Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

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shiv
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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby shiv » 06 Jun 2016 19:51

^^Go right ahead and use whatever I have written.

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby member_22872 » 06 Jun 2016 20:04

from twitter, Lee Kuan Yew on the fallacy of considering western values as universal:

Image

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby ShauryaT » 06 Jun 2016 22:34

csaurabh wrote:Huntington's Clash of Civilizations is amazing to read. It is incredibly accurate today even though it was written in 1996 ( it predicts a war in Ukarine ). Central to his thesis is the idea that Western civilization is unique, as opposed to being 'universal'.
The book was preceded by a paper in foreign affairs in 1993. It created such a flutter at that time as it was at the peak of celebrations, of the end of the cold war. The US had attained hyper power status with no parallel. Western values was seen to be the winner of it all with an expectation that "globalization" will proceed in western colors, not only in the economic streams but along social and political lines too. For a person to puncture this narrative at that time, he received a lot of flak. People started looking for alternative academic narratives and partly found it in the works of Francis Fukuyama's "The End of History" at that time. These are fairly honest academic narratives, when proved wrong they gracefully accepted as such as Fukuyama recently did, even if with qualifiers.

Anyways, if one further desires to understand the works of Huntington and where he comes from, recommend two more books. "Who we are" - which explores the assimilative culture of America. The other one is more focused on deep psychological-social factors of "What a soldier fights for".

I also think, the Clash of Civilizations itself gets a lot of flak, partly due to its title by those who have not read it. It is more about understanding the natural and most pervasive dividing lines, nation-states that exist within those lines and some such as Ukraine, where the line passes through it.

Bringing it to the sub-continent, what Jinnah tried to do is "separate" a segment of Indians from its common civilizational ancestry through the creation of a nation-state with strategic land space, cutting off India from the CA and west Asian land mass. It is for these reasons, for me that Pakistan has to be defeated not only in the geo-political space but also in the cultural and social spaces that seek to separate it from India. This is also partly the reasons, I sometimes disagree with Shiv ji and some others, in cutting off Pakistan for in my eyes, it further solidifies its "separate" civilization moorings and away from the Indian civilization - a net loss for India.

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby RoyG » 18 Aug 2016 19:58





Digestion 101

Buddhism => Religion => Sectarianism => Vipassana => Mindfulness => Non Sectarian => Lack of Religion => Secularism

In other words,

We aren't good enough for our own creation.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dharmic response

Buddhism => Tradition => Pramana (Self) => Vipassana

Hence,

Secularism not applicable b/c unit as religion is different from tradition.

Secularism emerged as religious pragmatism in Europe.

Tradition in Asia, particularly in Indian subcontinent, emerged as guide for destruction of ignorance.

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby svinayak » 21 Aug 2016 02:27

http://watchingamerica.com/WA/2016/08/2 ... d-clinton/

Donald Trump recently thumbed his nose at U.S. President Barack Obama by claiming that the president was the "founder" of the Islamic State group, the Republican nominee threw his adversary Hillary Clinton into the bargain as well, for being Obama's right-hand woman. And although we may often dismiss or disapprove of such electoral gamesmanship, particularly that which emanates from the mouth of Trump, deeper rumination on the Middle East policies of Obama and former Secretary of State Clinton does seem to warrant a wag of the finger toward the duo for the chaotic state of international politics seen today.

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby shiv » 31 Aug 2016 20:39

I am working on a hunch/epiphany whatever and I will write it here. if I do that my thoughts often clarify themselves better.

The hypothesis is that Western Universalism is the latest avatar of Protestantism. Here are the reasons:

Protestantism, as a form of Christianity
  • Believes that God made man in his image, differences in humanity not accepted
  • Man is the most superior life form, in Gods image
  • Man inherited the earth from God to do what he wanted
  • Everyone is same same and equal in the eyes of God
  • Believe in free will
  • Catholics are wrong - they believe in miracles, celibacy, oppose abortion, homosexuality
  • Promotes a "tree" view of the world with single common trunk under god

Now looking at Western universalism, it is being preached that
  • All humanity is the same, with similar thoughts needs, desires etc (gels well with equal in eyes of God)
  • Man is superior life form. (no dispute with religion here)
  • Earth meant for man's use, animals secondary. Environment should help man
  • Free will, capitalism
  • No miracles, no celibacy, celebrate homosexuality, abortion not opposed
  • Promotes a "tree" view of the world with a single universal culture as if one size fits allunk due to emergence from a common tr

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby RoyG » 31 Aug 2016 23:21

shiv wrote:I am working on a hunch/epiphany whatever and I will write it here. if I do that my thoughts often clarify themselves better.

