Soul of the West
The 'fusion' of Israel, Greece, and Rome has benefitted the whole of humanity
Guardian journalist Van Badham has defined Western civilization in purely negative and derogatory terms: “a racist colonial project to crush, change, enslave, eradicate or genocidally erase other cultures.”
It is difficult to regard a person who could write such a thing as quite sane. Christopher Dawson insisted that the Christian West is not the exclusive birthright of any one race of people, but that it belongs to the whole of humanity.
The remarkable thing about Christianity, from the very beginning, was its inclusiveness. For many centuries the eastern Mediterranean was its epicenter. All but one of the ancient patriarchates of the Church were in or near what we now call the Middle East, but Islamic expansion tended to push the epicenter westward (a trend that has been tragically continuing in such places as Syria).
North Europeans were relative latecomers to Christianity; the ancestors of those of us who happen to be Anglo-Celtic in origin were themselves adopted into a Culture that has its origins in a rich fusion of Israel, Greece, and Rome.
We of the West (in the general sense of that word) are not therefore originators of Western Civilization, but its beneficiaries and adoptees. When we are accused of trying to “colonize” or “civilize” groups of people, we do well to remind our accusers that we were once in the same position as they. And indeed we still are: think how much Western Christians owe today to clergy, evangelists, and teachers from so-called “third world” countries.
The most important, indeed the essential component of Western Civilization, is the Christian Faith. It is the Soul of the West. It is all too apparent as I write this on Good Friday, well sequestered from newspapers, broadcast media, and sporting events (all of which maintain their normal schedules) that the West has all but lost its Soul. Faith, it seems, is the last thing we come to, and the first we discard as other interests choke the life out of it.
But no situation is hopeless and lost ground can be recovered by the Grace of God even against seemingly impossible odds. That “fusion” of Israel, Greece, and Rome of which I spoke above has given all kinds of precious resources to the whole of humanity. I sometimes think that the greatest of them, after the Faith itself, is the Roman sense of inclusiveness. Now one doesn’t usually associate such virtues as modesty and generosity with Romans, but they did recognize that while their own talents lay in government and law, other nations far surpassed them in science, creativity, and the arts of peace. The Romans themselves felt that these lines of Virgil aptly suited them:
Others will forge more lifelike bronze statues
…and carve living faces out of marble;
they’ll be better orators, and they’ll plot
the motions of heaven and the setting of the stars:
But you, Roman, remember to rule the peoples with your power
– that is your special skill –
to impose the habit of peace,
to spare those subjected to you,
and in battle to beat down the proud. (Aeneid vi, 847.53)
To the extent that Badham’s ungenerous and blinkered critique has some truth in it, we should take stock of our own failings and aim always for amendment. But not to the extent of discounting the precious achievements of the West in science and in the arts, by which the whole world has been enriched.