Posts Tagged ‘Western Civilization’

What the Jews did

January 30, 2018

What the Jews did was establish about half of the narrative foundation of the Western World.

Their Old Testament, combined with the New, were received as Holy Scriptures  by the Church, which, after Constantine, dominated European cultural development for over a thousand years.

Long about 1500 or so, the Protestant Reformation began the process of unshackling the chains of dogmatic error that the Catholic hierarchy had, over 1400 years, lapsed into. Then Reformation disruption of Papist hegemony broke ground for another new emphasis—the Renaissance. This humanist  arts movement unearthed the  quasi-dormant other half of the Western cultural narrative, the ancient Greeks, most notably Homer, Herodotus, Plato and Aristotle. On the coattails of the Greek philosophers, the Roman writers, most notably Cicero, Cato and Virgil later appended their contribution to the philosophical and governmental legacy of ancient Greece. It later became a bedrock of Western culture and government.

That ancient Greek heritage had initiated an idea called democracy, which was later amended to Republic by the Romans in their Empire.

Judeo-Christian Religion, Greek Democracy and Roman Republic became the religious, philosophical and governmental foundations upon which the Western World was established in Europe and beyond.

In the early stages of Western history, during the period of the Roman Empire, along came a Roman general named Titus. In 70 a.c.e., he ran most of the Jews out of Israel, their homeland, and he sent his soldiers to Jerusalem to destroy the Jewish Temple, even though it had had been constructed by one of the Romans’ own puppet kings, Herod.

Titus apparently thought it was a notable accomplishment that he had expelled most of the Jews out of their own ancient capital;  the Hebrews had previously managed to reclaim Jerusalem after the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar had expelled them about 670 years earlier.

Titus’ Roman victory over the Jews was thought to be quite impressive by his successors. A few years after he died, his brother Domitian commissioned the Arch of Titus to be constructed in the main area of Rome. Among the conquests of Titus depicted in stone on the Arch, the plundering of Jerusalem is plain to see.

ArcTitusMenr

In this picture that I snapped, the Jewish Menorah can be plainly seen. To the victor goes the spoils, eh? The Roman big shots must have thought themselves something special after they ran those upstart Jews out of Jerusalem back in the day. The Jews were infamous among several historical empire-builders for being ungovernable.

One reason that Titus and Nebuchadnezzar and Antiochus and their ilk had so much trouble governing the Jews was because the people of Israel always insisted on being free.

This whole idea of freedom, around which Western culture revolves, originated largely with the Jews.

Long about 1400 or so years b.c.e., Moses rounded up the Jews and lead them out of the slavery that Egyptian pharoahs had inflicted on them.

This turned out to be a major event in world history.

Why? Because Moses and some of his people wrote a book about it. We know it as the book of Exodus. Along with the other books of the Torah/Pentateuch/Old Testament, it later became an international best-seller for many and many a year, many and many a century and several millenia of time.

What later became the Bible was passed down through the ages to many and many a person and group of persons to read and spark inspiration.

That spark of freedom that enabled the Jews to throw off the bondage of Pharoahic slavery—it has been an inspiration to many freedom-seeking people throughout history.

Case in point, within our lifetime. (All ye Boomers out there, hear ye, hear ye. . .)

Dr. Martin Luther KIng, Jr., on the night before he was assassinated, declared this message to his people in Memphis, and ultimately via audiotape to America, and to the world:

“I’ve been to the Mountaintop. . . I’ve seen the Promised Land . . .”

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

We can see that Dr. King was inspired by Moses. A long time ago, I wrote a song about it. Mountaintop

And we know from the Hebrew scriptures that Moses was inspired by God.

Now this may seem a little old-fashioned to you, a little bit religious. But this religious thing is much more than belief in God. It’s not just out-of-style old hat. Faith also includes the idea of freedom. It also includes the idea of freedom of religion , freedom to believe what you need to believe, and freedom to act on what you believe to be true. It goes way back, way back . . .

Here’s another example from American history. A hundred and fifty years ago when black folks in this country were still enslaved . . . in a situation not unlike what the Jews had found themselves in ancient Egypt, one of those black former slaves, Harriet Tubman, started a secret society for the purpose of providing an escape for self-freed slaves who wanted to come up to the free states.

The name that was given to Harriet’s clandestine network was the Underground Railroad. Have you heard of it?

I’m here to tell you that the Underground Railroad has been transporting people from bondage to liberty for a very long time.

Last century,  freedom-seeking people did another version of it to smuggle the children of Israel  out of the Nazi Third Reich. Have you heard of it?

But know this: it’s still going on.

Underground Railroad Rides Again.

