In Book 7 of Plato’s Republic, the old sage tells us to imagine people chained from childhood inside an underground den, or cave.
They’re forced to face the walls so they cannot turn their heads. Behind them, a fire is burning to provide a dim light. Between the prisoners and the fire, objects pass along a walkway, casting their shadow along the jagged walls. Of course, they cannot see the objects, so the distorted shadows are the only reality the prisoners know.
I recently visited Linville Caverns in the Blue Ridge Mountains to gain a sense of what Plato meant. As my tour group stood inside the cavern deep under the mountain, the guide told the story of Civil War deserters who lived in the cave until smoke rising from the mountain gave them away. “Here is where they built their fire,” he said, pointing to an indention in the rock separating two large passageways. “You can still see the discoloration from the smoke on the ceiling.”
I paused to imagine the myriad of shadowy figures dancing across the cavern walls in the firelight those men might’ve seen.
The shadows they saw on the walls, and to Plato’s point, were distortions of reality.
Plato then asks us to imagine one of the prisoners escaping the cave and seeing the outside world for the very first time. Having been enlightened by the sun shining on all objects, this person would see objects as they really are, not as the distorted shadows he knew inside the cave.
With his new sense of reality, he experiences a dramatic paradigm shift. “I must go back and tell the others!” But when he goes back to explain, they cannot understand him, for they don’t have the conceptual framework to understand him. His words are meaningless babble to them. For them, the shadows are reality.
In his pity, he knows he should be their guardian. He feels an obligation to do what is best for them, although they might object. So, he takes it upon himself to be their philosopher-king.
The philosopher-king, says Plato, is the rightful ruler of the people, for he has attained knowledge of the Good. Attaining knowledge of the “Good,” he adds, is the most important thing any philosopher can do, for with it comes true knowledge and without it, we’re left with only opinions.
When I study Plato, I can’t help but think of the origins of philosophy in the Garden of Eden. Remember how the serpent tricked Eve into tasting the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil? “If you’ll just eat it,” he said, “you won’t die, and besides, you’ll be enlightened and god-like, knowing Good and Evil.”
Since then, every philosopher has tried to explain the Good. The egoists say Good is what benefits the self; utilitarians say Good is what benefits the greatest number of people; hedonists say Good is what brings you pleasure; relativists say Good is determined by culture, a group, or individuals; humanists say Good is found without God.
I guess that’s why Jesus cut to the chase and said, “Why do you call me ‘Good’? No one is Good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18 ESV)
Unfortunately, some of our political leaders seem to be acting out Plato’s cave analogy. They behave as if we the people are chained to the walls of some sort of cave while they belittle us and call us deplorables, clingers, and nationalists.
Having eaten the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil themselves, these progressive politicians have taken God’s Good and turned it on its head. What we know from God’s revelation as Good, they call evil, and what God calls evil, they call Good.
They exchange the Light of Good with the Shadows of Evil.
Whether it’s climate change, gun control, immigration, sanctuary cities, justice, abortion, gender confusion, or population control, progressives consistently insist upon the Marxist doctrine of turning everything we know about reality and morality upside down.
Like Plato’s philosopher-kings, these progressive politicians insist their way is the true way to Good. For them, it is the only sustainable way.
It reminds me of the prophet’s warning: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20 NIV)
Will you join me in prayer for our nation?