Defending Your Beliefs: Martin Luther And Plato

Abstract

In this paper the literary works of Plato and Martin Luther will be compared. In Plato’s “Socrates’ Apology” and Martin Luther’s “Speech at the Diet of Worms” the defense of one’s beliefs is the central focus. When their beliefs are called into question, both Socrates and Martin Luther stay true to their causes and defend their beliefs at the cost of their lives. While both works tell of similar stories, the narrative is quite different. While Socrates stands in confidence, it comes off at times at arrogant. On the other hand, while Luther stands against his charges, it seems confident and defiant, but not at all arrogant. The main lesson of the works is the same, however, when your beliefs come under fire, are you willing to stay true to your causes, no matter the consequence?

There are several events in history where people have had to defend their beliefs and stay true to their causes. However, there are two in particular which when compared, give valuable lessons to society as well as the individual. “Socrates’ Apology” by Plato and “Speech at the Diet of Worms” by Martin Luther are two very powerful works, in which the defense of one’s beliefs was no simple debate; it was quite literally life and death. Although both men realized far before the trial was over that the verdict was already decided for their fates, they stayed true to their cause, nonetheless, and were never swayed by the idea of death. Socrates and Luther, both martyrs to their separate causes, welcomed the consequences of their convictions because of the very faith that lead them to their trials.

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“Socrates’ Apology” by Plato

In this literary work we see from Plato’s record of it, Socrates’ defense against his charges of “corrupting the youth and not properly honoring the gods”. Socrates was a man of deep convictions, so as he faced the accusations, he stood his ground firmly.

Socrates had it revealed to him that the Oracle of Delphi had told one of his friends that he was the wisest man in Athens. However, instead of boasting in arrogance, Socrates took it upon himself to prove the oracle wrong. He began to ask those around him what was worthwhile in life, on the premise that anyone who could answer that question would surely be more wise than he. In this process, he made many enemies, and he began to reach the conclusion that he perhaps was the most wise in Athens. He based this upon the fact that he was willing to confess his ignorance, instead of pretending to have the answers to everything. He felt deeply convicted to seek the answer, as he was a lover of knowledge.

Finally, after some time charges were brought against him for corrupting the youth and disobeying the gods. The people of Athens found his questioning to be less than appealing, and they were extremely put off at the thought of appearing foolish or ignorant. At his apology, Socrates says, “…there I believe he is bound to remain and face the danger, taking no account of death or anything else before dishounour” (Plato, 429-347 BC). This quote shows how deeply moved he felt to seek the knowledge, regardless of what the outcome was, as he was facing death at the time. I think it is quite profound, to know that you are facing an almost inevitable death, and stay true to your cause, which in Socrates’ case was the pursuit of knowledge and the truth. As the trial goes on, you can see that at times Socrates’ appears to be very arrogant in his defense, which ultimately led to his demise.

At the trials end the verdict is released, Socrates was found guilty. At the deliberation of his sentencing, it is Socrates’ own arrogance, which leads to the decision of death. It is likely that he may have been able to suggest exile and have been sent away. However, he chose to suggest a hefty fine of money, and so the suggestion of punishment then was decided upon as death, which was carried out swiftly after the trial. From his death, Socrates left behind a legacy of the hard and difficult choice to defend one’s belief and stay true to the cause, regardless of the outcome. Many still revere him as one of the wisest philosophers that has ever been, and he is very revered for holding fast and true to his morals and beliefs.

“Speech at Diet of Worms” by Martin Luther

In this literary work we see Martin Luther’s defense against the Holy Roman Empire, in a chance to recant the “95 Theses” and other controversial writings he had made. Luther was so deeply moved in his beliefs, and he was so strongly against the teachings and ways of the Catholic Church that he refused to recant anything.

Martin Luther was a German monk, who very strongly believed that salvation was reached through faith, not through works. At the time this was in gross opposition to the beliefs of the Catholic Church who believes that through works and repentance, one is able to achieve salvation. He distributed his beliefs in writing, which sparked the Catholic Church to demand he recant his beliefs.

