We discuss and comment on the role agriculture will play in the containment of the CO2 problem and address protocols for terraforming the planet Earth.
A model farm template is imagined as the central methodology. A broad range of timely science news and other topics of interest are commented on.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Diarmaid MacCulloch on Christianity's Emergence
of Diarmiad MacCulloch is clearly an entry into properly understanding both the
influence of Plato on Hellenism and from that foundation, the influence of
Hellenism on the emergent Christianity and from there to the emergence of the
rationalism of the Christian enlightenment.
startling to think that we owe the scientific and industrial revolutions and
the structure of Christian philosophy directly to the ideas of one man who
never wrote a book.His name was
many, I have perused the sources and have learned that these influences
existed.This work clearly outlines the
continuities and relationships and is a must read if one wants to increase ones
insight in the history of ideas and philosophy.
In the first of four
book excerpts, religious scholar Diarmaid MacCulloch traces the deep historical and philosophical
roots of the Christian faith.
Socrates wrote nothing himself, and we hear his
voice mediated through writings of his pupil and admirer Plato, mostly in
dialogue form. While he was teaching in Athens, his was an insistently and
infuriatingly questioning voice, embodying the conviction that questions can
never cease to be asked if human beings are to battle with any success against
the constant afﬂiction of public and private problems. At Socrates’s trial,
Plato portrays the philosopher as insisting in his speech of defence that “the
unexamined life is not worth living.” It was Socrates’s questioning of the
half-century-old Athenian democracy that was a major cause of his trial and
execution; his trial is the central event around which Plato’s dialogues are
focused, making it as much a trial of Athenian society and thought as it was of
Socrates. The grotesque absurdity of killing a man who was arguably
Athens’s greatest citizen on charges of blasphemy and immorality impelled Plato
to see a discussion of politics as one facet of discussions of justice, the
nature of morality and divine purpose — in fact to see the two discussions as
Western religion and philosophy have remained
in the shadow of those exchanges: Western culture has borrowed the insistence
of Socrates that priority should be given over received wisdom to logical
argument and rational procession of thought, and the Western version of the
Christian tradition is especially prone to this Socratic principle. Yet he was
also to find his most mischievous disciple in a 19th-century Danish Lutheran
who overturned even the systematic pursuit of rationality: Søren Kierkegaard.
Plato’s inﬂuence on Christianity was equally
profound in two other directions. First, his view of reality and authenticity
propelled one basic impulse in Christianity, to look beyond the immediate and
everyday to the universal or ultimate. In his dialogue The Republic, he
represents Socrates as telling a story which in more than one sense illuminates
the Platonic view of the human condition. Prisoners are chained in a cave,
facing a wall; their bonds are fixed in such a way that the wall is all they
can see. Behind them a great fire roars, but between them and the fire is a
walkway, on which people parade a series of objects, such as carved images of animals
or humans, whose shadows fall on the wall under the prisoners’ gaze. The
bearers pronounce the names of the objects as they pass and the echoes of the
names bounce off the wall. All the prisoners can experience, therefore, are
shadows and echoes. That is what they understand to be reality. If any of them
are released, the brightness of the sun’s real light is blinding, and makes
their sight of any of the real objects less convincing than the shadows which
they have come to know so well, and the echoing names which they have heard.
Human life is an imprisonment in the cave. The
particular phenomena we perceive in our lives are shadows of their ideal
“Forms,” which represent truer and higher versions of reality than the ones
which we can readily know. We should not be content with these shadows. An
individual human soul should do its best to find its way back to the Forms
which lie behind the world of our clouded senses, because there we may find
arete — excellence or virtue. The path is through the intellect: “Excellence
[arete] of soul” is our chief purpose or direction, because beyond even the
Forms is the Supreme Soul, who is God and who is ultimate arete.
Plato’s second major contribution to Christian
discussion is his conception of what God’s nature encompasses: oneness
and goodness. Plato took his cue from Socrates’s radical rethinking on the
traditional Greek range of gods (the “pantheon”), looked beyond it and made
ethics central to his discussion of divinity.
The pantheon portrayed in both Greek myth and
the Homeric epics can hardly be said to exemplify virtue: The origins of the
gods in particular make up an extraordinary catalogue of horrors and violence.
Hesiod’s Theogony named the first divinity as Chaos; among the divinities who
emerged from him, representing the cosmos spawned out of chaos, was Gaia, the
Earth. Gaia’s son Ouranos/Uranus (the Sky) incestuously mated with his mother
and had 12 children, whom he forced back into Gaia’s womb; Gaia’s youngest son,
Kronos/Cronus, castrated his father, Ouranos, before in turn committing incest
with his sister and attempting to murder all their children. How unlike the
home life of the Christian Trinity. Matters only marginally improved in the
generation of Zeus. If one were compiling a school report on the behaviour of
the Olympian gods, it would have to include comments on their lack of moral
responsibility, consistent pity or compassion.
