On Culture.

January 27, 2013 § 24 Comments

The entire bedrock of Western culture is based on two rival
worldviews: the Greek and the Hebrew, and whichever side you embrace
more strongly determines to a large extent how you see life.

From the Greeks we have inherited our ideas about secular humanism and
the sanctity of the individual. The Greeks gave us all our notions
about democracy and equality and personal liberty and scientific
reason and intellectual freedom and open-mindedness and what we might
call today “multiculturalism”. The Greek take on life, therefore, is
urban, sophisticated, and exploratory, always leaving plenty of room
for doubt and debate.

On the other hand, there is the Hebrew way of seeing the world.
“Hebrew”, is the shorthand for an ancient worldview that is all about
tribalism, faith, obedience, and respect. The Hebrew credo is
clannish, patriarchal, authoritaran, moralistic, ritualistic, and
instinctively suspicious of outsiders. Hebrew thinkers see the world
as a clear play between good and evil, with God always firmly on “our”
side. Human actions are either right or wrong. There is no gray area.
The collective is more important than the individual, morality is more
important than happiness, and vows are inviolable.

The problem is that modern Western culture has somehow inherited both these ancient worldviews: though we have never entirely reconciled them because they aren’t reconcilable. Our legal code is mostly Greek; our moral code is mostly Hebrew. We have no way of thinking about independence and intellect and the sanctity of the individual that is not Greek. We have no way of thinking about righteousness and God’s will that is not Hebrew. Our sense of fairness is Greek; our sense of justice is Hebrew.

And when it comes to our ideas about love, we are a tangled mess of both. On one hand, we believe that marriage should be a lifetime vow, never broken. On the other, Greek, hand, we equally believe that an individual should always have the right to get divorced, for his or her own personal reasons.
Our Hebrew view of love is based on devotion to God; which is all about submission before a sacrosanct creed, and we absolutely believe in that. Our Greek view of love is based on devotion to nature: which is all about exploration, beauty, and a deep reverence for self expression.
The perfect Greek lover is erotic; the perfect Hebrew lover is faithful.
Passion is Greek; fidelity is Hebrew.

How can both these ideas be simultaneously true?

Elizabeth Gilbert, Committed.


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§ 24 Responses to On Culture.

  • the two sides of the coin, the ying and yang, the spirit and the flesh…that is what we see running rampant in the world and add in the freedom of choice, choose which one is the best for you but the wise man/ woman chooses the middle ground not overly abusing either side…and he find peaceful medium without over indulging either side. Too much of one and not enough of the other will leave you banrupt worldly or spiritually! Live your life, we all will answer one day for our actions!

  • Ben Naga says:

    I may have incarnated here, but thankfully do not find myself cemented into the irreconcilable no-win situation she describes. Hopefully others may also discover a way to extricate themselves.

  • Paresh says:

    Reblogged this on poetic shrapnels.

  • annotating60 says:

    I understand what you are saying, but considering the Jews were always those on the outside of the pagan worshiping world which for he most part had the ‘feminine’ and ‘nature’ at their core of beliefs, it wasn’t until the Council of Nicea that the patriarchial domination took it real place and became agressive in its dismantaling and co-opting of pagan beliefs. Also, though the greeks were pagans essentially, they were not the only ones. While I agree with your basic premise I believe the issue is way more complicated by ascending and decling societies. And does not take into account the peoples of northern Europe who were clanish (one example) as well, but were not influenced by the Greek culture. Greeks were not proselytizers of their religion or their concepts of the governing. Thank you fr and interesting article, though. It is always a pleasure for me when a person who I’ve not recognized from before notes one of my posts and after backtracking discovering an interesting writer that I can follow. Thank you. >KB

  • I think I know what you mean, it like having blind faith (such as feeling pain which one can never see but yet the individual can feel, having a soul yet no one actually has seen it yet we all have one) and having scientific faith which needs to be proven before accepted.

    Like I know you exist, because of this blog so I have blind faith in your existence – but yet I have never seen you in flesh which in scientific terms means you don’t really exist.

  • “thinking about righteousness and God’s will that is not Hebrew”

    Very well reasoned ideas here. But the above statement is not true for me. The God of the New Testament and that of the Old Testament are very different. As I Christian ( and this is considered heresy) I feel no connection with the Hebrew God and I do not get my ideas of Justice from Hebrews. What is justice in their minds is what is good for them exclusive of others. Any God that directs and abets His chosen people” (alleged) in the murder of neighboring tribes is one with whom I’ll have nothing to do. For me the Hebrew God is their God, not mine.

  • kazhancock says:

    Very interesting…..I find myself agreeing with Wendell. If you let love and compassion be your touchstone, I think for the most part you can live with a clear conscience. x

  • soumyav says:

    nice topic and some thoughts to be really pondered here. something I brought for you ! an award for excellence in writing on any topic! http://wp.me/p2SvrZ-1s

  • Hmmmm….interesting and engrossing..something to ponder upon.
    Is passion really greek..??? Then i must be Greek! 😉

  • tinkwelborn says:

    Whada I think? I think this article was ‘Great!’
    Good writing job here.
    And thank you for posting/sharing.

  • Mind-boggling. A lot to think about here…

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