Socrates is on trial for atheism. He will be executed because he seems to Athens to be guilty of “not believing in the gods the state believed in but in other gods instead”. Socrates evidently did not believe in any of the gods officially approved by the state, for if he had, he could have saved his life simply by uttering one sentence: “I believe in __________ as the state believes,” filling in the blank with any one of the approved gods.
For Athens was a religious smorgasbord: you could choose any god you wished, and mere profession of faith was sufficient. But Socrates could not honestly do this. (A clever prosecutor could have shown this easily.) And the reason Socrates did not believe in the gods of the state was because he philosophized. He questioned. Yet – the supreme irony of the trial – philosophy itself, that offensive enterprise that made his enemies fear and and hate and kill him because they feared it led to atheism – is a divine vocation, a divine call, a divine command. Every single time Socrates mentions philosophy in the Apology he mentions its origin and pins it to “the god.”
Philosophizing is “the god’s way”; “where God posted me . . . with the duty to be a philosopher“; “help[ing] the god by proving that the man is not wise“; “my service of the god“; “something stuck on the state by the god“; [ … ] “commanded by the god.” A similar irony attaches to Jesus. Even non-Christians, who do not believe he is God, almost always agree that he was a saint; but he was executed for irreligion, for blasphemy. Apparently a little piety is respectable and safe; serious, honest piety is so dangerous that it is often fatal.
Peter Kreeft, Philosophy 101 by Socrates (Ignatius Press: 2002) pp. 40-41