Greeks generally looked on this disconcerting
lack of moral predictability among their divinities with cheerful resignation,
and did their best to secure the best bargain available from them by due
ceremonial observances at home or in temples or shrines. Now Plato presented a
very different picture of the ultimate God. His perspective looking beyond the
traditional pantheon has a further dimension, which does actually in effect
limit the way in which he envisaged the goodness of God. Although Plato’s
supreme God is unlike the fickle, jealous, quarrelsome gods of the Greek
pantheon, his God is distanced from compassion for human tragedy, because
compassion is a passion or emotion.
For Plato, the character of true deity is not
merely goodness, but also oneness. Although Plato nowhere explicitly draws the
conclusion from that oneness, it points to the proposition that God also
represents perfection. Being perfect, the
supreme God is also without passions, since passions involve change from one
mood to another, and it is in the nature of perfection that it cannot change.
This passionless perfection contrasts with the passion, compassion and constant
intervention of Israel’s
God, despite the fact that both the Platonic and the Hebrew views of God stress
There is a difficulty in envisaging how Plato’s
God could create the sort of changeable, imperfect, messy world in which we
live — indeed, have any meaningful contact with it. Even the created wholeness
of the Forms would most appropriately have been created by one other than the
God who is the Supreme Soul: perhaps an image of the Supreme Soul, an image
that Plato describes in one of the most inﬂuential of his dialogues, Timaeus,
as a craftsman or artificer (demiourgos, from which comes the English term
“demiurge”). Creation was likely to extend away from God in a hierarchy of
emanations from the supreme reality of the divine.
In the second of four
book excerpts, religious scholar Diarmaid MacCulloch traces the deep historical and philosophical
roots of the Christian faith.
By the time Jesus Christ was born in Palestine,
the Hellenistic world was being ruled by another wave of imperial conquerors,
who had come from the west, but who did little to challenge the cultural superiority
of the society which they had found — quite the reverse. Their rule, unlike
Alexander’s, lasted for centuries, and the memory of it has haunted
Christianity ever since.
Rome was a city whose sense of destiny was all the
greater because no one could have predicted the effect of such an insignificant
place on the wider world. Strabo, the Greek historian and geographer, who died
just before Jesus embarked on his public ministry, shrewdly observed that
Rome’s sheer lack of resources made its people acutely aware that their only
assets were their energies in war and their determination to survive; the city
had few natural endowments apart from timber and river transport to recommend
it and, sited in the centre of the Italian peninsula, it was not even on any
international trade route. It lacked any strong natural defences and, as it
grew, its local agriculture would have been quite inadequate to support its
population had it not acquired new territory.
It was around the mid-eighth century BCE that Rome became a walled city with a king, rather like a polis
in archaic Greece.
The monarchy was overthrown in 509 BCE and thereafter the Romans had such a
pathological fear of the idea of kingship that no one bore the title “King of
the Romans” again until a Christian ruler from what is now Germany reinvented it a millennium and a half
later, far from Rome
and therefore deaf to the ancient taboo.
There followed a generation of conflict
between an aristocracy (the patricians) and the people (plebeians), just as in Greece.
However, the result of this war was opposite to the outcome in Greek
city-states such as Athens or Corinth: The aristocrats won and the
constitution of the Republic (res publica) which they developed influenced
Roman forms of government down to the end of the empire. The plebeians lost
whatever power they had possessed under the monarchy; there were still popular
assemblies, but their role was without substance. Real power lay with two
consuls, officers chosen annually from among the patricians, and with the
Senate, an assembly of patricians; even here, junior senators had little say in
the running of affairs. Ordinary people had influence on policy only through
the popularly elected tribunes, who were honoured and sacrosanct during their
year of office. Tribunes looked after the legal rights of the people, and even
in the later Republic, when popular rights had dwindled still further, they
still vetoed legislation proposed by the Senate.
Otherwise, the RomanRepublic
starkly contrasted with the development of democracy in the Athenian mould. Its
unequal balance appealed greatly to aristocrats in Christian societies, once
Christian societies came into existence, and we will meet several such
“Republics” (or, in an alternative English translation, “Commonwealths”) as
alternatives to monarchy, in both Latin and Orthodox Christendom: Venice,
Novgorod, Poland-Lithuania, the 17th-century England of Oliver Cromwell.
The RomanRepublic’s difference from developed
Greek city-states probably arose because of Rome’s continual yearning to expand: a state
more or less permanently at war either to maintain or to expand its frontiers
could not afford the luxury of real democracy. Why was Rome’s expansion so remarkably successful?