The hypothesis is that Western Universalism is the latest avatar of Protestantism. Here are the reasons:

Protestantism, as a form of Christianity
  • Believes that God made man in his image, differences in humanity not accepted
  • Man is the most superior life form, in Gods image
  • Man inherited the earth from God to do what he wanted
  • Everyone is same same and equal in the eyes of God
  • Believe in free will
  • Catholics are wrong - they believe in miracles, celibacy, oppose abortion, homosexuality
  • Promotes a "tree" view of the world with single common trunk under god

Now looking at Western universalism, it is being preached that
  • All humanity is the same, with similar thoughts needs, desires etc (gels well with equal in eyes of God)
  • Man is superior life form. (no dispute with religion here)
  • Earth meant for man's use, animals secondary. Environment should help man
  • Free will, capitalism
  • No miracles, no celibacy, celebrate homosexuality, abortion not opposed
  • Promotes a "tree" view of the world with a single universal culture as if one size fits allunk due to emergence from a common tr


Western Universalism

Humans posses a self, and therefore agency (Free will required for God's test)

Within self are multiple needs and desires which need to be fulfilled or suppressed to enjoy eternal happiness in the afterlife.

Multiple needs and desires will inevitably create conflict within and between human beings (Someones gain is someones loss)

Dharmic Traditions

Self is the only desire, and this desire clings to everything.

This desire is illusory in that it gives us the impression that we are sovereign agents.

If we posses only one desire (self/ego) then there cannot be inherent conflict within human beings.

Only ignorance of the true nature (happiness) creates the conflict (transient happiness)

Therefore, conflict cannot exist between human beings. It's just you.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This is the observation put forth by Balu in his draft paper happiness, needs, and conflict.

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby Agnimitra » 01 Sep 2016 01:55

shiv wrote:Protestantism, as a form of Christianity...
  • Catholics are wrong - they believe in miracles, celibacy, oppose abortion, homosexuality

Lots of Protestants also vehemently oppose homosexuality, since that is unequivocally and harshly condemned in the Bible. Many also oppose abortion. However, most choose not to actively persecute homosexuals, under the non-judgmentalism doctrine.

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby RoyG » 01 Sep 2016 02:20

Carl wrote:
shiv wrote:Protestantism, as a form of Christianity...
  • Catholics are wrong - they believe in miracles, celibacy, oppose abortion, homosexuality

Lots of Protestants also vehemently oppose homosexuality, since that is unequivocally and harshly condemned in the Bible. Many also oppose abortion. However, most choose not to actively persecute homosexuals, under the non-judgmentalism doctrine.


Yes and no.

They may not persecute them like in Medieval Europe, but it does happen through policy.

They perceive separation of church and state as the church interfering w/ the state but not vice versa.

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby shiv » 08 Sep 2016 07:06

We Indians have had the pride beaten out of us so effectively that we now try to apply all the attributes of the West - accusing ourselves of racism. Countries with no such need to grovel behave differently. For example
China:
Prem wrote:http://www.express.co.uk/travel/articles/708065/Air-China-magazine-London-Wings-of-China-ethnic-areas
Air China magazine tells tourists visiting London 'avoid Indian, Pakistani & black areas'

The magazine currently has a long feature on London - one of the most multicultural cities in the world. Journalist Haze Fan highlighted a snippet on London saftey on her Twitter account. The snippet she took a picture of reads in both Chinese and English. The translation says: "London is generally a safe place to travel, however precautions are needed when entering areas mainly populated by Indians,Pakistanis and black people."It continues: "We advise tourists not to go out alone at night, and females always to be accompanied by another person when traveling."


Japan: The Japanese even have the word "hafu" for a half-breed
Miss World Japan on being half-Indian: 'Everyone thought I was a germ'

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby Arjun » 08 Sep 2016 09:06

Not sure what is the point you are trying to make with the Air China example, Shiv.

