Restoration with respect for tradition?

One of the shortcomings of this blog happens to be its stated theme: my tendency to analyze the "culture war" in terms of an ancient struggle between Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian values. Because both of these seemingly contradictory values systems are inextricably intertwined with the American founding, and because neither fits neatly into the libertarian (or neolibertarian) philosophy, the culture war seems far from over. (NOTE: Whether this is one of the blog's shortcomings depends on perspective -- itself a major problem for me.)

When I propose that we "end the culture war by restoring classical values," I am not proposing striking Judeo-Christian values and replacing them with Greco-Roman ones. Any process of restoration begins with the recognition that there is something to restore. Greco-Roman values are an integral part of the Western tradition, and I see them as under attack by elements of the PoMo left and elements of the socially conservative right. While the PoMos of the left would also have us do away with Judeo-Christian values (in short, all Western values), the socially conservative rightists tend to see the Culture War as a continual battle between the Judeo-Christian good and Greco-Roman evil. In my view, both sides are terribly wrong.

Logically (and mathematically) I tend to see the PoMo nihilist approach as worse than the "Judeo-Christian culture war," because (as I have argued), this would throw the baby out with the bathwater. At least the social conservatives don't seek to destroy all Western values. They do, however, forget that Judeo-Christianity stems from Greco-Romanism. But for the latter, the former would never have sprung into existence. Judeo-Christianity owes its inception and its existence to the Roman Empire. (Hint: the Roman Empire was Greco-Roman.)

Despite its relentless characterization as exclusively "Judeo-Christian" the American founding represented a classical revival on a remarkable and unprecedented scale. Anyone who has read the Federalist Papers is probably already bored by my argument; not only did the founders tap into the wisdom of the ancients, but they attempted to improve on the ancients' early democracies and republics. The founders gave themselves classical names (like "Publius" and "Cato"). Even the names of our two political parties -- "Republican" and "Democrat" -- why, they're classical plagiarism! Copied from the Greeks and the Romans. To deny America's Greco-Roman founding is to deny history as well as present day reality.

Ah, but the founders mentioned God in the Declaration of Independence, didn't they?

Which God? Nature's God?

Or "Providence"? Considering that "Providentia" (the word's origin) was the goddess of forethought, and they attached the word "divine" in front of the word, can we be so sure that they were thinking solely about Yahweh?

Is it really so farfetched to argue that admirers of the classics might have been using a classical term?

Wanna flip a coin?


I know, I know, that's unfair, as images of Yahweh are not to be found on any coins anywhere. Not that we put images of Providentia on our own coins. But hell, we had the Mercury head dime. As to Libertas, as Roman deities go, she beats them all. I have no idea how many versions of the "Liberty" goddess there are on American coins, but there are so many I don't want to hazard a guess.

Such blatant founding paganism has been objected to vociferously. This web site attacks our coinage, notes the Roman and Babylonian connections, and clinches the argument with a picture of that disgraceful statue openly and publicy displayed in New York's harbor! (The site calls it "the Goddess Libertas Enlightening the World on Liberty Island in the New York City Harbor" -- so hide your kids' eyes, folks!)

Among the pagan coins attacked at that last site is this medal -- a project of Benjamin Franklin:

The most famous of all American medals is the elegant Libertas Americana (''American Liberty'') medal. It celebrates America's Revolutionary War military victories, specifically the British surrenders at Saratoga (1777) and Yorktown (1781). Benjamin Franklin conceived the idea, as a private project to enhance Franco-American goodwill.

In a letter dated March 4, 1782, Franklin wrote from Paris:
''This puts me in mind of a medal I have had a mind to strike, since the late great event you gave me an account of, representing the United States by the figure of an infant Hercules in his cradle, strangling the two serpents; and France by that of Minerva, sitting by as his nurse, with her spear and helmet, and her robe specked with a few fleurs de lys. The extinguishing of two entire armies in one war is what has rarely happened, and it gives a presage of the future force of our growing empire.''