At the Diet of Worms, which was his second and final opportunity to recant his writings, he said, “What I have just said I think will clearly show that I have well considered and weighed the dangers to which I am exposing myself, but far from being dismayed by them, I rejoice exceedingly to see the Gospel this day, as of old, a cause of disturbance and disagreement” (Luther, 1521). It is here we are able to see that Luther does not care the opinions of men or consequences of his actions, he only cares that the Gospel is causing a disturbance and disagreement, or in another words, that for the sake of the Gospel to be known there is disturbances.

Since he refuses to “bend the knee”, so to speak, to the Catholic Church and recant his beliefs about salvation he is considered a heretic and then became an outlaw (as he was ex-communicated by the Catholic Church). Although he was able to put off death, in part thanks to some very powerful German princes, he had accepted that death was always a possibility, especially given the power of the Catholic Church at the time, for his beliefs and his deep convictions to make them know. Because of this the church was reformed, and from Luther’s beliefs and works came the Protestant Church, whose beliefs hold to salvation through faith, and nothing else.

Commonalities and Differences

There are several commonalities and differences between these two men. Both Socrates and Luther defended their beliefs, in the face of death, unwaveringly. Both men believed their actions were directed by a higher power. For Socrates it was the god or his time, and for Martin Luther is was God the Father. Both men had accepted their fates, and in the face of their opposition, they chose to stay true to their causes. Because of their deep convictions, they forever shaped the world we live in now, with their contributions to philosophy and religion, respectively.

In their differences we see two very different approaches to their defenses. In Socrates’ case, his wisdom and confidence came of as arrogance much of the time. Even though he was willing to admit he did not know everything, in his defense his knowledge and wisdom showed itself in the form of arrogance, which ultimately led to his death. Martin Luther on the other hand, showed a very convicted defiance to the church and stuck to his faith in God to carry him through his defense. He never spoke of his own wisdom or accord, but rather what the Bible revealed in terms of faith and salvation. His defiance, while not appreciated by the Catholic Church, was taken very much to heart by people in positions of power who protected him and allowed the Reformation to blossom and eventually take place.

Conclusion

Socrates and Martin Luther were both martyrs for their separate causes. While their causes were very different, the legacy they left behind was the same. Defend your beliefs, no matter the price, and stay true to your cause. There is no doubt, a certain amount of conviction necessary to defend one’s beliefs in the face of death. The message these men both sent was that if you’re not willing to hold to your beliefs in the face of opposition, or even death, are they really even beliefs to you? When something is truly believed, convictions blossom in the heart or spirit, and these convictions are what give the strength for the beliefs to stand in the face of opposition. In today’s world, this legacy should be taken to heart and kept there, to allow convictions to blossom and courage to stand tall in the face of opposition, no matter what the cost.

References

  1. Bryan, William Jennings, ed. The World’s Famous Orations. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1906; New York: Bartleby.com, 2003. Retrieved from https://www.bartleby.com/268
  2. Editors, H. (2009, November 09). Socrates. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/socrates
  3. Martin Luther defiant at Diet of Worms. (2010, February 09). Retrieved from https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/luther-defiant-at-diet-of-worms (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/empires/thegreeks/characters/socrates_p4.html
  4. Plato, ., & Tredennick, H. (1954). The last days of Socrates: The apology ; Crito ; Phaedo. London: Penguin Books.
  5. Schmidt, M. R., Ph.D. Finding Ourselves in World Literature. [Liberty University Online Bookshelf]. Retrieved from https://libertyonline.vitalsource.com/#/books/9780135411056/

Cultural Relativism In An Age Of Globalization

After spending an entire life in the U.S. or the relative shelter of Western Europe, perhaps visiting a country where women cannot show their hair in public, drive or own property could come as a shock. In some places, gender differences continue to create deep power rifts, especially where the divides come from religion (Levine & Robbins, 2017). How would a westerner react to what is (from a western perspective) a clear infringement on gender equality and human rights? Culture plays such a significant part in interpersonal communication because it informs the contextual backgrounds of all communicative interactions. In an age if globalization, the boundaries of morality and cultural relativism are blurry.

