I’ve been frustrated about strategy. The idea behind this dissertation has been the rejection of the Socratic account of knowledge and values. I have understood Socrates to be the foundational thinker under girding philosophical and theological argument in the world today. I take his view to be that knowledge and values are a matter of the logical part of a distinction between logical and rhetorical argument. I have argued that Socrates was in an unrecognized debate with the Teacher of Righteousness, a character mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls. I have also claimed that the Teacher’s view on this issue was that knowledge and values is a matter of not just logic, or just rhetoric, but both logical and rhetorical argument.
I have been frustrated because, though my first goal should be to lay out the argument between Socrates with his allies on the one hand and the Teacher on the other, I have also wanted to engage people in a more direct argument about views that I suspect are the consequences of their commitment to Socratic principles. So, I believe Christianity and the interpretation of Jesus most popular in the world today is a wholly derived creature of Socratic commitments. I have described Jesus on the Christian’s view as a Socratic Hero.
My frustration is due to the fact, I believe, that though Christianity is a position derived from Socratic commitments, Christians are persuaded there is no connection between their theological views and philosophical views. They do not agree that one is at all reliant on the other. As I believe they are, I am frustrated as Christians have not responded to my arguments in such a way that the connections that I want to find can be revealed. Hence, I see myself now trying to fit various Christian writers into one Procrustean bed or another. I cannot see how such a practice can come to any productive end.
Therefore, I want to try a different strategy. I want to direct my inquiry again on what I take to be the Socratic roots of Christianity. I will do this by considering, what I call, the Theology of Spongebob.
My story begins with a brief description of Spongebob Squarepants. Spongebob is a cartoon character who, along with his buddies Patrick Star and Squidward, lives in a community at the bottom of the ocean called Bikini Bottom. Their lives and the effectiveness of their comedy can be blamed on his cartoonist. (There are many more details that can be gleaned from here and here.)
Given we now understand who Spongebob is, what life in Bikini Bottom would be, and how the "great cartoonist in the sky," or back at the studios in the Far East, determines these characters' lives, the next move brings us into the picture. That is, the claim is made that we are like Spongebob and his friends who live in Bikini Bottom. Our lives are also completely determined by the great cartoonist.
Over time, a church grew consisting of people who came to believe this story. They too believed their lives were like those described in Spongebob’s animated series, and that their fates were informed by and completely at the mercy of Spongebob’s "intelligent designer" the cartoonist.
The importance of the story of Spongebob has to do with the understanding that, without some way to save us from suffering, then we must expect knowledge and values to be impossible, argument futile, the terms of arguments manipulable by the powerful, and life so understood not be worth living. The story of Spongebob gives us hope that by following the directions for life, provided by the great cartoonist who determines our lives, we will not only know good, but do good. Those who do not devote their lives to following those rules, who remain fixated on the falseness of their animated and artificial lives, will be left with false opinions and corrupt preferences.
Understandably, there has been a skeptical response in some quarters. There are four schools of thought on the question of whether the theology of Spongebob is an accurate and helpful account of our lives.
The first school argues that all we really need to know is the broad outline of Spongebob’s story. According to this school, the truth of its claims, that is, that our lives are like the lives of Spongebob, Pat, and Squidward, and develop at the discretion of a great cartoonist, is confirmed at every moment we see our lives develop as a great cartoonist would develop them. Based on the credibility of Spongebob’s story to explain people’s lives, there is reason to believe the claims made that Spongebob himself actually bought burger fixings, and what’s more, when he was erased by unscrupulous computer animators, he was redrawn by the great free-hand cartoonist and walked among us again.
The second school argues that we do have confirmation of the story of Spongebob. For example, there are reliable reports that Spongebob Squarepants was seen buying hamburger buns and pickles at the Hollywood Fred Meyer store in Portland, Oregon, sometime in 2003. According to this school, it’s lucky that they have such evidence available, evidence that confirms the Spongebob story in the face of claims that our lives are like what happens in competing and equally plausible children’s television programming. So, for example, there was a serious challenge by several people who made the argument that our lives were like those in the cartoon of Jimmy Neutron and his friends and family. The basis for their argument was the greater realism afforded by computer graphics.
The third school proposes a skeptical argument that the whole theology of Spongebob rests on there being evidence that Spongebob and his buddies exist. According to this school, the evidence offered in support of the claims made about Spongebob’s appearance is not sufficient because it is second or third hand, and possibly created with a more sinister agenda in mind. Without evidence, according to this view, the story of Spongebob is no different than any other entertaining fiction. Without evidence, the story of Spongebob cannot give meaning to our lives or provide an account of salvation. In brief, if there is no historical Spongebob, there can be no Spongebob of faith.
The fourth school questions the account offered that Spongebob Squarepants actually bought burger buns and other picnic fixings at a supermarket in Portland Oregon, sometime a few years ago. Their argument is a matter of first questioning the idea that our lives could be anything like the seemingly fulfilling lives of cartoon characters in a make believe community at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. The suggestion depends on first adopting a view of reason as a matter of logic that makes life a matter of suffering. When there would be no reason to think life was suffering because we would reject the Socratic principles that made it so, it would then be unnecessary to grasp at the straws provided by a theology of Spongebob promising to make life worthwhile again. Again in brief, if there isn't a Spongebob of faith, there can't be an historical Spongebob either.
The four schools provide arguments for and against the theology of Spongebob as an account of our reality. All four are based on the claim that knowledge and values are a matter of logical argument. The implications of this account include all the skepticism and nihilism that motivates people to adopt Spongebob’s theology in the first place. The story of Spongebob is a story designed to make people accept the original claim about knowledge and values. The theology of Spongebob undermines the initial rejection of the account of knowledge and values in terms of logic by arguing that, as our lives are like those of cartoon characters, we have no cause to object because we only seem to have lives anyway.
The last part of my account here is that Christianity is like the theology of Spongebob. We have the same account of Jesus and God as we do of Spongebob and his cartoonist. The story of Jesus, so understood, stands or falls on whether we want to adopt a theology of Spongebob. It stands or falls on what we want to do with the underlying claims made about reason, and so forth.
Like the Teacher of Righteousness, I recommend we chuck the Socratic commitments, the various theologies that tag along, and one's consequent preoccupations with kissing boot.