There are great pictures at the above site.

I am not about to list the contents of numismatic catalogues here, but anyone who doubts me in the slightest can google "liberty head dime," "liberty head quarter," "liberty head half-dollar" "liberty head dollar," and the gold, and the nickels, and the pennies. (To see a few images, in addition to "liberty head," try Googling "liberty seated.")

Seeing as there is no hope of eradicating our classical past, what's wrong with restoring its luster?

I realize that I have not ended the Culture War here, and I know I never will. My point is simply that the tension between Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian values is part of what makes us what we are as a people, and I think that's a good thing.

The restoration of Greco-Roman values is a good thing not because they are "pagan," but because they symbolize freedom, especially American freedom.

(I think they're about as traditional as you can get.)

UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for linking this post, and welcome all!

MORE: Is there a conflict between Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman values and Saudi Islamic values? I'd have rather avoided the issue, but I discuss it here.

AND MORE: Readers who are interested in the origins of the Greco-Roman/Judeo-Christian split might enjoy some old posts on the subject of long-forgotten culture wars in ancient Rome.

posted by Eric on 05.08.06 at 11:01 AM


I think it would be somewhat problematic to take a side in this particular "culture war". Remember that the Greek and Romans kept slaves, had a rigid class structure (the snobbishness of many Classical authors is manifest) and did not even have a tremendous concept of liberty within the state so much as a sense of duty. Collective punishement and punishment by example were acceptable strategies for a ruler. Contrast with Judaism that, in some sense, began the idea of individual responsibility in its legal system.

What they did have was an interest in science, knowledge and art that Judaism of that time utterly ignored, apparently. Their system was inherently prudent, pragmatic and adaptable since it was malleable to human reason.

Hmm... ridiculous generalisations emerging but I guess it is the tension that is important, and perhaps the synthesis of values.

nic   ·  May 8, 2006 10:49 PM

Good analysis!

Many centuries have elapsed during which this volatile brew has fermented and aged. It's nice to think that wisdom might remain behind as emotion burns off.

Eric Scheie   ·  May 8, 2006 11:40 PM

Two comments:

1) The use of classical imagery in the examples you stated is so far removed from their pagan originals that one can hardly connect them to "Greco-Roman" values. All that remains is a stylistic reference: these symbols have long been voided of their religious content.

2) Nic: the Jews did not ignore science, although the evidence is that they followed Phoenician, Egyptian, and Greek styles in art (as did the Romans themselves). Let's remember that Greece's science and architecure were based Egypt and Assyria's mathematics, geometry, and cosmology - all of which are referenced in the Rabbinical literature of the Second Temple/Talmudic eras.

Ben-David   ·  May 9, 2006 9:01 AM


True on the religious imagery.
on (2): You're reaching. There is no evidence that Jews did anything other than 'following' the existing trends of their Assyrian, Persian, Hellenic, and finally Roman occupiers.

A bigger influence on Greece was actually the predecessor to the Hellenic world, the Persian empire, and Egypt was not especially noted for its mathematics until the Hellenic world brought Alexandria to the fore.

cuddihy   ·  May 9, 2006 11:23 AM


After reading this essay, I'm still not sure what you consider to be the fundamental distinctions between Greco-Roman civilization and Judeo-Christian civilization.

You allude to a difference between their conception of the the gods. They both had gods, but the Greek version was much less destructive to human progress.

Take the Socratic dialog Euthyphro, which discusses the nature of piety. Euthyphro says that a pious action is one that is beloved by the gods. Ah, says Socrates, but do the gods love it because it is pious, or is it pious simply because the gods love it?

This is a crucial distinction. If the gods are only recognizing piety, then we humans might also discover what piety is. With an attitude that we must discover the truth, we have laid the foundation for science and progress. But if we merely accept that piety is whatever the gods say it is, then discovery is shut off. We merely receive the word of the gods, or the word of whoever talked to the gods last. That attitude is fatal to reason and the fruits of reason.

