Athens and Jerusalem (Continued)

Xander25 comments on ancient roots of equality, of justice being ‘no respecter of persons’:

It seems to me there is a similar line of thought in Epictetus: “XLIV. These reasons do not cohere: I am richer than you, therefore I am better than you; I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better than you. On the contrary these rather cohere, I am richer than you, therefore my possessions are greater than yours: I am more eloquent than you, therefore my speech is superior to yours. But you are neither possession nor speech.”

My comment:

That passage in Epictetus (my favorite philosopher, by the bye) nicely shows what I meant in the original posting: the West is a combination of threads of thought issuing from Athens and Jerusalem.

The Stoics, heirs of Athens, were the inventors of the idea of Cosmopolitanism, the idea that men are all citizen of a world first, citizens of their home city-states second, and all sons of God (which they called Zeus, or Providence, or Pronia, the Divine Mind).

St. Thomas was trying to combine and reconcile Classical pagan(Athenian) and Biblical (Jerusalem)lines of thought. Unlike the faithful Mohammedan, who hated everything from the Days of Darkness before the Prophet (peace on him), the educated man of the Middle Ages still thought of himself as being a member of the Roman Empire, or, at least, an heir to its richness: there was a Holy Roman Emperor of some sort or another floating around Europe at least until Napoleon’s day. The French regarded the colonial Americans with their rough manners and stern Republicanism as modern-day Romans.

However, there has always been more animosity or less between the Jerusalem thread and the Athenian thread. No offense to my Protestant friends, but Protestantism contained more than a hint of anti-intellectualism that was a rebellion against the legality, the nicety, the intellectual character of the Roman Church, that is, their Athenianism. (Obviously there were other reasons for the shipwreck of Christendom, including the rise of nationalism, iconoclasty, Church worldliness, etc.)

St. Thomas harmonized the two threads, and they ran in tandem for several centuries thereafter. It would shock a Thirteenth Century man to hear the Church, the founder of the institution called The University, described as the enemy of science (doubling shocking since the strongest faith-based rejection of science, and I mean creationism, is an outgrowth of a literal approach to the Bible that the Church never advocated).

In modern times the two threads are very strongly at odds, perhaps more than any time I know. Modern secularism, the godless religion of the Left, embraces many fine and noble principles of the Athenian thread, and (though they will not admit it) many noble principles of the Jerusalem thread, most notibly the desire to turn the other cheek in war and pray for one’s enemies (even to the point of treason), and the desire to humiliate the rich and uplift the poor (even to the point of socialism).

But Christianity they reject as loathsome, an enemy of civilization and enlightenment, savage and horrifying superstitious cavemen painted with woad jumping up and down by the smokey light of a dung fire and hooting. It amazes me how frightened even otherwise well-meaning leftist are of me, a Christian, who is vowed on peril of my eternal soul never to hate or hurt them, and how nonchalant the well-meaning leftist is about the Islamic Jihadist, who has vowed to force submission to the prophet by the sword, butchering innocent women and children, and to glory in death in the attempt. The difference to me seems remarkable, but more remarkable is that the emotional reaction appropriate to one has been transferred to the other.

Whether the two threads, currently at such odds, will ever combine in the near future makes for interesting speculation. I hope my fellow Christians will stop humiliating my religion by a foolish insistance on Creationism, a theory as scientifically sound as phlogeston or fairy-lore; I hope my fellow intellectuals will stop humiliating intellectualism by a foolish insistance on nihilism, relativism, postmodernism, metaphysical theories as logical, realistic and useful as black magic, and as perilous to the soul. It would be healthy for the West if the threads could recombine.

My bleak fear is that my fellow Christians will see the cowardice of the Left (as evidenced by, for example, the pusilanimous reaction to the Danish Toon Riots) and begin to wonder why they are treated with so much less respect than the bronze-age mullahs and imams, and be tempted by this cowardice to violence. It does not take much to tempt an otherwise civilized man to riot and set afire the New York Times building or the palaces of certain Hollywood pederasts or wife-murderers. They might even paint themselves with woad: I have seen footballers do worse.