A day in the year 399 BC, the philosopher Socrates stood before a jury of 500 of his fellow Athenians. Socrates was being accused of “Refusing to recognize the Gods that the state recognized.” By not recognizing the Gods that the Athenian state recognized, his accusations were compounded with the additional charge of “Corrupting the youths of Athens.”
The trial took place in the heart of the city, the jurors seated on wooden benches surrounded by a crowd of spectators. Socrates’ accusers were three Athenian citizens who recognized the truth of the official Gods of Athens. The accusers were given three hours to present their case, and then Socrates would have three hours to defend himself. If Socrates was to be found guilty; his penalty could be death.
After the arguments of both Socrates and his accusers were over, each juror registered his judgment by placing a small disk into an urn marked “Guilty” or “Not Guilty.” Socrates was found guilty by a vote of 280 to 220. Yes, 280 of the good citizens of Athens saw that it was their duty to defend and protect the “Recognized Gods of Athens.”
Now that Socrates had been found guilty of “Not recognizing the Gods that the Athenian state officially recognized,” and consequently “Corrupting the youths of Athens,” his accusers argued for the death penalty. Socrates in his defense proposed that he be fined a modest sum of money. In light of the severity of his crime of “Not recognizing the Gods of Athens,” the jury selected the death sentence for Socrates. Athenian law prescribed the carrying out the death sentence was to be by drinking a cup of poison hemlock, and Socrates would then be his own executioner.
In our advanced and modern civilization of the United States, we should think, “How uneducated, idiotic, and backwards those Athens must have been to sentence Socrates to death for simply not recognizing the official state “Gods of Athens.” But human nature being what it is no matter what period in time, when today I hear of ministers having their congregations actively praying for President Obama’s death…are we really that far removed from those ancient Athenians?