Socrates made Euthyphro look like a fool. Yet to his credit, an average Greek guy like Euthyphro was quite willing to accept the idea that the gods recognize piety rather than promulgate it. It's hard to imagine one of his contemporaries in Judea saying the same thing.

crow   ·  May 9, 2006 11:29 AM

I think it is important to remember that the founders were not looking to restore Greco-Roman values, rather they were looking to impliment a romanticized version of those values that never really existed. There is nothing wrong with this, indeed I would say that the striving for that which has never been, and may even be impossible to achieve, is incredibly important.

To an extent of course the Christian Conservatives are also trying to 'restore' something that never existed as well.

One of the great evils of Post Modern thought, in my opinion, is a relentless attack on our myths. Myths are important, perhaps even more important when they are not true. They are more our aspirations than our history.

Dave Justus   ·  May 9, 2006 11:30 AM

Then give to Ceasar what is Ceasar's, but give to God what is God's. Lk 20:25
We still are Roman's in our civic life and still Judeo-Christian in our spiritual life. The problem with the left is that they would replace this dicotomy with a godless religion of collectivism and they apologies for Islam that can't divide what is God's and what is Ceasar's. It was Jesus Christ who gave us idea that both religion and being a citizen can live side by side because our worldy needs have to be met and so do our spiritual needs. Collectivism needs to rid itself of both so it can rule and the Greco-Roman ideals about individuals coming together for the good of their interest with the belief that God gave us these rights to come together stand in the way of their rule. Collectivism doesn't work because we have to eat and when we have to eat we become competitive. When we become competitive then our individualist wants out weigh a theory that looks good on paper but can't be achieved. When you place artificial restraints on human behavior then it just block the human wants to survive and make the individualist more ruthless to attain the needs. When we put less barriors in front of individuals to attain their needs then citizens can work harder for a collective good but at their own submission. So the only way society can come to collectivism is by reason and want by people who through their spiritual discovery and their intellectual reasoning from our Greco-Roman traditions can we evolve into a humanity that can deliver the best of what we all want and that is peace, prosperity. liberty and freedom.

James A Kaplin   ·  May 9, 2006 11:56 AM

Eric --

I think there is no doubt that Western civ is based on Gr/Rom culture through the filter of Judeo-Christian interpretation.

The question is this: how many times can you find the authors and fathers of the foundational documents of the United States extolling the virtues of Prudentia or Libertas the Olympian deities?

There is a pretty wide separation between the humanist revival in art and open paganism. Using characters from classical literature in scuplture or painting is not tantamount to worshipping these characters -- that's the kind of error in type a lot of low-end fundamentalists make.

Moreover, placing them on coins is not the same as making them foundational persons in political philosophy.

I appreciate your comments here, but I think they exclude the middle of the implied argument. The Founding Fathers received classical influence through about 1600 years Christian political philosophy development. I think it's too much to say that they were more classicists than CHristian, but it's not very reasonable to say they were not classicists but only Christians.

centuri0n   ·  May 9, 2006 11:59 AM

It seems to me that the culture war that you describe is a natural result of the fact that the founders established a Greco-Roman form of government to govern over a Judeo-Christian society (with only the educated elites being knowledgeable about and enamored with Greco-Roman culutre). Thus, the "culture war" is inevitable and causes tension. However, it is also essential to american culture. This is a war that should never be won, as it is the tension between the two that provides balance and guards against the excesses that would occur if either value system were implemented without the competition of the other.

Todd Morton   ·  May 9, 2006 12:00 PM

Babies are sufficiently different from bathwater that failure to seperate them requires either severe neglect or a deliberate decision.

triticale   ·  May 9, 2006 12:22 PM

Couldnt agree with your whole premise more. My thoughts exactly.

I have just one quibble. Judaism is a separate stream of its own with its own independent origins.

