Did you know? Plato codified atheophobia

Did you know that Plato codified atheophobia — the anti-atheist prejudice based on the preconception that morals must be founded on belief in divinity — and promoted either long incarceration or the death penalty for atheists?

Plato recognized that atheism was widespread in Greece and sought to understand the causes of this non-belief which he considered dangerous and deserving of severe punishment. According to the historian Georges Minois, Plato was the originator of the prejorative opinion of atheism, linking non-belief and immorality, a stain which has lasted over two millenia. For Plato, atheism is THE crime par excellence.

In Plato’s own words:

There shall be three prisons — one for common offences against life and property; another, near by the spot where the Nocturnal Council will assemble, which is to be called the ‘House of Reformation’; the third, to be situated in some desolate region in the centre of the country, shall be called by a name indicating retribution.

There are three causes of impiety, and from each of them spring impieties of two kinds, six in all. First, there is the impiety of those who deny the existence of the Gods; these may be honest men, haters of evil, who are only dangerous because they talk loosely about the Gods and make others like themselves; but there is also a more vicious class, who are full of craft and licentiousness. To this latter belong diviners, jugglers, despots, demagogues, generals, hierophants of private mysteries, and sophists. The first class shall be only imprisoned and admonished. The second class should be put to death, if they could be, many times over.

The two other sorts of impiety, first of those who deny the care of the Gods, and secondly, of those who affirm that they may be propitiated, have similar subdivisions, varying in degree of guilt. Those who have learnt to blaspheme from mere ignorance shall be imprisoned in the House of Reformation for five years at least, and not allowed to see any one but members of the Nocturnal Council, who shall converse with them touching their souls health. If any of the prisoners come to their right mind, at the end of five years let them be restored to sane company; but he who again offends shall die.

Plato, The Laws: Book X, page 908

Minois sums up this draconian legal programme by affirming that Plato thus simultaneously invents religious intolerance, the Inquisition and concentration camps.

References :

  • Histoire de l’athéisme, Georges MINOIS, Fayard, 1998
  • The Laws: Book X, Plato, Project Gutenberg.

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