Plato's Laws X, 2

No true believer does wrong, says the Athenian, out of fear of the gods: 

Ath. No one who in obedience to the laws believed that there were Gods, ever intentionally did any unholy act, or uttered any unlawful word; but he who did must have supposed one of three things-either that they did not exist,-which is the first possibility, or secondly, that, if they did, they took no care of man, or thirdly, that they were easily appeased and turned aside from their purpose, by sacrifices and prayers.

So we can distinguish the 'country music case' as the last one of those three options. He does believe in God! He just thinks that God is going to be pretty easily appeased, with some prayer and apologies. A Christian might well come to the conclusion that God is forgiving if only you'll ask, because preachers have been telling him that since childhood. The Greek gods were not supposed to be easily appeased where violators of justice were concerned: they had names like Nemesis. Zeus was supposed to be a particular defender of justice, and Apollo would bring plagues down on wrongdoers (the Iliad, recall, opens with one).

Thus, the Athenian reasons, Greeks who think they can easily turn away divine wrath are paying the gods an insult: such persons don't really believe that the gods are devoted to justice so much as to gifts and attention. That's a kind of sacrilege, and itself an insult to the gods.

He goes on to propose that, if they were honest, such persons would admit that they feel one of these three ways about the gods: that they don't exist, or that they don't care about us really, or that they're easily turned. Such persons would demand of "us" a proof that the gods do exist, and that they are in fact attentive to justice. 

Cleinias responds to the challenge, stating that the gods' existence is obvious.

Ath. How would you prove it?
Cle. How? In the first place, the earth and the sun, and the stars and the universe, and the fair order of the seasons, and the division of them into years and months, furnish proofs of their existence; and also there is the fact that all Hellenes and barbarians believe in them.

These sorts of 'proofs' are still widely used. The argument from the orderly nature of the universe, for example, is Aquinas' fifth proof of the existence of God and yet also the oldest; here we see it in Plato. It is answered by atheists and agnostics in our day by the argument that the order is a kind of chance; that observers could only exist in a relatively orderly universe, and thus since we are here to observe, no other sort of universe is possible (and thus no explanation for the order is necessary, and via Occam's Razor, no God or divine plan is necessary, and should be omitted). The Humeans argue that there is no actual plan or order at all, just us imputing one based on our observations of uncaused patterns in the 'mosaic' of reality. 

Plato is onto the fact that this explanation won't satisfy. Yet the Athenian praises it, and accuses his own people -- Athenians -- of being too corrupted by false poets to appreciate it. Well, false poets like Homer! The Iliad opens with the Greeks being punished by Apollo, as mentioned, and turning aside his wrath with a sacrifice. If Homer isn't a true poet, who is? 

Not Hesiod, apparently, whom I take Plato's character to be describing in the next passage.

Ath. At Athens there are tales preserved in writing which the virtue of your state, as I am informed, refuses to admit. They speak of the Gods in prose as well as verse, and the oldest of them tell of the origin of the heavens and of the world, and not far from the beginning of their story they proceed to narrate the birth of the Gods, and how after they were born they behaved to one another. Whether these stories have in other ways a good or a bad influence, I should not like to be severe upon them, because they are ancient; but, looking at them with reference to the duties of children to their parents, I cannot praise them, or think that they are useful, or at all true. Of the words of the ancients I have nothing more to say; and I should wish to say of them only what is pleasing to the Gods. But as to our younger generation and their wisdom, I cannot let them off when they do mischief. For do but mark the effect of their words: when you and I argue for the existence of the Gods, and produce the sun, moon, stars, and earth, claiming for them a divine being, if we would listen to the aforesaid philosophers we should say that they are earth and stones only, which can have no care at all of human affairs, and that all religion is a cooking up of words and a make-believe.

Hesiod's Theogony sounds like the source for this objection. Uranus can be translated as "Sky," and the Hamilton translation invokes the word "sky" in this passage about the earliest stories about the gods. Now these earliest stories about the gods involve parricide and castrations, and various other sorts of violence by the gods including Zeus. These are old stories, though, and the Athenian isn't quite willing to say they shouldn't be taught (though Plato is! He says in the Republic that the poets should only teach things about the gods that are in line with justice; and the Athenian has already decried any new such stories from poets). 

It does complicate the matter, however, of proving that we are governed by true gods who do care about justice and won't be easily turned aside by flattery. The Athenian has argued for the importance of upholding the old ways, civic customs, and the honor of our ancestors; but here is a place where the stories our ancestors have long told about the gods themselves are a real problem for his intention. 

Note that the Athenian is preparing to prove that the divine beings include the stars and planets.  We'll get to that argument in the next part.

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