 And we can thank the Jews for that, because way, way back in the day . . . they started it; they started the freedom track that runs through human civilization.  The first one ran from Egypt to the Promised Land, and its been going, whenever needed, under the radar ever since.

It will never be shut down.

Glass half-Full 

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Back to the future of Religion

February 21, 2015

Human history is full of walls. Everywhere people have gone upon the earth, they have built walls. Walls can keep good stuff in and bad stuff out, or the other way around.

For instance, consider this wall, which we encountered in Rome when we were there a few weeks ago:

VaticanWallC

Beyond this wall lies the body of Western Civilization. . .

if you consider the history of the Christian Church as a primary trunk of Western Civilization.

Not everybody does of course. Some folk are not believers, but rather thinkers, like the early, pre-Christian Greeks. . . Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, etc. etc. . . Descartes, Locke, Marx . . .etc.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Greek_philosophy

Many people in Western Civilization understand the difference between thinking and believing this way: they are mutually exclusive, two different animals. You either spend your life thinking, or you spend your life believing what is taught to you.

This is not true; it’s a false dichotomy.

I myself am living example of this. I am a Christian believer, and yet I do like to think analytically about everything, including faith itself.

This I have concluded: Faith is what you find at the end Thought.

In other words, when you’ve exhausted your brain in trying to figure life out, then you start believing in something besides thinking itself.

In my youth, I considered the Catholic Church, in which I was raised. And I decided it was for the birds.

I took a look at Philosophy, and decided I couldn’t not understand enough of it to make sense of the real world.

I studied the Law of Moses, and learned that I could not live by it.

Recently, I studied a little bit about Mohammed, because, well, you know. . . he and his followers are all the rage. Mohammed was a very smart guy, probably even a genius, but he was obviously a man, like me and you. His visions and ultimate indoctrinations were human, not divine. The outcome was True Religion by Intimidation.

Jesus Christ, on the other hand, laid down his life rather than settle for merely human solutions to our predicament. Now there’s a man I could follow, even though he went to the cross and suffered death. He was pure goodness, and I could follow him through death’s door, all the way to eternal life.

Of course that’s what Peter, his right-hand man, said about Jesus: I will follow you.

Then he went on to stumble through life, like me or you or any other human being. I look forward to interviewing him in heaven. I can relate to his resolution to follow Christ, even though he screwed up on more than one occasion.

A lot of things were done, in subsequent Christian history, in Peter’s name. There’s the Chair of St.Peter, St. Peter’s Basilica, etc.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church

Which leads me back to Walls phenoma. . .people building walls. Consider the one pictured above, in the great city of Rome. This wall was built by the Catholics to protect the museum part of St.Peter’s Basilica (in the Vatican.) Pretty impressive wall too, don’t you think. I was quite moved by its immensity; that’s why I snapped the photo. It seemed so . . . medieval.

On the other side of it, as I later learned, is the Vatican Museum, which is why I say therein lies the body of Western Civilization . . .

In a metaphorical kind of way, and even then only if you’re a person inclined to place value on religious traditions and institutions.

Like Tevya, you know. . .Tradition! tradition. Tradition.

Well guess what. Life goes on. That day in Rome, after the big brown wall image was safely in the iPhone, Pat and I resumed our walking tour of the city. It was a beautiful experience.

But just so you’ll know what a backward thinker I am, here’s a different photo that I had snapped about a week earlier, in Athens:

ConstXIPal

This is a statue of Constantine XI Palaiologos. He was the last emperor of the Byzantine empire.

He was killed by the invading Ottoman Turks in 1453. He died defending Constantinople, the epicenter of Orthodox Christianity during that period of history. The empire that he ruled, the Byzantine, had been trying to build a Wall, of sorts, a wall of Christian religion and dominion that would withstand the onslaught of Muslim Ottomans, but Byzantium could not withstand the Ottomans. So now the place is called Istanbul.

But such is the fate of Western Civilization’s aspirations for world dominion. Orthodox Christendom and the Byzantine empire that defended it could not stand against the onslaught of Islam in 1453.

Later however, the Ottoman empire suffered its own demise, in 1924, after Western Civilization imposed a new victory over the Ottoman Caliphate in the aftermath of World War I.

Alas, nowadays we Civilized persons of the West face a new Islamic Pretender. This one, arising in ancient Syrian lands, is claiming to recover the lapsed Caliphate mantle which had been worn for a few centuries by the Turks, even though the arrogant ISIS brutes do not acknowledge the Ottoman legacy as a legitimate Caliphate.

Consequently, we survivors of Western Civilization are now building a new network of Walls: digital walls, firewalls, psychological walls, spiritual and moral walls, to arrest the shock and awe of “violent extremists.”

