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Light/Darkness in Two of the Abrahamitic Religions 1/3 Light/Darkness in Two of the Abrahamitic Religions 1/3
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2007-10-22 10:21:26
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Rivers of ink have been written recently by political scientists, cultural anthropologists and pundits galore on how to resolve the age-old conflict between Christianity and Islam. Most secularists and rationalists wish the problem away by excluding the two religions from the public agora and relegating them to churches on Sunday and mosques on Friday. For many of them the ultimate solution is simply the liquidation of religion altogether which they misguidedly blame for the conflict in the first place, and the sooner the better.

As far as they are concerned, enlighten European history begins with the advent of the EU in 1950; what precedes it is a mere preparation for it. This “enlightened” stance which doubts of everything except its own rationalistic methodology remains a deeply flawed one. Perhaps a look back to the poetry of Rumi, a 13th century Moslem mystic and contemporary of Francis of Assisi, may provide some much needed light on the issue.

For part of my life I have lived in Barletta, a city in Puglia which is a stone throw away from the ancient ruins of Canne, the place where Hannibal defeated the ancient Romans. The city boasts the biggest bronze statue of medieval times portraying the 7th century Roman Byzantine emperor Heraclius (610-641) as a 20 plus foot high colossus holding a cross in his right hand and the world in the other. Many legends grew up around this statue, often mistaken for Constantine, the first of the Christian Roman emperors. The confusion is understandable, for in this representation too, there is a familiar icon at work: the socio-historical legitimacy of the cross associated with, and asserted with temporal power: "in hoc signo vincit": with this symbol thou shall conquer.

It is through that conquering, so goes the ancient theological argument, that God shows His favor. Be that as it may, this triumphal statue is appropriately situated on the side of a basilica named Holy Sepulcher, after the renowned place by the same name in the Holy Land. At that basilica in Jerusalem Heraclius (the only Roman Emperor ever to visit the city in 627) carried the alleged true cross of Christ which had been retrieved all the way from the isolated Christian Nestorian Church at Kerkurk in Northern Mesopotamia (present day Irak).

Still today, people come from all over the world to admire the sheer awesomeness of the statue. It remains there in the open, unperturbed by the weather, as it has been for many centuries, with the whole world in his left hand and the cross in the other, as a sort of proclamation of the cultural superiority of Western Christendom as a natural by-product of European culture, oblivious of the fact that, if truth be told, Christianity itself originally came from Asia. One is tempted to ask: is this a case of form and content being one and the same? And could such a cultural phenomenon as represented by the statue begin to explain the adamant reluctance of Hindus, Moslems, Buddhists, Confucians, secularists of all stripes and ideologies, to give any quarter to a Christianity, that proclaims itself universal and trans-cultural, but comes to other cultures dressed-up in an unmistakably Western form, albeit a Byzantine one?

I suppose the fish in water never thinks of water. Neither did I, when residing in Barletta, ever make a connection with Hannibal's defeat of the Romans at Canne during the Second Punic War. That downed on me later when I visited the ancient ruins of Canne. At the time I jotted those ruminations in my dairy. What follows is their synthesis in some kind of order. In the first place, the historical connection between Hannibal and Heraclius suddenly hit me. It was indeed at Canne that the Romans, as Westerners, received the first of the devastating military and cultural blows (to be precise, it was the third within the second Punic war fought on the Italian Peninsula), that would arrive via North Africa from the Middle East, the crossroads of civilizations. This geo-political menace to Western civilization which began with the second Punic war, would at times be desultory but almost incessant throughout Western history. As hinted above, paradoxically Christianity had arrived as a religion of non-violence from the same place.

"Cartago delenda est," Cato would frequently remind his fellow-Roman senators after the defeat by Hannibal carrying in the senate chambers a basket of fresh figs just arrived from Carthage, not too dissimilar from the modern scene of the Nazi general carrying a fresh cake just arrived from America. The point was eventually grasped by his fellow senators who appointed Scipio as consul to remove the threat once and for all. Not for nothing, he was dubbed Scipio "the African."