Plenty of other states produced dramatic expansion, but survived for no more
than a few generations or a couple of centuries at most. The western part of
the Roman state survived for twelve hundred years, and in its eastern form the
Roman Empire had a further thousand years of life after that. The answer
probably lies in another contrast with Greece: The Romans had very little
sense of racial exclusiveness. They gave away Roman citizenship to deserving
foreigners — by deserving, they would mean those who had something to offer
them in return, if only grateful collaboration. Occasionally whole areas would
be granted citizenship. It was even possible for slaves to make the leap from
being non-persons to being citizens, simply by a formal ceremony before a
magistrate, or by provision in their owners’ wills.
Where this highly original view of citizenship
came from is not clear; it must have evolved during the struggle for power
between the patricians and the plebeians after the fall of the kings. In any
case, the effect was to give an
ever-widening circle of people a vested interest in the survival of Rome. That became clear in
one dramatic case in the first century of the Common Era, when a Jewish
tent-maker called Paul, from Tarsus, far away
from Rome in Asia Minor,
could proudly say that he was a Roman citizen, knowing that this status
protected him against the local powers threatening him. It might have been his
pride in this status of universal citizen which first suggested to Paul that
the Jewish prophet who had seized his allegiance in a vision had a message for
all people and not just the Jews.
The story of the RomanRepublic is one of steady expansion
throughout the Mediterranean. Rome must have
had contact with Greeks from its earliest days, but it started casting
interested and acquisitive eyes on the Greek mainland during the second century
BCE. The paradoxical cliché (no less true for being so) about the consequence
of this advance was suavely expressed in Latin by the Emperor Augustus’s
admirer the Roman poet Horace: “Greece, the captive, made her savage victor
captive, and brought the arts into rustic Latium.”
The Romans became fascinated by Greek culture
and philosophy, which complemented their own highly developed skills in
military affairs, administration and matters of law. Greek became just as much
an international language as Latin for the Roman Empire.
Indeed, it was the lingua franca of the Middle East
in the time of Jesus, and it was the language which, in a rather vulgar
marketplace form, most Christians spoke in everyday life during the Church’s
first two centuries of existence. By the sixth and seventh centuries, Greek was
ousting Latin as the official language of the surviving Eastern
Roman Empire, with the strong encouragement of the Christian
Church. That was an achievement unparalleled among languages of supposedly
defeated peoples, and a tribute to Hellenistic cultural vitality and
adaptability long after the end of the various Hellenistic monarchies.
The Roman rule which Jesus experienced had
undergone a great transition, from Republic to imperial monarchy. It is
surprising that the Republic had postponed trouble for so long, but its
structures proved increasingly inadequate to cope with running its bloated
empire. Rising poverty, land hunger and an accumulated popular sense of
injustice came to a head around 100 BCE. Seventy years of misery and
intermittent civil war followed, ending with the defeat of one party boss by
another in 31 BCE, when Octavian won a naval victory at Actium against Mark
Antony and his ally the Ptolemaic queen of Egypt, Cleopatra. Octavian, adopted
heir of the assassinated general and dictator Julius Caesar, achieved supreme
power within the Roman state in a series of unscrupulous maneuvers; he now had
to hang on to his power and bring back peace to the shattered state. His
lasting success came through meticulous adherence to all the old forms of the
Behind the facade, Octavian carried out a
revolution in government. Careful to avoid the hated title of King, he arranged
that the Senate should give him the harmless-sounding title of First Citizen
(princeps), while renaming himself Augustus, a symbol of a fresh start after
the wretchedness of civil war. This is the name we find used for him in the
Christian scriptures, the New Testament. To show his good intentions, Augustus
also graciously accepted the office of tribune, the only officer in the old
constitution who still commanded any affection among ordinary people, but he
also assumed a traditional military title of honour which Julius Caesar had
held, commander — imperator. Now he was the first of the Roman emperors, with a
succession which lasted until 1453. This was the title that mattered: It
signified his control of the army, which had traditionally bestowed the honour
by acclamation, the real basis for imperial power from now on. The virtually
perpetual warfare which so dominated the Roman past meant that the best
justification for holding power in the Republic had been a track record of
military success: hence the importance of the imperator title. Augustus made
sure that his various publicists magnified a personal record as a military
commander which was in reality decidedly unimpressive.
For all that his own military prowess was dubious,
Augustus and his successors tore down political frontiers all round the Mediterranean, and by controlling piracy, they made it
comparatively safe and easy to travel from one end of the sea to the other. The
first great exponent of a worldwide Christianity, the Apostle Paul, made the
most of this, and so would the Christian faith as a whole. Without the general
peace brought by Roman power, Christianity’s westward spread would have been
far more unlikely.