Seriously laughable when a race of cockroach-eaters starts casting slurs on another community more successful than them globally.

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby shiv » 08 Sep 2016 20:21

Arjun wrote:Not sure what is the point you are trying to make with the Air China example, Shiv.

Seriously laughable when a race of cockroach-eaters starts casting slurs on another community more successful than them globally.

Trust you to ask me a question that is difficult to answer... :D

But its like this... Xenophobia comes in many forms and whether people should have xenophobia or not is a separate issue. But self flagellating and criticizing the structure of one's own society as being flawed is, in my view an Indian speciality. Western societies have their own way of demonstrating xenophobia and racism, but I do not see them questioning their own culture when their people display racism or xenophobia. The west in my view accept a continuous evolution of their society and societal behaviour, right or wrong, and standards have changed with regard to acceptance or rejection of other people and cultures within our own lifetimes. The west seems to have continuously moving/evolving cultural norms and they simply legislate out what they agree is undesirable. What was acceptable yesterday is illegal today. But there is no shame about yesterday and little self flagellation. Change imposed from the top is accepted. At least that is what it looks like to me.

The Chinese are boors, and the "cultural revolution" removed the elite upholders of culture leaving what appears to me to be a b@$tardized Chinese culture with arrogance, boastfulness and xenophobia. The Chinese also display some butt-hurtness and jealousy. But they do not self flagellate and say they are wrong.

I see Indians arguing that their culture was wrong and in my view this is because we view our culture as the British did in colonial days. It was wrong and we are trying to tear down our own culture by constant comparison with the west. I can see no analysis of why we have a particular culture and why it needs to be torn down. We just agree that it is bad, regressive, "medieval" (such a European term) and must be torn down. So I see Indians ashamed. I don't see that shame among others.

I would be happy to hear comments on this assessment of mine but these were the ideas that went through my mind when I posted that. I will post (below) another article that must have been playing on my mind when I posted that message.

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby shiv » 08 Sep 2016 20:26

Effects of Colonization on Indian Thought - Part 1
The country’s so-called elite, whose mind had been shaped and hypnotized by their colonial masters, always assumed that anything Western was so superior that in order to reach all-round fulfilment, India merely had to follow European thought, science, and political institutions.

by Michel Danino
- See more at: http://www.pragyata.com/mag/effects-of- ... kv6gH.dpuf

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby Arjun » 08 Sep 2016 23:42

Before I respond to your post Shiv, some quick stats relating to the Air China screwup...

"London is generally a safe place to travel, however precautions are needed when entering areas mainly populated by Indians,Pakistanis and black people."


What Air China meant to say was precautions are needed when entering "deprived neighborhoods" which are generally associated with high rate of crime and poverty. And what do the latest stats say as to which UK communities are more likely to live in such "deprived neighborhoods" ? : How likely are ethnic minorities to live in deprived neighbourhoods?

Surprise, surprise - Chinese figure above the Indians in living in these hellholes !

So it would be more correct to say "precautions are needed when entering areas mainly populated by Chinese, Pakistanis and blacks"...of course it would still not make the statement politically correct, which is a whole different story.

The article was probably written up by some ignorant & jobless British Chinese....and based on official stats, Chinese in the UK do rank higher in joblessness than the Indians there :)

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby Arjun » 09 Sep 2016 01:00

shiv wrote:But self flagellating and criticizing the structure of one's own society as being flawed is, in my view an Indian speciality. Western societies have their own way of demonstrating xenophobia and racism, but I do not see them questioning their own culture when their people display racism or xenophobia. The west in my view accept a continuous evolution of their society and societal behaviour, right or wrong, and standards have changed with regard to acceptance or rejection of other people and cultures within our own lifetimes. The west seems to have continuously moving/evolving cultural norms and they simply legislate out what they agree is undesirable. What was acceptable yesterday is illegal today. But there is no shame about yesterday and little self flagellation. Change imposed from the top is accepted. At least that is what it looks like to me.

Shiv, I know where you are coming from and the oft-repeated assertion that Indians suffer from an inferiority complex. I kind of agree with that, but there's also a different way of looking at this.

I think its to do with the fact that Indians - unlike almost any other group on earth, are a very heterogeneous society. Chinese are 92% Han - highly, highly homogeneous. Europeans are also highly homogeneous in faith and ethnicity - unlike Indians.