To connect the dots of the relevancy of the above to the modern geo-political predicament, it bears mentioning at the outset, that the same ominous threat appeared suddenly and menacingly once more on the West's cultural horizon on September 11, 2001 in the sky of New York, thus inaugurating a new millennium when the conflict between Christianity and Islam may well be resumed. This opening salvo was shortly after followed by the Madrid train bombing, within the European peninsula first conquered by Islam. The London bombing followed shortly thereafter.

This connection may well surprise some readers who may have bought wholesale Fukuyama's "end of history" rosy scenario. In fact, not surprisingly, at a lecture I gave in Italy two years ago, I was criticized for merely suggesting this renewed conflict as a working hypothesis. Nevertheless, I believe history will eventually confirm that the cultural conflict between the two monotheistic religions of Christianity and Islam, which began in the 8th century AD, is far from over. That does not necessarily mean that it will take the form of a military clash, Armageddon style, so to speak, as the exalted imagination of some Westerners prone to crusades might suggest. But it does mean however that the band-aid of a secularism devoid of religion ready to declare European civilization proper, or at least what is best in it, as beginning in 1950 with the advent of the EU, is naïve at best in believing that it possesses the solution to this old-age conflict. It does not, especially when it forgets that the concept of inalienable rights was neither Greek nor Roman but is derived from Christianity. Jefferson did not wake up and invent it out of the blue sky one fine morning.

In the movie The King and I an astute observation is proffered by the king regarding the subterranean invisible mysterious influences of one culture upon another; a mysterious process indeed, as mysterious as life itself. Those influences, contrary to what cultural imperialists of all stripes would like to suggest, are always a two way street. If hermeneutics means anything at all it means that we, as protagonists and makers of history, are constantly making fresh reassessments, in the light of subsequent events, of what we'd like to think as the hard objective, undisputable, unchangeable facts of history, for history like life is a process. For one thing, not all the facts can ever be placed in the history books; that some are chosen and placed there is already an interpretation of what is and what is not important for the narrator.

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE


    
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Sand2007-10-23 06:56:07
This is a personal general observation and must be viewed with a good deal of skepticism but the conflict between Christianity and Islam might be better assessed in the light of a political power struggle rather from a moral point of view. Both religions declare themselves peaceful and looking to the benefit of all mankind and both are viciously homicidal in practice. So the morality must be taken with more than a grain of salt.


Emanuel Paparella2007-10-23 08:59:51
The bias and the ax against religion has been ground since the Epicureans and Lucretius' De Rerum Natura. Jung, Chesterton and C.S. Lewis have written volumes showing that modern man has much ignorance to unburden himself of on the subject. A sure sign of such a phenomenon is that of resuming with a few glib, superficial, unsupported lines millenia of religious development and the commentaries on it. Fortunately, what can be glibly and slanderoously asserted and caricatured can also be easily disproved and in fact ignored.


Sand2007-10-23 09:50:29
Religious people have a long record of denying the obvious. From the rejection of Galileo's discoveries to the laughable current creation museum depicting co-existence of humans with dinosaurs religion has exalted stupidity over intelligence which is an odd characteristic of people who claim intellect as the main advantage of humanity over other creatures.


Emanuel Paparella2007-10-23 13:51:28
And of course, it goes without saying that, as per this glib pseudo-logic, those who reject religion are ipso fact in the circle of the clever elites otherwise known as "the enlightened intelligentia." Even logic 101 does not supposrt such a notion, not to speak of the bias and the ax. Dante has it on target with his lantern man.


Sand2007-10-23 14:10:16
Idiotic replies with no content confirms the assertions


Gaebyeok2007-10-23 19:19:23
Sand, get over yourself. The only "iditoic comments without content" here are your own----your generalizations about "Religious People" are so sweeping, so archetypal, and in the end so divorced from empirical reality as to make Plato blush. Hard as it may be for you to believe, people are infinitely complex, and do not fit into your neat little sophistic boxes.

