Thursday, December 27, 2007

Fullness of Time: Greece and the Birth of Liberty.

After Adam fell, the spiritual pendulum swung far and low into the dregs of idolatry. Whatever knowledge or ritual Adam passed down to his offspring about God eventually deteriorated into only a sinister, shadowy, distorted version of the truth. Adam surrendered his dominion over the world and his offspring to the devil and God allowed it. So God let the disease of sin run its course and the devil threw a party. Religion transformed into a devilish carnival throughout the world. In some cultures children were sacrificed to appease an angry idol while in others, beating hearts were torn from the warm chests of screaming men to placate the gods that brought rain to their crops. The atrocities are even worse but I’ll spare you stories about young boys raised for the purpose of being raped to death as a reward to the tribe’s returning hunting party. And all that was AFTER the flood.

Then, finally, at the bottom of the pendulum, amidst the filth, God appeared to the Abraham and a new nation was born. His true character was revealed again, His covenant established, and man’s redemption set in motion. But the road of the Jews was not one of blissful evangelism. It was a hard and harsh road filled with disobedience and discipline. Somehow, they handled it better than all of the rest of human kind would have. The law was preserved the line was unbroken. And that is why they were chosen.

But what about the rest of humanity? Eventually the pendulum swung out of the mire and excrement and as close as it could to knowing the God of the universe on its own, peaking about four-hundred years before the birth of Christ in the city of Athens.

What was so miraculous about the Greeks?

Well, it all began somewhere in the rough and rugged terrain of ancient Greece when man’s mind turned from dwelling on death, to dwelling on life and something new was born of this: Play.

The Greeks were the first people to really play and play they did. It sounds strange but it is true. The Egyptians didn’t truly play for the sake of play. If they did, there is nothing to notate or show evidence of it. There were a few Egyptian contests to be sure, but the contests served a purpose and the loser often lost his life, or his testicles. The stark contrast between Egyptian and Grecian play can be summed up with a quote from a Egyptian priest to great Athenian, “Solon, Solon, you Greeks are all children.”

All over Greece there were games, all sorts of games; athletic contests of every description: races – horse, boat, foot, torch-races; contests in music, where one side out-sung the other; in dancing – on greased skins to see who would fall on their butts; a game of balance of body; games where men leaped in and out of flying chariots… and the list goes on. And I mean ON. (Check it out sometime… stuff like “dancing flutists competition.” Waaaay cooler than American Idol in my opinion.) The greatest honor in Greece of course went to the Olympic victor. The Olympian victors were absolute heroes.

When Greece died, the spirit of their games died with them and lay dormant for hundreds of years. The brutal, bloody games of the Romans that replaced them had nothing to do with the Greek spirit of play. It was from the Roman idea of play that Christians were fed to lions and gladiators were bread to murder each other. This was not Greek. To be Greek was to rejoice in life. The joy of life is written in everything the Greeks left behind. Even in their great tragedies they show this. It is the depressed and numb-minded that cannot both greatly rejoice and greatly sorrow in life. The Greeks knew all too well the brevity of life and how little time we have to enjoy the wonders of the world and their tragedies reflected this. The old Greek definition of happiness goes something like this: “The exercise of vital powers in a life affording them scope.” It is a philosophy that is abounding with the joy of living.

In Greece, individual liberty was born. No man was a slave in Greece. Somewhat common today, but NOT common then. The rich didn’t rule Greece or the priests, it was ruled by law and even the law was questioned and refined for the good of all. The Egyptian priest said, “Thus far and no further, we set the limits to thought.” The Greeks said, “All things are to be examined and called into question. There are no limits set to thought.” It is astounding that in Greece alone, the Priest played no role of real importance in governing the society. The Greek priests had their temples and sacrificial rites, but other than that, they were told to mind their own damn business. Men and gods fought the Trojan War with no intermediaries. The Greek never went to a priest for guidance. If he wanted to know something he went to Plato, not to the castrated priest.

The Greeks were the first intellectualists, the first philosophers.
Our word for school comes from the Greek word for leisure. To the Greek man who was afforded some R & R, what else would he do but spend his time “finding out” about things? To chill out was to learn. Today for leisure, our children eat tater tots and watch cartoons, right beside their parents.

The Greeks were the first to call their healers physicians. The Greeks used their minds in a way that engaged nature and learned from it, rather than looking for an outside source to intervene combined with a strange concocted potion of crap and piss. (Real remedy used by Egyptians.) The Greeks were the first scientists and all modern day science goes back to them. The Greeks dared to look into the face of superstition and set their minds to it. Sure Galileo can be commended for his “humanist” ventures, but his lonely and brave venture pales in comparison to what the Greeks accomplished. They were the master of none and were free to think in a way that is hardly rivaled today here in America. For instance, imagine the turnout to a play during WWII where Roosevelt was portrayed as a power-hungry goofball and Uncle Sam were portrayed as a stupid oaf. Exactly that happened when Greece was fighting for its life and pro- and anti- war alike showed up and loved it. To think free was to be free.

Socrates drinking his hemlock was the one exception in all of Greek history, but he was an old man by then and had spoke his mind his whole life and Athens had just gone through a bitter defeat, rapid change of government, and the people basically panicked as they always do for a patsy. But even then, a small majority only charged Socrates and Plato went on teaching in his name and honored for it. Socrates was the only man to suffer death for his views. Three others were exiled from the country and that’s it. That’s the whole list of people that were persecuted for their views compared to the gazillions who are killed, beaten, and tortured in the last five hundred years alone. Never before or since has a whole culture and country welcomed learning and liberty, as the Greeks, not even in the Renaissance, and no, not even America.