How do we quantifiably prove that the self-flagellation and lack of homogeneity are linked ? Lets say an all-India survey were to be conducted...Everybody is asked to give a Yes/No answer to two questions: 1) "Indians are a useless bunch of people" (OR "Indian culture is the reason for lack of development") and 2) "XXX are a useless bunch of people" / "XXX culture is responsible for lack of development"...In the second question, XXX would refer to the same caste to which the responder belongs - Brahmins / Jats / Nadars whatever...

What do you think would be the result of such a survey? No such survey has yet been conducted - but my guess, if one were conducted - percentage of folks responding yes to (1) would be very high & percentage of folks responding yes to (2) would be very low. What does this mean? Basically that subconsciously - when Indians indulge in self-flaggelation they are passing on the buck to every other Indian other than their own castes.

I, of course, don't have hard evidence for this until we actually have a survey of the kind I mentioned - but I am prepared to bet on the outcome, at least the divergence I mentioned between (1) and (2).

Coming to xenophobia - I think Indians due to the fact that they constantly mix with all castes in everyday life are not generally a xenophobic bunch of people. If you had another survey that presented a statement dissing a caste different from one's own - most Indians would genuinely be shocked and not agree with it. Whereas Chinese or Westerners may well show a higher percentage of agreement with xenophobic statements based on ethnicity or race.

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby A_Gupta » 12 Sep 2016 21:24

With the collapse of the USSR, Islamism is the only ideological alternative to Western hegemony

Islamism is a comprehensive political system that offers a total ideological alternative to the mainstream Western consensus of democracies enforcing liberal values, backed by American hard power. Since international communism collapsed, those opposed to this system have been left without an ideological home.


From: https://www.clarionproject.org/analysis ... g-fruition

The rest of the article, IMO, is a distraction, to my question, which is - is it a failure of Indian thought leadership that the above statement plausibly can be defended?

What is the Indian alternative to Western hegemony, international communism, and Islamism?

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby shiv » 12 Sep 2016 21:52

A_Gupta wrote:What is the Indian alternative to Western hegemony, international communism, and Islamism?

This may sound unconvincing, but I would say "Dharma" is the answer.

Not that this will be easy to implement but here is something that has come up before - will try and explain.

We have reiterated time and again that Islamism and Christianity are top-down systems where laws are imposed on people under pain of consequences. western democracies are exactly that - the fact is reinforced by the statement "backed by American hard power"

Dharma is a bottom up system but its imposition will have to be a top-down imposition where people are taught fundamental duties to nature & society and asked to live their own lives as they please so long as those duties are fulfilled. Unfortunately this system divides up society into innumerable small groups, but it is amenable to top-down rules and survival within a nation state. However ideological pursuits like continuous amassing of wealth and ideals of imposed equality for all are unlikely to work.

Just some random thought that probably need some refining

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby RoyG » 12 Sep 2016 22:08

A_Gupta wrote:
With the collapse of the USSR, Islamism is the only ideological alternative to Western hegemony

Islamism is a comprehensive political system that offers a total ideological alternative to the mainstream Western consensus of democracies enforcing liberal values, backed by American hard power. Since international communism collapsed, those opposed to this system have been left without an ideological home.


From: https://www.clarionproject.org/analysis ... g-fruition

The rest of the article, IMO, is a distraction, to my question, which is - is it a failure of Indian thought leadership that the above statement plausibly can be defended?

What is the Indian alternative to Western hegemony, international communism, and Islamism?


Good question.

You see all the ideologies you mentioned are meant to fulfill "needs" of the individual.

In other words, there is something external that can give you a heavenly sort of satisfaction whether in this life or the next.

The biggest threat to this idea is the dharmic traditions which follow three very basic tenets:

1) Everyone's true nature is happiness.

2) There is no monopoly over the path taken to attain this happiness.

3) Reflect on your experience (study your own consciousness in a very scientific way)

That's it!

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby Avarachan » 13 Sep 2016 10:29

shiv wrote:
A_Gupta wrote:What is the Indian alternative to Western hegemony, international communism, and Islamism?

This may sound unconvincing, but I would say "Dharma" is the answer.

Not that this will be easy to implement but here is something that has come up before - will try and explain.