Our culture was born in the convergence of the streams of Judaism and Greco-Romanism that was Roman Palestine. As a devout Christian, I believe that the events of the life of Jesus happened as the Gospel say they did but I also think it was no accident that this new faith was born into this place of convergence and took up those streams into itself. Christianity quite easily and naturally incorporated the values of that world and transported those values first to Europe and then to America. At its birth and in its early years it proved compatible with its first environment. To this day, Christianity is at its most authentic where it is found to embrace its the Greco-Roman heritage without embarrassment or apology. If we would really be Christians we will not favor one cultural parent over the other.

I believe that it is essential that we re-establish our awareness of our full heritage both as Christians (if we are such) and as Americans. There isnt any other way to stand up to the tide of the kind of pluralism where everything is equal and where what should be and has been our strong and self assured unifiying identity is being poisoned to death. If we dont restore our heritage, some other unifiying force will replace it and that would mean nothing less than a soul transplant for our great nation and the end of all that made America great in the first place.

Yet some people speak of such a transplant as if there would be no consequences. They seem to think that the American particulars can just be transplanted anywhere with the same successful results when the fact is that those particulars require a certain spirit and environment in order to survive.

peggy   ·  May 9, 2006 12:46 PM

Judeo-Christianity owes its inception and its existence to the Roman Empire.

That statement is a bit strong. While several factors, including Alexander's conquest of his world and the resultant Greek fluency in West Asia, the 1st century Christian diaspora, and adoption of Christianity by Constantine, allowed Christianity to spread, that statement presupposes that it otherwise would not have done so. That's historical determinism: this is the only way it could have happened.

On the contrary, suppose Moeriscus had not betrayed the Greeks at Syracuse, or the Carthaginian admiral Marcellus not earlier declined to engage the Roman fleet besieging it; would Hannibal have conquered Rome, and all the world? Would we all kneel at the foot of the Carthaginian gallows, on which Our Lord might have been slain? We'll never know.

The land-based Romans were generally much more effective conquerors and administrators than their Greek and Carthaginian rivals, even though both Greece and Carthage had arguably superior "culture". Or perhaps we might have a worldwide veneration for a Carthage-Macedonia-Celtic alliance, into which the Judeo-Christian values might have somehow spread.

In any case, that Rome was our vehicle for arrival at this party there is little doubt; that we would not otherwise have arrived is not knowable.

Socrates   ·  May 9, 2006 12:50 PM

Interesting post, but I'm not really buying the false dichotomy. Western civilization has always recognized its dual heritage; one foot in Athens, the other in Jerusalem. Classical philosophy provided the vocabulary and Jewish theology the milieu in which Christianity developed.Thanks to Plotinus and Thomas Aquinas, there is as much Plato and Aristotle in Christian theology as Moses and Isaiah.
The occasional fundamentalist wackos who have a problem with pagan iconography are an irrelevant fringe. If your argument is that we need to re-emphasize the Athens to an equal extent with the Jerusalem in our heritage, I quite agree. But there is no conflict, only a dialectic.

mark Sauer   ·  May 9, 2006 12:56 PM

Eric, I came here from Instapundit, so maybe the question is obvious to your regular readers, but can you give a couple of examples of elements of Greco/Roman culture that (1) you think are valuable, (2) are traditional parts of this nation since the founding, and (3) are under attack by relgious elements that want to eliminate it?

I can't think of what this would be.

Doc Rampage   ·  May 9, 2006 12:57 PM

An excellent analysis. My only quibble:

They do, however, forget that Judeo-Christianity stems from Greco-Romanism. But for the latter, the former would never have sprung into existence. Judeo-Christianity owes its inception and its existence to the Roman Empire.

Initial spread beyond Judea, yes, inception, no. And that spread due to the fine imperial travelways and many people's exhaustion with the Greco-Roman philosophies and religion of the time. Assyrian Christianity spread far beyond the Roman Empire without need for either.

