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.