A parent culture informs social learning and worldviews. Since all people develop in cultural contexts, it follows that they look at the world from behind the rich and selective lens of their culture (Raley & Sweeney, 2017). Attitudes and perceptions, ingredients of verbal and non-verbal communication, come from such cultural contexts (Raley & Sweeney, 2017). When two people are speaking, each forms an impression of the other. The emergent impression directs all manner of communication, including the attitude of the other person. Subsequently, the richness and depth of a communicative interaction depends on the specific perspective of cultural values and cultural identity.

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The first major contribution of a foundational culture is its connection to self-identification. Individuals define themselves according to their cultural backgrounds and geographic origins (Levine & Robbins, 2017). The sense of identity tends to elicit a defensive reaction if a subject were to perceive an attack against their values or their regional and social backgrounds (Raley & Sweeney, 2017). In other words, if one person condensers the other, the second person will develop a negative impression of the speaker and erect communication barriers (Levine & Robbins, 2017). After the first impression, the depth of the emergent communication barriers determines the quality of subsequent interaction. Here, contextualization is a relevant part of communication to not only avoid erecting barriers, but also as a moral imperative.

Circumcision is an important rite of passage. In the bible, circumcision was a mark of a covenant between Jews and God. In other places, it marks a transition from childhood to adulthood. Circumcision is such an important rite of passage that children prepare for the moment from their childhood. Their culture creates a sense of deep respect and transition in the simple act of circumcision. Male circumcision is not only a common feature of western civilization, doctors encourage it as a hygienic exercise. Problems begin with female circumcision. The phrase female genital mutilation (FGM) has gained prominence around the world (Walley, 1997). The term depicts the exercise as a form of mindless mutilation of female genitalia, and this writer strongly agrees with the assessment, especially after the background research for this paper.

From a native perspective, FGM is an important rite of passage. It marks the boundary between childhood and adulthood. Circumcision also creates a new mindset, one that establishes a self-perception of an adult rather than a child (Walley, 1997). Due to its symbolic significance, FGM also initiates membership into one’s community. From this paragraph so far, a notable theme of perspective is emergent. The very use of FGM is a powerful illustration of perspective from the writer. In all likelihood, the thought of FGM is likely to compel a show of dissent and a very negative image of the source (Walley, 1997). Does it matter that the subject wants to undergo the exercise? Perhaps a ready response of “brainwashing” and “social pressure” would come readily. FGM is simply out of date and out of place in the world today.

According to the symbolic interactionism theory of communications, symbols are a critical part of group membership. The relevance of symbols inspires tattoos and other forms of body labels. In a community of bikers (motor cycle enthusiasts), owning a motorcycle is a critical sign of group membership. From the theory of symbolic interactionism, a shared symbol connects people, forges a sense of collective identity and informs the future of inter-cultural communication. Clearly, circumcision played a similar role as a tattoo would play for fresh recruits in the army (at least from popular culture depictions of tattoos in some army units). The activity informs group membership. A person would feel out of place if they were to bypass the ceremony somehow. Such significance would not matter from an outside perspective. A mutilation is unacceptable.

From a western perspective, the contextual understanding of the outdated culture comes with sufficient medical and ethical support. A patriarchal society traditionally enforces its will on women, forcing them into activities that make them docile (Condon & Yousef, 2016). FGM ranks close to childhood marriages (forced), child soldiers (whether forced or voluntary) and denial of the right to own property. This research uncovered an article about wife inheritance. The very thought of wife inheritance is repulsive, yet it is part of some cultures, albeit an outdated culture that is phasing out.

In the context of all injustice in the world, does a westerner have a right to ‘defend’ the rights of oppressed communities? Perhaps the defense if a moral imperative. After all, humans owe a sense of duty to each other. It is immoral to stand aside and witness others suffering. In a quest for liberation, it does not matter than the target group wants to continue with their way of life (Sheen, Yekani & Jordan, 2018). Rather, any indication of resistance would fuel the quest for liberation. Resistance to enlightenment, after all, would be a demonstration of the depth of brainwashing in the foreign community. In addition, a communicative interaction is likely to dismiss the outdated cultural values as suppressive and savage (Condon & Yousef, 2016). Such dismissal comes from an enlightened position and authority.