But other than that, I agree entirely that the tension between Judea and Athens are a large part of our national character.

Crazy Diamond   ·  May 9, 2006 1:10 PM

To what extent do you think the psychology of economic progress corelates to a traditional value system? Can the two coexist or are they mutually exclusive?

Twok   ·  May 9, 2006 1:15 PM

The restoration of Greco-Roman values is a good thing not because they are "pagan," but because they symbolize freedom.

Different people can attach different symbolic value to different things, so it may well be that to you Greco-Roman values symbolize freedom. But as a historical matter classical Greek and Roman society did not have any conception of freedom as it is understood in the modern Western world.

the socially conservative rightists tend to see the Culture War as a continual battle between the Judeo-Christian good and Greco-Roman evil.

That is an interesting assertion, but I suspect it is mostly untrue.

Judeo-Christianity owes its inception and its existence to the Roman Empire.

This is clearly untrue. Judaism predates the Roman Empire by at least a thousand years, and in its early stages Christianity (as well as Judaism) was actively suppressed by the Romans.

Jon Sandor   ·  May 9, 2006 2:04 PM

i want to know were you get support for the estatement that PoMo would also throw out Greco-Roman values?

michael   ·  May 9, 2006 2:05 PM

Mistake in my comment above: Marcellus was the Roman commanding the fleet beseiging Syracuse; the Carthaginian admiral's name escapes me at the moment.

Socrates   ·  May 9, 2006 2:09 PM

Byzantium. Greco-Roman AND Judaeo-Christian.

seguin   ·  May 9, 2006 2:29 PM

I too came from Instapundit. Interesting post. But I have a question. Isn't the other way around? Judeo values were around BEFORE Rome. And Christianity took Judeo values to a deeper level, i.e., don't sleep with smeone vs don't even look upon them with lust. However, I think I will be visiting. This is great stuff.

terri   ·  May 9, 2006 2:29 PM

"While the PoMos of the left would also have us do away with Judeo-Christian values (in short, all Western values)"

You make this claim twice, and I dont quite understand. I agree that such a pomo position is extreme, but your basic point (of your whole site) seems to be that Greco-Roman values are integral to Western values. So dispensing with Judeo-Christian values may not be very smart, but it can hardly be characterized as tossing "all Western values".

Tano   ·  May 9, 2006 3:07 PM

Ah, Classical values. Such as those told by Ovid in the myth of Orpheus:

Where, for three years, he lived without a woman
Either because marriage had meant misfortune
Or he had made a promise. But many women
Wanted this poet for their own, and many
Grieved over their rejection. His love was given
To young boys only, and he told the Thracians
That was the better way: enjoy that springtime,
Take those first flowers!

It was years before I realized that this section of the poem had always been bowdlerized out of the versions of the Metamorphoses we read in school.

Mithras   ·  May 9, 2006 4:47 PM

Just how "Judeo" is "Christianity"? Is it in the character of Yahweh to sire a son? Now [Zeus/Jupiter Optimus Maximus] would and did many times. Alexander the Great was also the son of God (for a while). May be "Christianity" is just Greco-Roman mystery cult with a few books from the Torah thrown in to provide a colorful back story.

martian   ·  May 9, 2006 4:49 PM

I'm going to reccomend you find a book on Old Testament prophecies. There's lots of them out there, btw. Consider that when the Magi came to King Herod, and asked where the King of the Jews would be born, the Judeo elders were able to tell him the exact city.

Eric R. Ashley   ·  May 9, 2006 5:17 PM

That Judaism is older than Greco-Romanism is by no means clear. The events of the Iliad and Odyssey took place at almost the exact time that Moses is said to have written the books that establish Judaism. Western values can be found throughout Homer's works (which were regarded as scripture by the Greeks and Romans). Free speech is mentioned explicitly in the Odyssey as a right. And my favorite Biblical prophecy is the arrest of Paul in Acts 22, where he refers to his rights as a Roman citizen to get out of jail and a whipping. Trying to spread religion? Using free speech? Freedom of association? Our First Amendment rights are all Roman freedoms, and Paul uses them as a Roman citizen.

