Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you! For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.
- 1 Corinthians 4:8-13
“Plato once described Diogenes as ‘a Socrates gone mad.’ Although this was meant as an insult, it is not far from the truth. …
“Diogenes was the first of a group of thinkers who became known as the Cynics, a term taken from the Greek kunikos, meaning ‘dog-like.’ It reflects the determination of the Cynics to spurn all forms of social custom and etiquette, and instead live in as natural a state as possible. They asserted that the more one can do this, as Diogenes himself did by living a life of poverty with only an abandoned tub for shelter, the nearer one will be to leading the ideal life.
“The happiest person, who in Diogenes’ phrase, ‘has the most’, is therefore someone who lives in accordance with the rhythms of the natural world, free from the conventions and values of civilized society, and ‘content with the least.’”
- Sam Atkinson (senior editor), The Philosophy Book, Big Ideas Simply Explained
Diogenes (404-323BC) wore rags, if any clothing at all. Living in an abandoned tub for shelter, he probably did not bathe often, if at all. Maybe Plato had more reasons than his philosophy to stay away from Diogenes. Yet, Plato seems to be like a lot of the fault finders in churches these days. Plato did not like Diogenes and the Cynics due to the philosophy of abandoning worldly goods, and he did not like Protagoras and the Sophists due to their insistence on getting paid for their rhetoric. And the rhetoric might be compelling words, but not necessarily good logical thought.
In The Philosophy Book, it says nothing about what most non-philosophers “know” about Diogenes. There was nothing about the dog, Rataplan, or looking for an honest man, or even the accusations of dishonesty levied on Diogenes and his father, Hicesias. Hicesias was a minter of coins (either Persian or Greek), and Diogenes was accused of adulteration or debasement of the currency, being exiled from Sinope as a result. (Sinope is in what is now Turkey along the Black Sea.) It is unclear if Diogenes was accused of counterfeiting currency or defacing legitimate currency to make it worthless. (Proof of defaced coins, using some type of chisel, have been found in Sinope archaeological digs.) And it is also unclear as to the motive, since it could be financial or political to create an imbalance in the empire’s economy. The family’s political loyalties were in question, Persian or Greek. Thus, the search for an honest man might have been a backward investigation of his crimes. Unable to prove that he did not commit the crime (maybe due to knowing he was guilty), he tried to prove everyone else was equally dishonest.
But then, Diogenes was always doing strange things without explanation. He was often found in the marketplace carrying a lit lantern in the middle of the day. When asked what he was doing, he would reply that he was looking for a man. This quirk could have morphed into the modern myth that he was on a journey with his dog to find an ‘honest’ man. Thus, the search for an honest man might be a false myth, and no wonder it got no mention in the book on philosophy. And as for the dog, Rataplan, Diogenes lived ‘like’ a dog, but he owned nothing. He is often pictured in sculpture with a dog, and pictured with dogs in paintings, but only due to the etymology of the word “cynic,” and his living a dog-like life.
And even his reason for developing the philosophy of the cynics could be in question. In today’s world, if you were cheated by someone, you could send them to court on criminal charges, but if that failed, you could send them to court of civil charges to try to get your money back. If the same type of court system was available in the time of Diogenes, it would be a frivolous lawsuit, as Diogenes did not even own the abandoned tub he used as his shelter. Even then, taking the tub away in a lawsuit might mean that he could find an even better abandoned tub and your lawsuit would have led to an improvement in the life of Diogenes. I am just speculating, but it is amusing to think that Diogenes invented, unwittingly or with thought, concepts such as “going on the lam” and “going off the grid.” Whether that was purely philosophically done or whether it was a result of his ordered exile from Sinope is anyone’s guess.