After stepping back and re-evaluating the issue, western norms litter all interventions. In the afore-mentioned issue of widow-inheritance, the wife (of a deceased husband) must engage in sexual intercourse (unprotected) as part of cultural rituals (Perry, et al., 2014). Current research shows that the specific region in the world, sub-Saharan Africa, has the highest prevalence of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS (Perry, et al., 2014). In other words, the cultural practice exposes women to venereal diseases. Consider an alternative perspective. What if the woman is HIV positive and the man is not? The sexual contact is as much a threat to the man as it is to the woman. In fact, considering the high prevalence rate of HIV, having unprotected sex with a widow takes on new significance. Perhaps the husband died because of the feared virus. The man would expose himself to a chronic disease by conforming to the culture. Due to the cultural expectation of male dominance in sexual affairs, the dissent against such cultural practice stands on solid ground. Again, this writer opposes such practices completely.

Continuing on the same intriguing (if very dark) topic, widow inheritance intended to help the woman after her husband’s death. In some of the sub-Saharan cultures, women’s inability to own property left them vulnerable to chronic poverty after the loss of their husbands (Perry, et al., 2014). Therefore, wife inheritance allowed the woman an opportunity to continue raising her children in a sheltered homestead. The justifications are sickening (Perry, et al., 2014). These societies crippled women so much that they needed to the support of new husbands. The women did not have a say in the matter whatsoever. Today, the offensive cultural practices are phasing out. However, in these regions, women face an uphill struggle for survival after loss of their husbands (Walley, 1997). Crippling poverty and single-parenthood are increasing as an outcome of rapid cultural change (Walley, 1997). Perhaps a replacement cultural practice needed to come before the ideological changes.

In the other issue of FGM, the sustained effort to rid the world of the unethical exercise has finally moved the activity to the brink of extinction. However, its loos has also left significant damage to affected communities(Levine & Robbins, 2017). Primarily, the loss of a central rite of passage does not prepare girls for the transitions from childhood to adulthood(Levine & Robbins, 2017). Therefore, the cultural loss has eroded the capacity of the community to communicate important cultural messages such as the dynamics of interpersonal communications(Levine & Robbins, 2017). Subsequently, the rates of adolescent pregnancies (before marriage) are also increasing. This paper holds that the bad outcomes of change are better than the prior societies. Perhaps these communities will transition into better setting for women and children in the next generation.

A clear theme of seeing the world from behind one’s cultural perspective is a powerful part of intercultural contact. Each group is likely to see the other from the informed lens of one’s cultural background. In such context, true harmony is impossible (Levine & Robbins, 2017). Inequality, perceptions of injustice, mistreatment, and condescension among other indications of power disparity are likely to endure. While the examples of FGM and widow inheritance are extreme, similar illustrations of cultural differences would offer a similar assessment of cultural relativism.

An arranged marriage. Its foundation sounds completely unromantic and devoid of love. An arranged marriage also has a texture of complete loss of identity and inability of the married couple to select their wedding partners. Arranged marriages also have an aristocratic texture as a tool for maintaining power and gaining influence. The book The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri tells a different story. In the book, arranged marriages were much more effective than romantic marriages. An arranged marriage also brought two families together and tended to create a sense of equal cultural foundation (Adoor, 2018). Today, India has one the lowest divorce rates in the world, less than 1% (Adoor, 2018). A few decades ago, divorce was almost non-existent. In the United States, the global champion of liberty, marriages are failing in the same rate that they are succeeding.

