow – in the gay and lesbian colours, no less. All the exertion had, however, turned their straining faces an intriguing celestial coral colour.)
Anyway, while I’m usually more than happy to throw the first “you’re a bigoted old godbotherer” stone, in this case it’s clear that Nile’s I-am-indistinguishable-from-one-of-the-greatest-philosophers-ever-known line is perfectly valid.
Like Socrates (whose face was likened to the head of a crab), Nile (who has eyebrows like a couple of albino ferrets) was born in Athens in 469 BC and devoted his youth to barefoot philosophy. The one slight difference here is that Nile was actually was born in Sydney in 1934 and served in the army before being ordained as a minister. But let’s not get hung up on silly little details.
Like Socrates, Nile’s style is to approach fellow citizens in the street and quiz them about their commonsense beliefs to encourage them to think for themselves. Again, one small variation is that Nile’s method actually involves dictating definitive rights and wrongs from the lofty heights of a successful political and religious career. But only an irredeemable pedant would worry about that.
Continue comparing the lives of these two great intellectuals, and the uncanny coincidences just keep on coming.
Like Socrates, Nile doesn’t believe in writing anything down (so long as you don’t count his web site’s 500 media releases, 12-part introduction to himself and newsletter subscription invitation).
Also, just like Socrates, Nile is virtually penniless. Obviously there is the $182,428 per year salary plus electoral allowances, but apart from that, he’s pretty much a pauper.
Now let’s consider Socrates’ moving statement at his trial for failing to worship his city’s gods and for corrupting the young men of Athens.
“I have neglected the things that concern most people,” he’s said to have said, “making money, managing an estate, gaining military or civic honours, or other positions of power, or joining political clubs and parties which have formed in our cities.”
Except for the money, honours, power and political parties bits, it’s Nile to a tee.
The area where Nile has most in common with Socrates, however, is his open and inquiring mind.
Socrates’ position was that the correctness of a belief was not determined simply by the fact that it has been believed for a long time, but by the muscular testing of a position via counterarguments.
Nile is slightly different in that his usual response to opposition is to stick his fingers in his ears yelling “la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-God” (followed by a threat to block legislation), but apart from that minor variation, totally Socratic.
Clearly the old Latin phrase “barba non facit philosophum” (“a beard does not constitute a philosopher”) needs an addition which reads “but apparently being a proselytising old obstructionist does”.
And there endeth the lesson.
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