Robin   ·  May 9, 2006 6:17 PM

Would you comment on where the values of the European Enlightenment fit in with those of Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian? The Enlightenment's general recognition of reason as the primary method of solving social problems and creating a freer and more egalitarian society are fundamental to America's founding as well. Here's an interesting take on this aspect: The Christian Nation Myth [].

Byron   ·  May 9, 2006 6:54 PM

All the comments are great, but I think I didn't make myself clear about a couple of things:

1. When I said Judeo-Christianity owes its inception and its existence to the Roman Empire, I refer to the fact that had it not been for early Roman Christians (who came to full power under the Roman Empire) there would be no such thing as Judeo-Christianity as we know it today. The Christian takeover of Rome was the nexus -- a merger if you will.

2. As to the PoMos, the DeCons, whatever you want to call them, I see them as having a nihilistic approach to all Western values, not just Judeo-Christian ones.

Of course the ancients (neither the Jews nor the Greeks, nor the Romans) did not enjoy democracy in the modern sense. But this is a continual process, and not necessarily a consistent one... At the time of the founding, this country had slavery -- a Greco-Roman tradition. And sodomy laws and assorted religious laws derived from the Judeo-Christian tradition.

I know that it's always risky to generalize about history, because history is made up of many specific details, but I tend to see the Renaissance and the Enlightenment as Classical revivals (the former best known for art, the latter for science).

There is, I think, real tension between the remnants of these competing ancient values systems, and we see it raise its ugly head especially in the areas of sexuality, and Dionysian/Bacchanalian wildness.

(My admitted bias is that I take issue with what I see as an early mistake: I think early Christianity took a wrong turn when it waged war with "paganism" even after they were firmly in charge of Rome, then compounded the error by waging war against what was called "heresy." Even now, I think many Christians continue to believe they are at war with "paganism" without understanding why. (It would be nice to bury the hatchet.)

Eric Scheie   ·  May 9, 2006 9:09 PM

Christianity can't help but oppose paganism and heresy. There doesn't have to be war or violence, of course, but there does have to be conflict. The conflict is inevitable as long as there are (1) familes or societies that become angry and hostile when members convert to Christianity and (2) pathetic whiners who cry that they are being attacked whenever anyone criticizes their behavior.

Christianity has several basic propositions: (1) There is a Holy God. (2) This Holy God gave us all life. (3) We all abused the life that God gave us, therefore (4) God is going to take away that life except that (5) God has given us another chance to make that life permanent (and incidentally a lot better, besides) but (6) pagans and heretics are blowing their second chance. Finally, (7) God commands Christians to love pagans and heretics.

For someone who truly believes those things, failing to resist heresy and paganism is an act of moral cowardice, risking the eternal death of people you love.

Imagine your brother, married to a woman that he worships so much that he reacts with hostility whenever you criticize her in the smallest way. You find out that the woman is slowly poisoning him for the insurance money, but you can't prove it. You know that your brother is going to become violently angry if you tell him, and he probably won't believe you anyway. What do you do? That is the position that Christians often find themselves in.

By the way, I'd still like a clarification of what in particular you are talking about as I asked previously.

Doc Rampage   ·  May 9, 2006 10:27 PM

Doc, I don't share your view of Christianity, and religious debates are pointless, which means we disagree. As I said, though, I don't think there is an irreconcilable conflict between "paganism" and Christianity, and I don't believe in heresy. (While it's largely irrelevant, I consider myself to be a pagan Christian, although I realize that some people might think that is worse than atheism.)

As to your earlier question -- "give a couple of examples of elements of Greco/Roman culture that (1) you think are valuable, (2) are traditional parts of this nation since the founding, and (3) are under attack by relgious elements that want to eliminate it" -- I think you're setting up a straw man, as while I gave examples of each, I never confined my argument as you have to require all three components simultaneously. How could I? These things we call "values" tend to change over time (albeit slowly).