We have reiterated time and again that Islamism and Christianity are top-down systems where laws are imposed on people under pain of consequences. western democracies are exactly that - the fact is reinforced by the statement "backed by American hard power"


I generally don't get into religious discussions on BRF--an Internet forum is not conducive to that--but I will briefly respond to this.

Orthodox Christianity (as opposed to Roman Catholicism and Protestantism) does not view itself as an imposition of arbitrary laws under pain of punishment. Orthodox Christians view their faith as a simple description of reality. The difference is subtle but profound. For instance, when God tells man that if he eats of the fruit (and thus disobeys God), he will die, God is not threatening man with punishment. Rather, God is simply explaining (the way a loving father would) that actions have certain inherent consequences. The rejection of God (Who is Life) necessarily results in death.

The Bible does sometimes use the language of law and punishment, especially in the time before Jesus. The Orthodox Church Fathers explained that this was due to humans' spiritual immaturity. The unfortunate reality is that humans often don't respond to explanations of what is right and good. Instead, they respond to fear of punishment. (One can see this with children.) St. John Chrysostom famously said that the Bible itself was like God's "baby talk" to human beings. Human language cannot express who God really is, but God uses human language because that's what we can understand.

As I mentioned, BRF is not the place for a debate regarding this. However, for those interested, I recommend the following resources:
"Sin Is Not A Legal Problem – Athanasius and the Atonement"
http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2god ... atonement/
The classic Orthodox Christian text on this is "On the Incarnation" by St. Athanasius of Alexandria (Egypt, 4th century). http://www.copticchurch.net/topics/theo ... nasius.pdf
Indian Orthodox Church: http://www.mosc.in

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby panduranghari » 13 Sep 2016 13:02

Avarchan ji,

But isn't the basic premise of any stream of Christianity - humans are born out of sin and unless one accepts Christ as a saviour, they are destined to be castigated to damnation in hell- an affront to what 'dharma' preaches?

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby csaurabh » 13 Sep 2016 17:31

panduranghari wrote:Avarchan ji,

But isn't the basic premise of any stream of Christianity - humans are born out of sin and unless one accepts Christ as a saviour, they are destined to be castigated to damnation in hell- an affront to what 'dharma' preaches?


Nicene creed.
All churches have Nicene creed as their most important belief. Basically yeah, all humans are sinners and if you accept Christ then you can transfer all the sin on to him ( and go to heaven ), else you are sent packing off to hell..

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby A_Gupta » 13 Sep 2016 17:42

Small difference, if I am a Ganesha bhakta, per usual Christianity, I'm going to hell as a punishment, or per orthodox Christianity, I'm going to hell as a natural consequence of my actions that God warned me about in baby language that I am obliged to understand.

Anyway, it is a distraction. My question still stands. What is the Indian answer to Western hegemony, communism and Islamism, and how is the world convinced that the Indian answer is a viable answer that they should try?

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby panduranghari » 13 Sep 2016 19:12

Laissez faire Karmicism?

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby shiv » 13 Sep 2016 19:33

Avarachan wrote:Orthodox Christianity (as opposed to Roman Catholicism and Protestantism) does not view itself as an imposition of arbitrary laws under pain of punishment. Orthodox Christians view their faith as a simple description of reality. The difference is subtle but profound. For instance, when God tells man that if he eats of the fruit (and thus disobeys God), he will die, God is not threatening man with punishment. Rather, God is simply explaining (the way a loving father would) that actions have certain inherent consequences. The rejection of God (Who is Life) necessarily results in death.

The Bible does sometimes use the language of law and punishment, especially in the time before Jesus. The Orthodox Church Fathers explained that this was due to humans' spiritual immaturity. The unfortunate reality is that humans often don't respond to explanations of what is right and good. Instead, they respond to fear of punishment. (One can see this with children.) St. John Chrysostom famously said that the Bible itself was like God's "baby talk" to human beings. Human language cannot express who God really is, but God uses human language because that's what we can understand.

I realize that you are explaining something and you have explained it well. I also realize that you do not wish to debate this here. I must also post the disclaimer that my words from here on are not directed at you personally, but at the arguments that have been posted - which are exactly the manner in which Christian rhetoric (in fact all Abrahamic rhetoric) works.

I will use an example to illustrate the sophistry that the above explanation reveals.