Secondly, to address your first point, I wouldn't say that Mr. Paparella is adressing this situation from a "moral point of view", or at any rate, not from a solely moral point of view. There's a great deal of historical analysis at work here---something sorely lacking in the clumsy, bungling foreign policy of the American and European powers.


Emanuel Paparella2007-10-23 20:01:39
Indeed Mr. Gaebyeok, to follow-up on your points, if history begins with the advent of the EU in 1951 and then ends with Fukuyama some forty years later, and reason is nothing but rationalism, the result will be a kind of rationalism clever by half deluding itself of its superiority. Intellectually you will get the snake eating its own tail; reality residing in one's mind. Morally one will get what C.S. Lewis called "men without chests."


Sand2007-10-23 21:05:43
Gaebyok, shake the nonsense from your head and read what I have said. No generalities but specific citations of religious idiocy which are undeniable. Plato is long past blushing but he may be revolving somewhat at the free suppositions of what he may think of the overeducated dunce so in love with archaic myth as to desire chests on men. Mammary upholstery is much more appropriate on women.


Gaebyeok2007-10-23 21:43:04
The foolishness of some religious people does not demonstrate the foolishness of religious people in general---as you seemed to have been implying. That would be a "fallacy of accident".

And once again, you demonstrate that it is your posts which have no content. Rather than actually responding to Mr. Paparella's point, you are instead "tittering" (pardon the pun) over the metaphorical language used. How very adolescent of you! That may have gotten you a high five or two back in high school, but it doesn't qualify as intelligent commentary on your part. You seem to have no ability to grasp what exactly "content" is, since you're so hung up on the form used to express said content.


Emanuel Paparella2007-10-23 21:44:09
Mr. Sand, sometime the rationalist will go beyond himself in making himself ridiculous. For someone who was born in the US and whose native language is English it seems that there is some obvious ignorance of the English language you need to unburden yourself of, together with that on much else. For your information, the chest is part of both men and women's bodily anatomy situated between the neck and the stomach. When Mr. Kalamidas and Mr. Butcher placed as a permanent fixture under Comments "Get it off your chest," they are addressing both men and women; they did not intend for Ovi to be a feminist on line magazine for women only. Ask them and they'll surely confirm it for you. If, on the other hand, you mean it metaphorically the way C.S. Lewis meant it, then you have indeed proven C.S. Lewis' insightful point and I would agree with you and C.S. Lewis.


Sand2007-10-23 21:59:45
To discover two nincompoops in such a short space of time that cannot see through a joke is indeed a special event. My comment on religious stupidity was quite appropriate and direct.
I have yet to hear people of faith decry the asinine creation museum. One of the popes, I believe, did mumble an apology to Galileo long past the time he could express his gratitude. Since you seem to believe my posts have no content I wonder why you believe they are not self defeating and require what you believe to be serious opposition.


Emanuel Paparella2007-10-23 22:17:37
Indeed Mr.Gaebyeok, your comment speak well for Finland and its level of education. Mr. Sand seems to believe that overeducation is a vice to be avoided. Perhaps he'd reccoment under-education? The two above mentioned editors of this magazine have a series of cartoons; one of them has the designation of "wiseass" which may partially explain why Mr. Sand was recalled (as he himself has proudly declared a few posts back) to be once again be integral part of the Ovi team after his indignant protestation expressed in a local blog about my presence in it (see a lamb without any guiding light). Mr. Sand seems to conceive of himself as some kind of Grand Inquisitor for political correctness and ideological purity in the magazine mostly translatable as atheistic humanism. I suppose every magazine needs one wiseass for the sake of free unfettered speech. Hurrah for free speech within a well balanced moderate rationality. The other half is imagination and the poetic. The clever by half eventually end up making themselves ridiculous, albeit in a well conceived magazine in a foreign country.


Sand2007-10-25 22:05:52
I freely concede that Paparella is not clever by half nor by one quarter nor by one eighth nor, at end, at all.


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