I simply said what I said in the post.

Eric Scheie   ·  May 10, 2006 12:21 AM

I wsn't trying to set up a straw man, honestly, I was just trying to figure out what you are talking about. You said that Greco/Roman values are "under attack" by the conservative right and I honestly can't think of an example of anything that I would describe this way so I'd like to know what you are thinking of. I just re-read the post and I didn't see any examples, but I could just be dense.

Surely you aren't referring to the fringe groups that want to eliminate references to Greek and Roman deities from our culture? That would hardly be worth discussing except in a discussion of wierd fringe groups.

So I am honestly at a loss. Are you talking about art and architecture and mythology? I've never seen any notable conservative objections to any of those, except for the sexual elements in art and myth. Is that what you mean, the sexual elements and attitude toward nudity? But there was nothing distinctly classical about the Greek and Roman attitudes toward sex and nudity (meaning that those attitudes were very common), and anyway, this isn't something where you can have both sets of values. Greco/Roman and Judea/Christian culture are directly opposed on these issues. It's one or the other.

So what's left, philosophy? i can't think of any way that conservatives oppose Greek philosophy and the Romans didn't have any.

So the truth is, I'm at a loss. I really have no idea what you are talking about. But it sounds like it would be an interesting idea if I could only understand it. That's why I bothered to ask.

Doc Rampage   ·  May 10, 2006 1:40 AM

I've always thought that since the Renaissance, Western culture was a fusion of Græco-Roman and Judaeo-Christian values. And that is why it's so great.

Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest)   ·  May 10, 2006 5:33 AM

Doc, regarding sexual issues, I don't think it needs to be "one or the other." (See these previous posts.)

But I think there's a lot more to this than sex. In order to discuss the new ideas of the American Revolution in their entirety I'd be obligated to write another long essay -- and to do that I'd have to spend hours doing research. This is something I do not have time to do right now -- and also something that in all candor I don't like being forced to do because of a question by a commenter.

Not that you haven't posed a good question.


I think religious tolerance was one of the greatest contributions that America has made to history. Here's Wikipedia:

The modern legal concept of religious freedom as the union of freedom of belief and freedom of worship with the absence of any state-sponsored religion, originated in the United States of America.

It's also pretty clear that it flies in the face of most of Christianity's history until then.

A good argument can be made that the First Amendment's acceptance of religious pluralism is rooted more in the Greco-Roman than the Judeo-Christian tradition. Early Christianity was not noted for religious tolerance. See "God Against the Gods"

More than one scholar has argued that "it may have been the pagan attitude of religious tolerance that prevailed."

It's as tough to generalize about Greco-Roman religious tolerance (just as it is to generalize about Judeo-Christianity's intolerance), because these things change over time. One of history's ironies is that the Christian Romans killed far more Christians than the pagan Romans ever did:

More on the intermittent periods of Roman religious tolerance and intolerance at these sites:

Another interesting view here:

To suggest, as some historians (and many others with axes to grind) have done, that Constantine rescued the Christian church from persecution is fantasy. Christians had enjoyed complete tolerance in the Roman Empire from 260-302. More importantly, Christians were persecuted by the regime that Constantine constructed.
What was happening to the churches during that period is significant. As Peter Brown, one of the more reliable ancient historians put it: "The conversion of a Roman emperor to Christianity, of Constantine in 312, might not have happened—or, if it had, it would have taken on a totally different meaning—if it had not been preceded, for two generations, by the conversion of Christianity to the culture and ideals of the Roman world" (Peter Brown, The World of Late Antiquity, A.D. 150-750, London and New York, 1971, p. 82). Brown sees two generations of accommodation, compromise, corruption, and finally conversion of the churches to their culture. But the worldliness of the churches began much earlier, even before the deaths of the apostles.