The duration of marriage is not the only measure of its success. In fact, in a repressive culture, women (due to the tendency for men to wield more power) could face a significant threat of loss of social position if a marriage were to fail. In the west, unhappy marriages endured because of the justification of children and power among other factors (Booth, 2018). In the Indian culture, a marriage is a symbolic union of two families. The union is so powerful that a divorce would involve members from two extended families. In other words, a marriage is such a significant social event that its end goes beyond the man and the husband. In the same way, it follows that measures of happiness, such as co-existence, predict that arranged marriage could create a better chance of happiness and endurance than love-based marriages.

If a westerner were to meet an individual in an arranged marriage, the westerner is likely to express skepticism and sympathy. Perhaps out of a sense of entitlement to choice and liberal though, the westerner somehow perceives his or her position as superior to the individual in the arranged marriage. Unfortunately, numbers tell a different story. The theme of cultural relativism continues to grow. Looking at an outside culture from a local perspective is misleading and potentially divisive. It creates a false impression of subjugation and loss of autonomy and fuels condescension.

As a further source of insight into the depth of cultural differences affecting communication, the book Lahiri’s book (The Namesake) showed the complex dynamics of entitlement. Ashima and Ashoke felt that since they indulged their parents in a traditional ceremony, they deserved a similar honor. Unfortunately, their son Gogol dated American girls, notably Maxine, and lost his sense of cultural identity. The film adaptation of the book offers a compelling context for intercultural communication, specifically the value of moral relativism. Maxine erected a boundary between herself and Gogol’s parents despite the traditional functions of weddings and marital unions in the Indian society. The book established a powerful theme of cultural relevant in all aspects of life (Sheen, Yekani & Jordan, 2018). In other words, when interacting with a person from a different culture, it is critical to have a deep understanding of cultural undercurrents and show appropriate respect for diversity. Perhaps in a reversed situation, jokes and cruelty would not seem as funny.

For context, sexual liberation is a proud American heritage. The mannerism of dressing is a free expression of sexuality and self-concept. Despite the deep value of sexuality, such open expressions could have a different impression on an individual froman outside culture. For example, labelling tight-fitting clothing as designed for prostitutes is likely to offend. In some places, public embarrassment has resulted from women dressing in western fashion (Karega-Munene, 2018). In some places, reference to the loss of innocence in the Garden of Eden (when Adam and Eve realized they were naked) infer a need for using clothing to cover nudity (Karega-Munene, 2018). Here, a person from the west would feel a certain level of entitlement to select their clothing, even if the clothing would be inappropriate in other cultures. The entitlement, however, needs a strict restriction to one’s home.

Consider this situation for a moment. A woman is walking down the street, dressed in a smart attire and feeling good about herself. However, she is in an Islamic country. Her dressing offends the public, and to dissuade women from dressing in similar fashion in the future, take her clothes off in public (Karega-Munene, 2018). The reaction is unacceptable because the public is blaming the woman for the public’s own reaction to her clothing. Unfortunately, such events are a reality in some places. The events suggest that the victim (the woman) was insensitive to the local culture. It is likely that local women would lead the call for the act of humiliation. Here, the depth of cultural sensitivity tends to require continued vigilance and contextual awareness.

In the same way that dressing has symbolic relevance, some cultures attach deep pride to a woman’s hair. For example, heavy investment in hair and makeup are a part of the western culture. On the other hand, an Islam-inspired culture has a different perspective of a woman’s appearance. The feminine dress code restricts the visibility of a woman’s hair to the public and attaches deep value to the gesture (Booth, 2018). Hiding a face behind the dress code is also a common cultural practice and marks cultural events significant to the woman’s life (Mahmud & Swami, 2015). Her fashion choice could baffle an outsider, though the familiarity of the dress codes takes away most of the shock (Booth, 2018). In the different cultures, women use their choice of clothing to express their identity. In both cases, the subject is sending a strong message about her cultural background and her values.

Tight-fitting clothing could take an unwanted appearance of exhibitionism. Perhaps a woman from the Western countries is dressing the way she does to entertain men. In the same way, perhaps a woman from the Middle East is dressing the way she does as a sign of her docile compliance. In both cases, the interpretation of cultural messages is open to interpretation (Booth, 2018). An outside culture would have a different impression of the cultural item because of the restrictive effects of diverse worldviews. Perhaps interpersonal communications, and the depth of cultural interactions, vary because of such differences in value.

