An elderly Socrates, we recall, was charged in Athens with doing “injustice by not believing in the gods in whom the city believes…”
But we must wonder, of course, whether Socrates rejected any more than we have the gods that his polis (like other poleis of the day) may have naturally had to depend upon publicly for its well-being, if not for its very existence.
Thus, would not any condemnation of Socrates on an impiety charge (contrary to the judgment of almost half of the Athenians there and of almost all informed observers for more than two millennia thereafter) seem to condemn ourselves as well?
After all, can we reasonably expect to know on our own anything more about the divine than thoughtful Athenians (including Socrates) could ever have known?
Indeed, would there not be something demeaning, if not even suicidal, about any condemnation by us of any “Socrates” in our far more comfortable circumstances?
And the typical suicide (or self-murder) has always been discouraged by any purportedly divine guidance properly respected either by the Classical Greeks or by us.
Such then, we venture to suggest, is the authoritative understanding of the proper relation to the divine that should discipline both one’s obligations as a conscientious citizen and one’s career as a prudent human being (even as we recall that Socrates himself may never have questioned publicly the right, if not even the duty, of the polis to be concerned about the piety of its citizens, whatever reservations he may properly have had about conventional accounts in his day of the divine).
[Remarks prepared by George Anastaplo (of the Loyola School of Law) as one of a dozen “jurors” during a reenactment of the Trial of Socrates presented at the Palmer House in Chicago, Illinois, January 31, 2013, by the National Hellenic Museum.
[The Judges on this occasion were Richard A. Posner of the United States Court of Appeals (presiding), William J. Bauer of the United States Court of Appeals, and Anna H. Demacopoulos of the Circuit Court of Cook County. The Attorneys were four Chicago lawyers: Robert A. Clifford, Patrick M. Collins, Patrick J. Fitzgerald and Dan K. Webb. The Academic Advisor for this occasion was S. Sara Monoson of Northwestern University.
[See, on the Trial of Socrates, George Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen (Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 1975).]