As for other interesting tidbits about Diogenes, there was a strange encounter between Diogenes and Alexander the Great, a pupil of Aristotle. Upon establishing a great victory, most philosophers of the time congratulated Alexander, but Alexander heard nothing from Diogenes. Curious, the great emperor went to Corinth to meet Diogenes in person. When he saw Diogenes in his abandoned tub, Alexander asked if he could help the philosopher. Diogenes explained that what he has lost, Alexander cannot produce. When Alexander pressed him for what he could do, Diogenes said for Alexander to stand out of the light. Obviously, Alexander had stood between Diogenes and the sun. Alexander said of the encounter that if he were not Alexander the Great, he wished to be Diogenes, obviously someone who was unimpressed by the great emperor. I used no quotes, in that every retelling of the story is worded slightly differently, either from the ancient writings of the time or by the translators of those writings.
The Cynicism philosophy was adopted, in part, during the Hippie movement. They had nothing, or nothing other than a Volkswagon van, usually with a psychedelic paint job. They lived dog-like lives, but they were not dog-like in tenacity to follow their lifestyle. They were more laid back, accomplishing the same results. Yet, today, most of those Hippies live in well-built homes with modern creature comforts, having abandoned their vow to abstain from earthly conventions. But not all.
Many of the “green” movements that have sprung up in the past 100 years might also be related to Diogenes and the Cynics, in getting back to nature.
But there is a “coincidence” in that the Scripture above talks of Paul having nothing and his crew of evangelists are homeless, homeless for the Lord. He wrote the quote above in his letter to the Corinthians, the place where Diogenes passed away less than 400 years before the letter was written. Could it be that the Apostle Paul wanted the people to make that connection between Paul’s mission team and the local philosopher? While Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were in Athens, Diogenes, and all his quirks, was in Corinth. It is an interesting thought, about the same as Paul’s sermon about the statue to the unknown God in Athens. I feel strongly that these connections provided means for the Gospel to be understood by the Greeks.
The Scripture runs parallel to the Cynicism philosophy in many ways. Diogenes himself was not impressed by Alexander the Great or anything other than the natural world. The sad thing is that Diogenes would have probably been equally unimpressed by Jesus, but with the work of the Holy Spirit, even a hard nut to crack, like Diogenes, could be shown the light. At least that retort would be incorrect. While Alexander the Great, no matter how great he was, Alexander could not produce the sun’s light. He could only move so that Diogenes was no longer in the shadow. But Jesus is Light. He created the sun, and that, for the philosopher, might be the irrefutable difference.
Before I get to the end, the homelessness problem is a difficult situation. With different cultures around the world, different “solutions” have been tried and failed. Poverty is one thing that we can work on, but Jesus said that we will always have the poor. Not in Heaven, but here on earth. As long as there is greed, some will have more than others, but as long as there is a bulldog-style determination and the skill and knowledge to get it done, there will be those who emerge above poverty and achieve great success.
But some do not wish to be confined by four walls and indoor plumbing. I have talked to Vietnam Veterans who felt trapped indoors. I had ridden in a vehicle from the Mumbai international airport through the slums of Mumbai. Across the street, there are high-rise apartments, built by Indira Gandhi. They were for the people in the slums, but the poor there preferred their canvas walls, as seen in the photograph above. But, they rented their apartments to others. They had no problem making money, but like some Vietnam Veterans, like preferred a more open-air lifestyle, more attuned to nature. And from the odor, a little too attuned to nature for most people.
We will always have the poor and we will always have people who do not like living inside. But it gets cold in the winter in many places on earth and the summers can be too hot. And for the poor who are homeless, they need a good meal.
There is a lot to be done by those that have more for those who Diogenes would claim “have the most” – by not having at all.
And I think about my wife and I. We would probably be in Tennessee, sitting on our son’s couch right now, if we were like Diogenes, not having all this “stuff.” I think that is part of what the Bible is saying about being prepared for Jesus’ return. Pack light and be ready to move at a moment’s notice. For you military veterans: Have your bug out gear ready.
Jesus is coming soon.
If you like these Tuesday morning essays about philosophy and other “heavy topics,” but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Tuesday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.