Macculloch, National Post ·
Thursday, Dec. 23, 2010
The first Jewish texts to say much about the
soul appear in the Hellenistic period, like the so-called Wisdom of Solomon,
probably written between the mid-second century BCE and the early first century
BCE. The Book of Daniel (or at least most of its text) is almost certain to
have been written as late as the second century BCE. It is unprecedented in
Jewish sacred literature in spelling out the idea of an individual resurrection
of a soul in a transformed body in the afterlife -- though still not for
Naturally, such developments within Judaism
were highly controversial and provoked continuing argument; yet by the time
Christians were beginning to construct their own literature, their writers
clearly found such talk of the individual soul and of resurrection completely
natural, and it became the basis of that Christian concern with the afterlife
that sometimes has bordered on the obsessional.
At this historical stage, Rome was distant
from Judea, and relations remained friendly for about a century -- until the
Romans invaded Judaea in 63 BCE as part of their mopping-up operations around
the conquest of their real prizes, the Seleucid and Egyptian empires.
Finding no convincing or compliant Hasmonean
candidates for a Jewish throne, in 37 BCE, the Romans displaced the last
Hasmonean ruler and replaced him with a relative by marriage, who reigned for
more than three decades. This puppet king, an outsider whose forebearers came
from the territory to the south of Judaea which the Romans called Idumea (Edom), was
Herod "the Great."
Herod rebuilt the Temple with unprecedented
magnificence, making it one of the largest sacred complexes in the ancient
world; the quality of his masonry in the visible surviving sections of its
monumental precinct wall can still be admired. Yet he got little thanks from
his subjects, who were equally ungrateful for his attempt to please them with
such foreign innovations as Greekstyle public sporting contests, gladiatorial
combats or horse racing in newly built arenas. Complications continued after
Herod's death in 4 BCE because his sons took the extensive territories that the
Romans had allowed him to build up and divided them between themselves. During
the first century CE the Romans experimented with a mixture of indirect rule
through various members of the Herodian family
and direct imperial rule of parts of Palestine
through a Roman official-- Pontius Pilate was one of these.
itself, there were at least four identities for Judaism -- Sadducees,
Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots and probably many lesser sects. Even though they
tolerated each other's existence, each saw itself as the most authentic
expression of Jewish identity. Perhaps one way to understand the differences
between them is to realize that they took distinguishable stances towards the
Hellenistic world ruled over by the Romans, and toward all the temptations away
from Jewish tradition that it embodied: They represented different degrees of
distance or accommodation.
The Sadducees provided the elite that ran the Temple. They had done
well out of successive regimes, both Jewish and non-Jewish, and they continued
to do well when the Romans were in charge. It was therefore not surprising that
they were the most flexible of our four groups in relation to outsiders. For
them, it was enough to keep the basic commands of the Law in the scriptures and
not to add the complex additional regulations that governed the everyday
life of the Pharisees and made Pharisee life
obviously distinct from the world of non-Jews around them.
Significantly, being conservatives and
minimalists in their view of Jewish doctrine, Sadducees had little time for the
comparatively recently evolved discussion of the afterlife; Jesus is portrayed
as on one occasion teasing Sadducees on this subject, to the pleasure of some
Pharisees. Both Jesus and Paul can be identified by their backgrounds as closer
to the Pharisees than to any other religious grouping.
For the group known as the Essenes, even the
distinctiveness which the Pharisees maintained was not enough to keep them from
pollution in semi-colonial Palestine.
The Essenes left ordinary society by setting up their own separate communities,
usually well away from others, with their own literature and their own
traditions of persecution by other Jews. Sometimes it has been suggested that
the early Christians were close to the Essenes, but that seems unlikely. Essene
separation from the rest of Judaism was a matter of principle, whereas the
eventual Christian separation was a result of Christianity's failure to become
the leading force within the Judaism of the first century CE, and Christians
became eager to move out into the world beyond Palestine.
The Zealots held a militant version of the
same Essene theme of separation: For them, the only solution to the humiliation
of Roman rule over the Jewish homeland was to take up Maccabean traditions of
violent resistance, and it was they who gave impetus to the successive
disastrous revolts which by the mid-second century CE had shattered Jewish life
Out of that destruction emerged a group which
at first seemed just another minority answer to the problem of Jewish identity.
Now it did much toward the permanent shaping of that identity, as well as
becoming a world religion in its own right.
The Jewish sect that became Christianity
borrowed the sacred literature created by the Jews and shaped Christian belief
in its founder-Messiah along lines already present in the sacred books of the
Tanakh (the canon of the Hebrew Bible). Christian history thereafter is shot
through with and shaped by the stories of the Tanakh. They became particularly
useful when Christians allied with monarchies, for the Christian New Testament
has little to do with kings, while the Old Testament has much to say about
When Christians created a sacred book of two
"Testaments," they turned their brand-new belief system into one
which could stand on an ancient sacred tradition and claim to be the most
ancient religion of all.