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Ianus: Hellenism is not only reflected in modern Judeo-Christian ideology, it was preserved by it.

Reader comment on item: Britain's Encounter with Islamic Law
in response to reader comment: Hellenic polytheism against Oriental monotheism

Submitted by Doc Tater (United States), Mar 6, 2008 at 15:51

Greetings Ianus,

You always raise the level of these deliberations with the broad base of references at your command. You are such a delightful person to examine ideas with!

I notice this thread in your thinking, and I'd like to reflect on it a bit: "...my opposition to Judeo-Christian monotheism (weakened as it is now by Enlightenment and other historical vicissitudes )."

My impression, raised first as a Catholic boy who was frightened by a vengeful God, and later feeling as though I were rescued by secular-humanism and an infatuation with all things eastern in arguably the most liberal American university, and now finally identifying myself as being a generic Abrahamic Christian if only for the sake of having an answer for people's inevitable questions, is that modern Judeo-Christian thought clearly echoes and respects the Hellenistic ideals you love.

I'd even go so far as to state that modern Judeo-Christian thought incorporates echoes of the Rig Veda, and the Upanishads, and Hellenism, and Sumerism, and the Scottish Kirks, and many other valuable and distinctly non-Biblical ways of believing and understanding, and that this eclecticism has been continuously evolving since long before the time of Jesus of Nazareth.

I believe that there is a cross-cultural "borrowing" that occurs inevitably, and that different religions either encourage or discourage that process.

I also believe that there can be an independent or parallel evolution of the same ideas, ideas that pop up here and there in time/space, even though there is no apparent connection that can be traced historically, and this is encouraged or discouraged to different extents by different religions.

Where I'm going with this admittedly abstract discourse is that I believe Judaism and Christianity invite the consideration of different ideas from different places and times.

I know, I know, Christianity spent several centuries burning monks at the stake after torturing them hideously for reading forbidden texts in monasteries, some of which forbidden texts included your Hellenistic classics, but Christianity also built those monasteries and preserved the texts in those monasteries.

The Humanism of Bacon arose during the active period of the inquisitions and heretic trials, and it arose within Christianity itself. Look at both sides, the conservative and the progressive sides, until the intellectual revolution of Martin Luther and the Reformation, with Luther looking for a God who could love him and a God he could love, putting salvation within the scope of one's relationship with God and removing the Church's monopoly of salvation, translating scripture into the language of the people.

Look at Elizabeth the First as a defender of Protestantism, which she seems to have done to protect her option of acting in a manner consistent with her own conscience. Wouldn't Hellenistic thought have approved of conscience as the rationale for an entire sect of Christianity? Look at James I of England (simultaneously James IV of Scotland) and his King James version of the Bible, following the example of Luther.

Look at the Renaissance, reviving a love and appreciation for the classics, with the Medicis literally creating their own bishops and popes to protect that process, and rising to defend the renaissance from Savonarola.

Look at the preparatory schools and colleges in the United States, initially and to some extent still Episcopal, still teaching the classics you embrace, creating an environment in which secular humanism could emerge.

Jesus was a Son of God, evolved from a Sun God, perhaps in turn evolved from Vishnu the god of the wind.

Or not. No matter. (The details are not cause for a lapse of faith, at least among the faithful.)

At every step, I see, within Christianity, a character of religious culture that returns over and over again to a pattern of interpreting scripture and doctrine, then re-interpreting it. Christianity isn't just in the Bible, it is in the hearts of people who still read the Bible and whose religion enables them to reflect and think critically about it. Even Catholics are obliged to use conscience as a moral compass. Christianity not only allows for interpretation of scripture, it allows secular thought for the sake of secular thought, and it allows for incorporating and preserving the best aspects of cultures that are hundreds or thousands of years old, that arose on different continents among people who spoke languages that Christians don't comprehend. Christianity incorporates and supports cross-cultural thought.

We can't even discuss any of these notions without using words derived from Greek, and the translations of the Bible from Greek, Latin and Aramaic into German and English laid the foundations for the language we use today in these discussions.

Doc

Submitting....

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Mark my comment as a response to Ianus: Hellenism is not only reflected in modern Judeo-Christian ideology, it was preserved by it. by Doc Tater

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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