Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Procrastinator's thoughts while marking exams

I have been ruminating on the difference between Islam and eastern Christianity on the one hand, and western Christianity on the other.  I am speaking about cultural differences of course, but also 'of course' religion and culture are one and the same - even in the so-called 'secular' West.  Despite an overt separation of church & state, despite the vagaries and vacuousness of modern atheism, western civilization is inextricably bound with the history and reality of Christianity -- but of a form  of faith which is formed by and informing the unique context of the West.

In the world of Islam and of Greek/Russian Orthodox Christianity, faith was deliberately and unconsciously integrated with the state - the emperor of the east Romans had a paramount position over the Christian church beginning with Constantine and his first great council - and lasting after the fall of the city in 1453 in Russia, where the Tsars assumed that authority and christened Moscow as the third Rome.  Islam had a similar office in the Caliphate - a position in the early centuries of both civil and religious authority, simply because Muslims could not conceive that the two were separate, but rather aspects of the same authority devolving from the one God.   This 'ummah' for Muslims, and empire for eastern Christians was Truth with a capital 'T'.  It did for a time have its counterpart in the West in the concept of Christendom - but the West was different from the 5th century on.

What happened then, of course, was the collapse of a central imperial authority, and its replacement by a multitude of civil authorities in the persons of tribal kings, and a separate but unified religious ideal inherent in the papacy.  Now this is all very simplified, but I think does get to the roots of the difference - from the 5th century onward sacred and secular began slowly, glacially to separate.  This is a leap, but what followed was the rise of individualism and intellectualism in the Renaissance - evidenced firstly in art, architecture, poetry and prose - still religious in focus, but aimed at a wider audience and expressing the individuality of the artist as much as the subject matter of God.  

Once on this track, the West produced the Enlightenment, science, and overt atheism and overt secularity.  It is the Enlightenment which engages my meditation.  This cultural movement produced an ummah of individuals who were trained in and practised at the art of looking at oneself and at one's own culture as though it were a foreign place - I would submit that the eastern mentality of Muslim and Greek Christian never did experience this cultural alteration - that the mindset is one of a holistic integration of body and soul - or church and state, or faith and secularity - that the ability to look dispassionately at oneself is not a skill set found outside the West.

OK!  That off my chest, and back to marking......

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Red bird

Red bird in the tree Branches bare for all to see The world was silent Watching waiting quietly He sat he breathed (both in and out) Not wanting a sound to make The bird it flew Towards the sun Seeking warmth it knew would come The world began to breathe once more Freed

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Thoughts [a very few]

The fragmentation of Christianity by means of Protestantism bothers some devout Catholics, going back as far as Thomas More.  What seems noteworthy to  me is the removal of holiness from the physical and real world, and its imprisonment in words alone - that Christian holiness was made a matter of argument and logic and evidence, rather than a ‘Way’, a mode of living, of perceiving reality - of something one breathed in and one breathed out.  

As a questing historian I understand the forces that impelled the reformation movement we label Protestant - a fear that the essence of Christ’s message in the Resurrection was lost under layers and layers of ritual and artwork and music - that there was too much icing and too little cake, as a result.  Too much time is wasted debating points of doctrine - all great fun no doubt, but wasted time nonetheless. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

The King James or Authorized version of the Bible

This year the 400th anniversary of the King James translation is being marked in England. It should of course be noted in the entire English-speaking world. The language of this translation entered into common speech and the cultural mentality of the English-speaking world until we pretty much decided to toss our heritage into the trash from the 1960s onward.

When remarking on this to classes, I like to mention such things as Agatha Christie's The Pale Horse taken from Revelation chapter 6 verse 8, And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was death, and Hell followed with him.

Linked in the header is the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford's commemoration of the translation.