Muslims don't kill. People who kill are not Muslims

Two statements - each referring to the other one in a circular argument so that if one statement is called into question a reference is made to the second one which changes the perspective and absolves both statements and all Muslims


So - taking 2 statements made above: we get
    1. when God tells man that if he eats of the fruit (and thus disobeys God), he will die, God is not threatening man with punishment. Rather, God is simply explaining (the way a loving father would) that actions have certain inherent consequences

    2.humans often don't respond to explanations of what is right and good. Instead, they respond to fear of punishment

These two statements amount to a circular argument where an attempt at falsification of one leads to a reference to the other. God is gentle and kind. He does not threaten punishment but says that something will happen Man is faulty and needs punishment.

Both sets of arguments are complete bullshit and require human intervention to make an alleged god's alleged word come true.

The biggest human fault lies in their falling easily for such illogical tripe, a fact discovered 2000 years ago.

The point I was making is that a "law" is an action that occurs invariably in response to some event. It does not matter one bit whether God hollers and threatens man or tells him kindly and gently that blasphemy will lead to death. Blasphemy WILL NOT lead to death unless that death is brought about by human intervention.

The only real laws in nature are the laws of nature, Without entering into quantum physics and staying at a school science level, gravity is a law. Exposing an earth life form to temperatures above 150 deg C will inevitably lead to death of that organism. That is also a law. No human, or animal intervention is required. That is in fact God.

Dharma is a system where the laws of nature in terms of preservation of life as we know it are defined and human activities are suggested to keep things that way. They are not laws that say "You will die if you curse God". Imposition by man is not required when it comes to the existing laws of nature. The maximum that man can do is to recommend or impose behaviour that conforms to the well being of society, environment and nature.

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby RoyG » 13 Sep 2016 20:17

Avarachan wrote:
shiv wrote:This may sound unconvincing, but I would say "Dharma" is the answer.

Not that this will be easy to implement but here is something that has come up before - will try and explain.

We have reiterated time and again that Islamism and Christianity are top-down systems where laws are imposed on people under pain of consequences. western democracies are exactly that - the fact is reinforced by the statement "backed by American hard power"


I generally don't get into religious discussions on BRF--an Internet forum is not conducive to that--but I will briefly respond to this.

Orthodox Christianity (as opposed to Roman Catholicism and Protestantism) does not view itself as an imposition of arbitrary laws under pain of punishment. Orthodox Christians view their faith as a simple description of reality. The difference is subtle but profound. For instance, when God tells man that if he eats of the fruit (and thus disobeys God), he will die, God is not threatening man with punishment. Rather, God is simply explaining (the way a loving father would) that actions have certain inherent consequences. The rejection of God (Who is Life) necessarily results in death.

The Bible does sometimes use the language of law and punishment, especially in the time before Jesus. The Orthodox Church Fathers explained that this was due to humans' spiritual immaturity. The unfortunate reality is that humans often don't respond to explanations of what is right and good. Instead, they respond to fear of punishment. (One can see this with children.) St. John Chrysostom famously said that the Bible itself was like God's "baby talk" to human beings. Human language cannot express who God really is, but God uses human language because that's what we can understand.

As I mentioned, BRF is not the place for a debate regarding this. However, for those interested, I recommend the following resources:
"Sin Is Not A Legal Problem – Athanasius and the Atonement"
http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2god ... atonement/
The classic Orthodox Christian text on this is "On the Incarnation" by St. Athanasius of Alexandria (Egypt, 4th century). http://www.copticchurch.net/topics/theo ... nasius.pdf
Indian Orthodox Church: http://www.mosc.in


Avacharan,

Always good to have your input in this thread.

Below are the 3 basic tenets which unify the dharmic traditions:

RoyG wrote:1) Everyone's true nature is happiness.

2) There is no monopoly over the path taken to attain this happiness.

3) Reflect on your experience (study your own consciousness in a very scientific way)


Technically, everything you've said doesn't conflict w/ 1 and 3.

What are your views on point 2? Is "salvation" a monopoly of Christianity?

Would like your thoughts on this.