Perhaps some of the cultural coverage from this paper is over-simplistic. After proofreading the paper, a particular theme of referencing power dynamics and gender emerged. Specifically, women seem to bear the blunt edge of unethical conduct and suppression. The coverage does not reference a specific cultural group, and this writer would like to pass apologies if the content was offensive in any way. A growing theme of cultural illiteracy informs this section. Perhaps an outsider does not have the closest idea what they are talking about (Mahmud & Swami, 2015). Maybe speaking about intimate matters in a certain way is offensive to people from a particular culture. The intention was to point out the diverse perspectives behind intercultural interactions (Mahmud & Swami, 2015). Any offense would only illustrate the lack of depth and reinforce the argument about cultural appropriation. The future of multi-cultural interactions and cosmopolitanism may require society to overcome its current limitations and find a way to move forward.

Cultural diversity defines most regions around the world. Since culture includes all aspects of life, cultural affiliation tends to define the mannerism of interpersonal interactions, the perception of the world and the reaction to new cultures. The diversity complicates the depth of interpersonal communication because it creates in-dwelling assumptions and subsequently shapes the mannerism of social contact (Raley & Sweeney, 2017). Since all people see the world from behind the socializing agents of their origin, perhaps it is inevitable that such deep differences define perceptions of other cultures (Raley & Sweeney, 2017). Clearly, morality and cultural relativism interact along the lines of what is acceptable from a specific context of a background culture. Clearly, cultural relativism offers a powerful tool for bridging communication barriers or an immovable impediment against effective communications.

References

  1. Adoor. (2018, November 20). India has the lowest divorce rate in the world: Countries with lowest and highest divorce rates. Retrieved from https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/gk-current-affairs/story/india-has-the-lowest-divorce-rate-in-the-world-1392407-2018-11-20
  2. Booth, J. (2018, July 06). 14 fashion ‘faux pas’ that Americans make that French women don’t. Retrieved from https://www.thisisinsider.com/style-mistakes-american-women-make-2018-7
  3. Condon, J. C., & Yousef, F. S. (2016). An Introduction to Intercultural Communication. London: Collier Macmillan.
  4. Karega-Munene. (2018). Dress as a medium of cultural expression. Retrieved from http://africa.peacelink.org/wajibu/articles/art_4486.html
  5. Lahiri, J. (2006). The Namesake. Glebe, N.S.W.: Pascal Press.
  6. Levine, S. Z., & Robbins, C. (2017). Mirrors and masks: Reflections and constructions of the self. Bryn Mawr, PA: Brilliant Graphics, Exton, PA.
  7. Mahmud, Y., & Swami, V. (2015). The influence of the hijab (Islamic head-cover) on perceptions of womens attractiveness and intelligence. Body Image,7(1), 90-93. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2009.09.003
  8. Perry, B., Oluoch, L., Agot, K., Taylor, J., Onyango, J., Ouma, L., . . .Corneli, A. (2014). Widow cleansing and inheritance among the Luo in Kenya: The need for additional women-centred HIV prevention options. Journal of the International AIDS Society,17(1), 19010. doi:10.7448/ias.17.1.19010
  9. Raley, R. K., & Sweeney, M. M. (2017). Chapter 4: What Explains Race and Ethnic Variation in Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce, and NonmaritalFertility? In On-Line Working Paper Series, California Center for Population Research, UC Los Angeles(pp. 17-45). University of California, Los Angeles.
  10. Sheen, M., Yekani, H. A., & Jordan, T. R. (2018). Investigating the effect of wearing the hijab: Perception of facial attractiveness by Emirati Muslim women living in their native Muslim country. Plos One,13(10). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0199537
  11. Walley, C. J. (1997). Searching for “Voices”: Feminism, Anthropology, and the Global Debate over Female Genital Operations. Cultural Anthropology,12(3), 405-438. doi:10.1525/can.1997.12.3.405

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