Unravelling Western Civilisation

Peter Myers, Australia. Date 7 Sept. 95; update 27 Oct .99.

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What we call "Western Civilisation" was forged during the latter centuries of the Roman Empire. The Polytheism of the empire was a sort of Multiculturalism, in which all religions (gods, temples, value systems) were accepted in an atmosphere of tolerance. However this multiculturalism was challenged by a monotheism which rejected all other religions as evil. A battle was fought between two rival monotheisms, the religion of Mithra the Sun God, which the Roman legions had imported from Persia, and a Jewish one, Christianity. Even the latter, however, was a descendant of a Persian religion, Zoroastrianism, through the influence of the Persian empire (the First and the Second i.e. Parthian) on the Jews of Babylon over many centuries. To defeat Mithraism, Christianity adopted a number of its features, such as depicting Jesus as the Sun, accepting Sun Day as the day of rest, and moving Jesus' birthday from January 6 (still its date in the Eastern Orthodox churches) to the winter solistice December 22/25, feastday of Mithra. Christianity won against Mithra and all the other gods, but only at the price of incorporating many of their beliefs and practices into its own cult. The theology of Jesus shows clear influence from that of Osiris (Egypt), while Mary took on many features of the goddesses Isis (Egypt) and Ishtar (Sumeria). Just as Jesus became an emasculated god, lacking in sexulaity, so Mary became an effeminated goddess, also lacking in sexuality - unlike Osiris and Isis. To depict her naked in the act of giving birth - the source of the mystery and power of the old goddesses - would be deemed blasphemous.

Even before Christianity developed, Jewish philosophers such as Philo, based at Alexandria, the New York of its day, had sought to fuse the Jewish religion with the best the empire had to offer. Such Jews were called "Hellenisers" by the Orthodox, who used the ascetic-guerilla-warrior Zealot movement as much against the Hellenisers as against Rome. On account of the Hellenisers, however, Judaism had gained many converts, such that, according to some writers, as many as one in 11 of all persons in the Empire were Jews; one in 5 in the Eastern Empire. Many of these people found the Jewish purity laws onerous, so when Christianity later offered a release from them, they switched to it, which at that time was still regarded as a branch of Judaism. When Constantine accepted Christianity, only one in 5 persons in the Empire were Christians, but they were destroying the unity of the empire much as Radical Feminism (which emerged from Marxism-Leninism) is destroying our society today. Constantine did not so much become a convert as do a deal: if you can't beat them, join them. The Church took over the Empire, gradually ostracising all other religions, including Judaism which by then had separated completely from Christianity; but the Empire also took over the Church: the first Councils of the Church were called, not by any Pope or Bishop, but by Constantine as Emperor, in 313, 314, 325, 334 and 335, in order to try to resolve the incessant squabbles over dogma (A. H. M. Jones, Constantine and the Conversion of Europe). For the same reason, the canon of New Testament books was declared at Carthage in 397. Constantine's vision - not merely a cross but a cross upon the sun - meant to him that Jesus was a manifestation of the Sun God (Mithra, Sol Invictus), much as in India today many different saints ("gods") are considered avatars i.e. manifestations of God. He did not realise the unyielding exclusiveness of the Church; he did not intend his "conversion" to mean exclusion of other religions, but thought that they could co-exist, each as a partial claim to the truth. He continued to issue coins showing his head with the Sun, and the Church blurred the difference between the two religions: having moved the sabbath from Saturday (Saturn's day) to Sunday (the Sun's day), it now moved Christmas to December 25. The monstrance, still used in Catholic and High Anglican Churches, shows golden rays radiating out from the consecrated host in the centre: Jesus as Sun God (Jacquetta Hawkes, Man and the Sun).

In its basic ideas (its metaphysics) Western Civilisation developed as a fusion between the Greek and Hebraic culture-streams. This involved an equation of Yahweh with Plato's God. Philo accomplished this fusion as follows: "for God, as apprehending beforehand, as a God must do, that there could not exist a good imitation without a good model, and that of the things perceptible to the external senses nothing could be faultless which was not fashioned with reference to some archetypal idea conceived by the intellect, when he had determined to create this visible world, previously formed that one which is perceptible only by the intellect, in order that so using an incorporeal model formed as far as possible on the image of God, he might then make this corporeal world, a younger likeness of the elder creation, which should embrace as many different genera perceptible to the external senses, as the other world contains of those which are visible only to the intellect" (Philo, On the Creation [De Opficio Mundi], in The Works of Philo, tr. C.D. Yonge). This sentence, fusing the Greek and Judaic culture-streams, is the basis of Christendom, and through it Western Civilisation.

In his paper Bruno Bauer and Early Christianity, Frederick Engels writes, "Bauer studied this question [the origin of Christianity] until his death. His research reached its culminating point in the conclusion that the Alexandrian Jew Philo, who was still living about 40 A.D. but was already very old, was the real father of Christianity, and that the Roman stoic Seneca was, so to speak, its uncle." Into the Genesis account of creation, Philo interposed Ideas between God and the material creation: God first created his blueprint, as Platonic Forms; then, using them, he created material reality. The Platonic God was synthesised with Yahweh, Reason with Revelation, the Bible providing insights into God's Blueprint (Forms) which were often not attainable through Reason. The Aryan Vedic concept, which was also that of the Greek "heroic" age, is of linear time, in one's personal life, but without the whole of human history being seen as a linear, teleological salvation-history culminating in a utopia. The notion of time as cyclic, both on a cosmic scale and through personal reincarnation was accepted into later Aryan thinking, like the god Shiva, as an influence from the subject non-Aryan population of India. From there it spread to the Pythagoreans, whom Plato followed. With Philo's fusion, the Platonic tradition abandoned the concept of time as cyclic, expressed in its acceptance of reincarnation, for the Judaic (originally Zoroastrian) linear concept of time as "salvation history". The Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion says that Philo's contribution to the beginnings of Christian theology led to his being ignored by later Jewish scholars. Augustine continued the synthesis pioneered by Philo.

