The Big Questions
by Eric Metaxas
I have had the privilege of being acquainted with a number of brilliant writers and speakers who had thought rather a lot about the Big Questions and who had some pretty terrific answers to those questions. Why not bring them to New York? And why not invite my friends to hear them? And why not serve hors d’oeuvres? And so, Socrates in the City was born.
Can you imagine how happy I am that this book has come out? If not, let me tell you how happy—very, very. It’s a tremendous joy for me to look at the evidence of something we’ve been doing for ten years now and to realize that these talks are just as fresh on the page as they were the actual evenings of the events. That is saying a lot, because most of these events were magical. Just ask the people who have attended over the years.
As it happened, eight of our first ten speakers were named Os Guinness. That’s not a weird coincidence, but it is evidence of the generosity of a dear friend, to whom we here gratefully doff our caps. I remember that our second event—Os was not the speaker—took place the day after the hotly contested 2000 election between Al Gore and George W. Bush. Everyone had stayed up till three or four a.m. the night before, hoping to find out who had won. Little did they know the issue would drag on for many weeks.
So, the next night a handful of our audience members had some difficulty keeping their eyes open during David Aikman’s terrific talk on Solzhenitsyn, Nelson Mandela, and Elie Wiesel. Quel dommage! In all these years that has never happened again, but should it ever happen to you at a Socrates event, you should probably consider getting a good night’s sleep the night before. The act of open-mouthed snoring while Bishop N. T. Wright or Sir John Polkinghorne—or any other ecclesiastical worthy—is holding forth is still considered dŽclassŽ in most respectable New York social circles.
My philosophy is that answering the Big Questions about “life, God, and other small topics” can be fun if you know in advance that there are actually good and hopeful answers to those questions. Somehow, we actually do know that. Don’t ask me how. But it does follow logically that if you know there are good and hopeful answers to these Big Questions, then asking them becomes far less frightening. It is our firm belief that one shouldn’t fear asking such questions, and so, we do not. On the contrary, “let us beard the lion in his own den!” Or something like that.
I should say that this book contains some heavy thinking, and thus it is not meant to be read in one sitting. It is meant to be savored and read slowly. Some of these essays are intense and will require periods of serious concentration. Please do not attempt to read them while driving a rickety panel van or operating dangerous machinery. The point of reading Peter Kreeft’s talk on suffering is not to get points on your license or lose a limb! Please read responsibly. As Socrates once said: “Know thyself”—and thy limits.
My introductions have always been calculatedly dopey—or dippy—because we firmly believe that’s the surest way of letting the audience and the speaker know up front that we expect to have fun and that this will not be a ponderous intellectual exercise. We will not abide pretentiousness, but we will sometimes countenance a freewheeling Marx Brothers approach to the search for truth. After all, who said that the exploration of the Big Questions and fun can’t go together? It was probably La Rochefoucauld, but who cares what he thinks? Seriously, I think that the fun we have is vital to what we do. We know that no matter how serious the subject (suffering and evil and death, for example), we will enjoy ourselves. We hope we’ve captured something of that juxtaposition between the covers of this book.