Ultimately, we will have to erect some military walls, both defensive and offensive, before it is all over with, the end of the world or whatever.

Or just the end of Western Civilization. Then where will the body lie?

Whatever happens, our opposition to the jayvee-team fascists of the Khilafah will not end as Constantine XI’s last stand ended in 1453; nor is it likely to be enshrined within the walls of  the Vatican Museum.

 

Smoke

at The Cradle of Western Civilization

January 26, 2015

Back in the 1960’s days of my youth I began what eventually became a lifetime study of history and literature. While studying classic English literature in college (LSU) I sometimes wondered why the great writers of British literature had such a fascination, almost obsession with, ancient Greek literature.

Yesterday I began to understand why.

When you actually go to a place like Athens and walk around for a day, your definition of literacy changes. You see how far back our quest for knowledge goes. You notice  how different that quest was then, even though it now seems to be somehow the same pursuit.

While ambling on foundations (literally) of Western civilization established in Athenian ground 2500 years ago, you get an unfamiliar sense of time-travel, especially if you’re an American like me. I grew up in a national identity that was only hundreds of years old instead of, you know, thousands of years old.

This sense of getting deep insight into the origins of constructive thought is probably similar to what the classic English writers–Shakespeare, Milton, Byron, Keats, Shelley, etc. etc.–felt when they came here.

It is a sense of this Culture thing that’s going on in the annals of mankind–it goes back a long, long way!

What I want to do here is present to you three examples of this experience that I had yesterday.

1.

Pat and I  stumbled upon (with a little help from a map) an ancient theatre, thousands of years old, where actual people who lived during that time came to see and hear actual plays being acted, like we would go to plays or movies today.

It was in this place:

TheatrDion2

In this very place, in this grandiose structure, playwrights of ancient Athens were amused as they watched ancient Athenian actors acting out on stage the dramas that they–the playwrights– had written.

When I dabbled in classic literature, back in the day, in college, I read selections from very old plays or poems written by long-dead Greek guys like Aeschylus, Euripides, or Homer. When I was reading, on printed pages, their old dramas and stories–like Oedipus Rex or The Odyssey or whatever–the reading experience was rather shallow.

To see the place where those ancient Greek stories were recited or acted out–there’s just something about it that propels the awareness of human story-telling into a new reality, a new appreciation for history that I never understood before.

Doesn’t that resemble a theater of auditorium in which you have been seated, having been perhaps assisted by an usher?

So that you see and hear some old story acted or sung about.

The urge to watch drama–plays or musicals of whatever fashion–goes back a long way! It’s nothing new.

There’s nothing new under the sun, as the ancient (even older than these Greeks) Hebrew poet Ecclesiastes noted.

What I am seeing is that, while the content of the narrative may change with time and fashion, the fundamental means of dramatic story-telling has changed not so much.

2.

This is true not only of literature, but also of military conquest and politics.

Pat snapped this picture of the antiquated structure called Hadrian’s Arch. You see me standing there beneath the architecture.

HadrArchCare

What’s funny about this is, on one side of the arch the citizens of Athens had inscribed (only barely visible) this statement:

“This is Athens, the city of Theseus.”

A few centuries later, the Romans came through and took over Athens. The Romans conquered the Greeks, or subjugated them, or threw their weight around in such a way that they wanted to demonstrate to the Athenians that  they–the Romans, new kids on the block of civilization– were now in charge of things around here and so now we pre-Italianos would be running the show and things would be different around here and you better know who’s calling the shots, if you know what I mean. And so, to make their point in an impressively architectural way, the Romans inscribed on the other side of the arch a new statement:

“This is the city of Hadrian, not Theseus”

I thought that was quite funny when Pat read it to me in the guide book.

3.

Here’s a time-travel appointment with one more  event that had happened in Athens, almost two thousand years ago. We were at a stony hilltop called Aereopagus.

AeropRoc

Yesterday I was standing here, looking at the marbly rocks of geological and historical time; the stones were worn smooth by millions of human feet that had trod there since the tree of knowledge was first encountered. Here, Greeks of long ago would gather to talk about the meaning of life, and probably drink coffee or wine, while discovering among themselves great thoughts of philosophy, history, politics, sports and bullshit and war and whatnot.

One day a zealous proponent of a new movement called Christianity came to town. He had come on a boat from Israel.

Paul had wandered in Athens for a day or two, and had heard about the serious pursuits of knowledge and nascent Western civilization that were taking place up on Aereopagus. So he went up there to listen, and to deliver a message to those sages. Here is (as recorded in a book, Acts of the Apostles) the beginning of what he told them:

“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man . . .”

But that was only another new beginning, even though it was in the middle of everything.

More to come. News at 11.

Glass Chimera