Plato's metaphysical God, the ahistoricist mathematician, fused with the jealous tribal historicist Yahweh; the new synthesis completed the shift in Western culture from Shame-Culture (that of Japan today, as Ruth Benedict identified) to Guilt-Culture, a shift identified in Ancient Greece by E. R. Dodds in his book The Greeks and The Irrational. The "internationalists" are desperately trying to effect such a shift in Japan today, while the New Age in the West is trying to go the other way, to make room once again for the irrational, the primitive and the animist (much to the alarm of R. C. Zaehner in Our Savage God): this partly explains the fascination for Ancient Egypt, where these elements are seen as balanced with the rational, in the 2000-year empire of the Western World, matched only by the Chinese Empire. Alain Danielou in Gods of Love and Ecstasy writes, "Throughout Brahmanism, official Greek or Roman religion, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Christianity or Islam, we always find the same opposition to the survival of the ancient religions of Shivaism, Dionysism, Sufism and mystic sects in general founded on the love of nature and the pursuit of ecstasy. One of the weapons of city religion is moral tyranny, based on dogmas which allow it to discipline man and to oppose his self-realisation. Puritanism is totally unknown in the primitive or natural world" (p. 17).

This rationalism was not original in the Semitic peoples (now called Afroasiatic; the Egyptians are included) - even early Judaism had its shamans - but came from the interaction between the invading Indo-European or "Aryan" peoples and those they invaded (the Upanishad movement of India, the Zoroastrian priests of Iran, and the philosophers of Greece); we often fail to realise that these peoples were all part of the one vast invasion around 4000 years ago, and therefore retained much in common. In the synthesis between Greek and Judaic culture, I surmise that the Greek tradition was first separated into its rational and nonrational components, the latter was rejected, and the former combined with the nonrational Judaic tradition to form a new synthesis. This might explain the West's problem, in the humanist/enlightenment project, in trying to remove the Judaic component from the synthesis: we find ourselves with the "rational" Greek side, but with no means for sensible expression of the nonrational: we tend to be either puritans (rejecting the nonrational) or (being excessively nonrational) mindless hedonists or sado-masochists (the holocaust being one result).

Marxism fused two utopias: Plato's Republic and the Jewish millenium. The "scientific socialism" of Plato's Republic would occur in a historicist context, with a struggle between the forces of Good and Evil, a Prophet, a Holy Book, a Church (the Party organisation), and Salvation conceived as Heaven on Earth: this Heaven (Millenium) being implemented by secular intellectuals. The similarities are made explicit by Engels. Even Nazism belongs to the utopian-fundamentalist-millenial stream (see James Rhodes, The Hitler Movement). As James Burnham put it in The Managerial Revolution, ideology is an "indispensable social cement". Yet all the ideologies available to the West, religious or secular, are mired in that tradition, depicting History as a war between Light and Darkness, Good and Evil, with no shades of grey: for Christians and Moslems, between God and the Devil; for Marxists, between bosses and workers; for Radical Feminists, between Men and Women; for Nazis, between Europeans (Aryans) and the Rest; for Zionists, between Gentiles (the Evil force, forever Persecuting God's people) and Jewry (forever Victim). Prior to the struggle is an initial Paradise; after it, a Return to Paradise; the sense of Victimhood and the prospect of Return motivate the "Good" side in their war.

Although Christendom was formed as a fusion between Hebraic and Greek culture streams, only a narrow part of the Greek heritage was retained. The "Enlightenment" or "Humanist" period of the last 500 years has largely been an effort to regain what was lost of the Greek culture-stream, by throwing off the Hebraic strait-jacket. Ironically, the Zionist movement assisted this process, because it rejected that particular sect of Judaism which had led to the formation of the Christian Church. It rejected that particular Hebraism, but after the victory of the Enlightenment it wanted to impose its own brand of Hebraism. It would assist the promotion of atheism, individualism and nihilism, then, after that was seen to have failed, present itself as the Messiah for the world. It penetrated the Enlightenment movement, persuading many intellectuals to identify Bolshevism (and now Radical Feminism) with Plato's Republic: it found a way to use Socrates and Plato against Hellenism. By depicting Jesus as a figure in the mould of Che Guevara, it found a way to use Jesus against Christianity. The Enlightenment, having compromised itself by dallying with Bolshevism and Radical Feminism, each of which emerged from the Hebraic stream of Western culture, the very stream it was seeking to escape from, is now in serious danger of disintegrating. It can only survive if it can separate itself from that stream, without lapsing into Nazism, which is just as bad. The dilemna facing the West is now so serious, that I have suggested that the only solution is a major infusion of East Asian culture, which is largely free of the utopian-fundamentalist-millenian tradition. That tradition did reach China, in the form of Manichaeism, Islam and Marxism, but the strength of East Asia's own traditions enabled it to resist them.

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