Friday, March 01, 2013

Life, God, and Other Small Topics: Socrates in the City edited by Eric Metaxas

Review by my brother and a friend
I found this book because my brother, Joel Kok, wrote a review of it with a friend. I thought it was a great read.

Socrates in the City was started by Eric Metaxas "with the simple idea that the philosopher Socrates was quite right when he famously said that the 'unexamined life is not worth living.'" He decided to bring some people who were asking and thinking about the "Big Questions" to New York, invite a few friends and serve some wine and hors d'oevres.

Each section of the book is one of the speeches by these thinkers. It begins with the introduction by Metaxas, then the speech itself, and then a transcription of the question and answer period afterward.

The introductions often make me laugh out loud. I had not actually heard of Eric Metaxas before this but he is a very witty guy. The speeches are wondeful, concise spoken essays about "life, God and other small topics" such as Belief in God in an Age of Science, Making Sense out of Suffering, Can an Atheist be a Good Citizen?, Who Are We? C.S. Lewis and the Question of Man. To name a few. The speakers had to stick to about a 45 minute talk, so they are concise. Each of these topics could be -- and are -- a topic it would take several books to discuss.

I found myself usually reading one and then stopping so I could soak it in and ruminate on it for a while before jumping into the next one. There are so many great quotes it's hard to chose just a few to include. I'll put down a few, though.
The question of truth is as important to religion as it is to science...Of course, science and religion are looking for different aspects of the truth. Science....restricts itself essentially to asking questions of process, which are the "how questions."....Religion is asking a different set of questions, and in my view, more interesting questions...of meaning and purpose: "Is there something going on in what is happening in the world?"
Those seeking to serve the God of truth should welcome truth from whatever source it comes. 
So, the fact that there is cancer in the world, which is, undoubtedly, an anguishing aspect of the world and a source of grief and anger to us, is, at least, not gratuitous. It is not something that a God who was a little more compassionate or a little more competent could easily have removed. It is the shadow side of the creativity of the world. It is the necessary cost of a creation allowed to make itself.
To live is to suffer. Therefore, if life has meaning, suffering has meaning, too.
God is intimately present in the worst sufferings. Where was God in the Holocaust? He was in the gas chambers.
God doesn't give us a lot of words to answer the problem of suffering...he gives us a single word, and his name is Jesus.
That's just a small sampling from the first few speeches. There was a humorous exchange in one of the introductions that I could relate to as someone who sits in the sound booth often:
Eric Metaxas: Can everyone in this area hear?
Speaker: I am sorry, what should I do?
Eric Metaxas: You should berate one of the sound people.
Speaker: That is cathartic but not very useful.
That cracked me up.

But seriously this book is great. I highly recommend it. I plan to send it to a few people, actually, just to encourage them to read it. I like the shortness and conciseness, so people who don't like to read might actually be okay with it.

There is a website for the group Socrates in the City. I hope to explore it and hear more great thinkers and speakers.