« Chimp Tickling | Gene Expression Front Page | Wing dogs & relative fitness? »
February 27, 2004

One True Source

In my comments on TangoMan's post that links to Richard Carrier's essay lauding Solon I expressed some doubt as to the force of the Richard's point.

My doubt can be summed as follows: intellectuals often look for the Holy Grail of the One True Source of all that is Good In the Modern World.

There are many candidates: Christianity, Greek philosophy, the Roman republic, German barbarians, etc.

In rebutting the claims of the dominant Christian zeitgeist many secular intellectuals have claimed the Greeks as the predecessors of modernity (that's you Will Durant!). In the process, the Romans and the Medieval period have received short shrift. This development is explicitly documented in David Gress' From Plato to Nato. Its reality can be discerned in the fact that many American school-children look to Athenian democracy as the model for our republic, as if the 2,000 year intervening period was only one of chrysalis. I emphasize the term republic because the very nomenclature of our system of governance is Roman, not Greek, despite its manifest democratic elements, that.

I will not rehash the Republican Roman models that the Founders had in mind and contrast that with the Greek mythology that is foisted upon many elementary school children in the United States[1]. My overall point is the quest for the One True Source is more often a practice is writing ideological opponents out of history, or neglecting their contributions. I have seen my secular associates attempt to denigrate the contributions of Christian thought and tradition to the Western civilization, as if the "Dark Ages" was simply a demon-haunted interlude between the age of Socrates and the Enlightenment. Similary I have also seen Christians & Jews ascribe the origin of ethics & law solely to the Hebraic tradition, as if Confucius, Socrates or the Buddha were lacking in the inner moral compass that can only be imposed from without by fidelity to the One True God.

To look at Christianity specifically, it is clearly hard to digitize it and separate its various strands. We may credit the rise of the West to Christianity, but one might also ascribe the rise of Christianity to the philosophy of the pagan Greeks and the administrative efficiency of the pagan Romans, in addition to the acknowledged religious root in the Hebraic tradition[2]. This sort of attribution to various sources can be practiced ad infinitum. So next time someone tells you How the Irish Saved Civilization, remember that part of that saving was the preservation of Greek learning via the Western Roman Empire through the medium of the early Christian Church propogated by Celtic Britons like St. Patrick.

Addendum: Abiola asks "but what about the Germans?" The curious should type "Germanization" in the search feature on this site. Better yet, you could read books like The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity or Age of Charles Martel. Just some suggestions....

1. Perhaps today children are told that the Iroquois invented the American democracy.

2. The term diocese comes from the administrative units of the Empire devised by the pagan Christian persecutor, the Emperor Diocletian. You can also see the origins of the cell structure of the early Church in the Epicureans and some of the ideas for monasticism in Buddhism (originally Hindu ascetism). The coexistence of Greek and Hebrew thought in Christianity (and Pharisaec Judaism, ie; post-Roman Judaism) is illustrated by the simultaneous belief in bodily resurrection and separation of soul from body after death.

Posted by razib at 02:23 PM