And it was just at this time,
when mankind was at his peak and most likely to understand and grasp what God would demonstrate, the Messiah came into the world through the virgin womb of a young Jewish girl surrounded by a dark and dank cave in the city of David.

Next up: The Jews.

(Sidenote and sucker-punch: The current trend to de-hellenize Christianity is bunk and reeks of Gen X crybaby-I-long-for-significance syndrome. You can no more de-hellenize the New Testament, and especially Paul and the Gospel of John, then you could demoralize or "de-God" the Constitution.)


Chaotic Hammer said...

I'm enjoying this series you're doing, though I'm not knowledgeable enough about the subject matter to really contribute much to the discussion.

I do notice that the term "Greek" in the New Testament is used synonymously with the entire Hellenic culture of the time. When I read through the Epistles, I get the distinct impression that as you note, God was not surprised, nor was it an accident, that the world stage was set by history leading up to the appearance of Jesus the Messiah.

In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul notes that the Jews seek a sign and the Greeks seek wisdom, but that Christ crucified is a stumbling block to both. The plain old Gospel, presented without fancy bells or whistles, or without attempting to appear ultra-intellectual or super-philosophical, is the power of God for salvation.

So while I share your marveling at so many things about the Greeks, it seems to me that part of God's message is that even in his most wise and enlightened state, man still utterly and completely needs Christ. Maybe that's sort of what you're saying -- that men, at the peak of enlightenment and wisdom, realize that they still lack something, and then Jesus appears, and right there in front of them is the thing they lack.

It sounds like you may be slightly idealizing what it would have really been like to live among the Greek culture at that time. I say that based on what I simply know about human nature, and what history has shown to be true again and again -- that given freedom and prosperity, no matter how "enlightened" people are, they still have a sin nature that wars against the things of God and leads to certain fruit that is part of our sin nature.

In Matthew 13, Jesus explained in the parable of the sower about the condition of the hearts of people hearing about the Kingdom of God, and how that condition related to their ability to believe and receive the Gospel. In that sense, I think there was a certain state of men's hearts at the time Jesus appeared, which made some of them quite receptive to the Gospel. The Greek contributions of which you speak are part of this, and I'd agree that God's sovereignty and perfect timing were at work in all these things.

Seth Ward said...

Very true. Great observations! What you are saying is what the end of this study will hopefully convey. The Incarnation... It’s like all of these great cultures were talking about someone who lived long ago and they knew about only through signs of what that person left. (The Greeks- the idea of God; the Jews- the prophecies of the Messiah.)

Maybe it is like digging up a civilization where all that is left is a few stones and pottery. Volumes are written about the civilization and some scholars get pretty close, but it is so complicated that it is hard to understand. Then somehow, along comes the true king of that civilization and reveals all the missing pieces, not just the missing pieces but swallows whole all the wisdom and knowledge in the light of his truth, simultaneously simplifying it and filling it with eternal mystery and beauty. All the wisdom... mere tinker toys compared to the reality that they longed for and that came in the Lord.

In no way do I want to imply that the Greeks did not need Christ. Quite the opposite. They not only needed him, the desperately strained their thought for Him and longed for Him. And I'll be so bold as to say this: With all the Jews knowledge of the Great I Am, the Greeks came closer to knowing or understanding the Godhead, the Trinity, than they did. And THAT, my friend, is why the Greeks are still holding the title as mankind's greatest intellectual achievers. They were not a perfect society, but NEVER and I mean NEVER, has a society known such freedom. Never. Not in America, nowhere. Think about it... Can you "really" say what you want? What about merry Christmas? What about prayer in school? What about going to a bar in East Texas and talk about Art without getting your jaw broken? What about saying you are an Atheist in the U.S. and not be accused of being "unpatriotic?" What about being a Christian and saying “shit” even though it means the same thing as crap? And those are just small petty examples off the top of my head.

There is no doubt the Greeks were sinful, but they were most certainly free. Now, that being said, re-read Paul and how he addresses the stringent Jewish Law... (Most people don't know just how many laws there were that needed to be followed.) Then you come to know even more how the Greeks influenced Paul. Or you could say, how God used the Greek culture to show man how to live, not only free from sin, but also free from legalistic and rigid law.

MamasBoy said...

Interesting thoughts. Interesting thoughts on Brant's blog too, btw.

Regarding the Greeks, I'm not too knowledgeable, but I get the picture from what you've written that religion didn't have much influence over Greek law/governance or even daily life if they didn't seek priests/religion for guidance. That strikes me as a bit odd, given the amazing temples they built to their Gods. Do you think that that reflects a divergence in religious practice/belief between the common man and the ruling class? What was the role of religion in Greek life. I liked your post, but it raised a lot of questions for me in this area.

Your post reminded me of a section of GK Chesterton's biography of St. Francis of Assisi that always struck me as intriguing. Chesterton posits that it took a purging of the pagan religious views attributing the status of a God to nature, in order for the pure love of nature that St. Francis held to come to fruition and have a positive effect without being totally misappropriated by the surrounding culture as an embrace of idolatry. Anyway, I'm writing from memory and probably getting something wrong, but it struck me as similar/complementary to what you are writing about.

Seth Ward said...

Doug, great question and I started a reply but got distracted with family stuff. I'll get to it on Sunday or Monday...

MamasBoy said...

no rush.