There are many views. (Some historians see the early church -- and Catholicism -- as "too pagan.") Fortunately, Americans are allowed to think what we want, and I think it is a product of the fine line between tolerance and intolerance. (Even the meaning of the first First Amendment -- especially whether it separates church and state is constantly being debated. (The Constitution Restoration Act being a perfect example.)

Might the American founders (reflecting on the religious wars between Christians) have taken the intermittently applied Roman idea of religious tolerance, and then improved on it? If so, it could be argued that they revived a pagan concept. I suspect they did just that.

But obviously, this will not be resolved even in a long essay -- much less a comment.

Eric Scheie   ·  May 10, 2006 12:07 PM

Might the American founders (reflecting on the religious wars between Christians) have taken the intermittently applied Roman idea of religious tolerance, and then improved on it?

Perhaps, though I think the Founders were very clear in wanting to maintain a separation between Church and State, a separation that is currently being eroded.

As John Danforth, the moderate Christian and former Missouri Senator, put it:

“Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians.”

If your interest is in raising the standards of society, which have certainly been descending over the past 50 years or so, then I am completely in your corner. But I think what you term the restoration of classical values needs to come from a sense of personal responsibility, rather than the outside influences of government or church. And this is what we need to teach our children: personal responsibility. Not I tripped on your sidewalk so I can make a quick buck suing you. Not I'll lie to you, get you pregnant and then dump you, or divorce you in five years when you accidentally smash my high-school basketball trophy. Not I'll be nice to you because it's the Christian thing to do, instead of it's the right thing to do.

You can have freedom with responsibility and you can have it without interference from the Church or the State, but not if you do not accept the responsiblilty that comes with being free which is that you are required by the very nature of freedom to govern yourself, and that you can be trusted with this responsibility because freedom is something you treasure.

Noel Guinane   ·  May 10, 2006 1:21 PM

Shouldn't it be simply "christian"? After all, Joshua was a Jew (or renamed himself that way to be accepted by Jeruzalem Jews) and Paul of Tarsus deliberately opened up a new, obscure millenarian Jewish sect up to the Greek speaking world. Some centuries later stories about the cult's founder are written in ordinary Greek. Fast forward again & whoa Nellie! lots of neo-Platonism pops up in Aurelius Augustinus. FF yet again and this time around another ancient Greek (Plato's best pupil!) is adopted by the Church of the day and we get Thomas Aquinas (who incorporated lots from Averroës, by let's not get into that). FF one more time and now faithful Christians (but just believing were most of these northern barbaric numbskulls?) get a little crazy over "newfound" ancient Greek lit and we get wonderful art en literature and Hindu-Arabian numerals to boot.

Graeco-Roman and Judeo-Christian? I say simply "Christian" will do the job.
Of course, you are free to narrowly define Christianity, but one - to me -of the strongest points of this faith is its versatility, its adaptibility. To summarize: the bible speaks in many voices.

Rik   ·  May 10, 2006 2:17 PM

one ... of the strongest points of this faith is its versatility, its adaptibility.

Sure, you keep the bits you like or are fashionable and close your eyes to the bits you don't; like the violent bits, the incestuous bits, the too-incredible-to-believe bits.

To summarize: the bible speaks in many voices.

All of them human and all of them hearsay. It comes back to each of us to unravel life's mysteries. Why hand your brain on a platter to either a priest or a politician? We have to think for ourselves.

Noel Guinane   ·  May 10, 2006 4:44 PM

Come on Noel!
All of them human and all of them hearsay. Hearsay? For that matter so are Caesar's writing on the Gallic Wars, the bible has been proven as an authentically transmitted text both - Old and New testament. Whether you believe the bible's claims are entirely separate from the question of it's reliablity as a historical source and text.

Taleena   ·  May 15, 2006 3:30 PM

April 2011
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30


Search the Site


Classics To Go

Classical Values PDA Link


Recent Entries


Site Credits