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby ShauryaT » 13 Sep 2016 22:48

A_Gupta wrote: My question still stands. What is the Indian answer to Western hegemony, communism and Islamism, and how is the world convinced that the Indian answer is a viable answer that they should try?
A viable answer is possible only if they are willing to listen or looking for an alternative. They would be willing if they are convinced that there is something wrong in their pre-suppositions and the resulting state of their societies. Since, much of these societies view of themselves is tied to power at the hip, this questioning will come only and only if the power structure has failed society or has been defeated by another power.

Remember it was the failure of Indian power that provided space first to the Islamic hordes and then to westerners to come and marraud Indian society. Not just for its resources but also questioning and replacing its value systems. Artha Mulyam Dharmyam demands that wealth and power is at the root of Dharma. A hungry man's dharma is to feed himself and survive, like the Valmiki story in MBH.

The Indian answers exist but they rest on a value system so far different from the existing one's that I see no way of selling them except by defeating the power structures in place in these societies.

To me, these answers vest in the Purusharthas and VarnAshrama Dharmas.

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby ShauryaT » 13 Sep 2016 22:52

shiv wrote:Dharma is a system where the laws of nature in terms of preservation of life as we know it are defined and human activities are suggested to keep things that way. They are not laws that say "You will die if you curse God". Imposition by man is not required when it comes to the existing laws of nature. The maximum that man can do is to recommend or impose behaviour that conforms to the well being of society, environment and nature.

"Ritam" is a high principle of the vedas. Translates to doing things as per the natural order or the proper way. All man made laws can do is ensure that their laws adhere to the high principle of Ritam, like a a pre-amblem to a constitution.

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby Avarachan » 14 Sep 2016 05:47

For those who had questions, I'll respond on the weekend. I have some time-sensitive work to finish before then.

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby csaurabh » 14 Sep 2016 20:58

Decadence- decline of the modern world

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWCJqZT ... E5XEseY-q1

6 part TV series. Excellent imo, raises many of the questions discussed here.

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby shiv » 18 Sep 2016 09:24

csaurabh wrote:Decadence- decline of the modern world

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWCJqZT ... E5XEseY-q1

6 part TV series. Excellent imo, raises many of the questions discussed here.

Many thanks for posting. Your recommendations in general are very good "must not miss" You pointed me to Tavleen Singh's "Durbar"

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby Avarachan » 19 Sep 2016 10:13

Here is my promised response. These are extremely complex issues and I'm simplifying for the sake of brevity and clarity. Also, I should mention that I am an ordinary Orthodox Christian layman: I am not an ordained priest or deacon. However, I believe that everything I have written is accurate.

1) Over the years, I've noticed that many BRF commenters make broad generalizations on what "Christians" believe. However, they're simply re-stating what Protestants or Catholics believe, not Orthodox Christians. Roman Catholicism and Protestantism are so different from Orthodox Christianity that they are almost different religions. These differences are taken very seriously. The proof of this is that a Protestant or a Roman Catholic is not allowed to participate fully--that is, take Communion--in an Orthodox service. According to Orthodox canon (church) law, if a Protestant or Roman Catholic wishes to do so, he or she must convert. (As a practical matter, exceptions are sometimes made. However, the canon law is clear.)

2) One commenter brought up the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. This is a helpful topic by which to see the differences. The reason the Bishop of Rome split off from the Orthodox Church in 1054 is because he wanted to add a phrase--the Filioque--to the Creed. The other Orthodox bishops told him that this was not allowed. He responded by leaving and founding Roman Catholicism. Significantly, when Protestantism was founded about 500 years later (in 1517), Protestants agreed with Roman Catholics in using the altered form of the Creed. Thus, it is not true that the Creed unifies all Christians. In fact, the issue of the Filioque illustrates the divisions within Christianity.

3) Even when Orthodox Christians and Protestants/Catholics use the same terms, they give different meanings to those terms. For instance, we have a very different understanding of the term "original sin." For Catholics, because Adam sinned, we are all guilty of that sin. (This was the driving force behind the Catholic formulation, in 1854, of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of St. Mary. The Orthodox do not agree with this doctrine.) The Orthodox think that's nonsensical. How can someone be guilty for someone else's sin? However, we believe that we all bear the consequences of Adam's sin. It is similar to being born in a family where the father beats the mother. Is the child guilty for his father's sin? Of course not. However, will the child have a corrupted and distorted understanding of marriage and fatherhood? Yes. Will that distortion affect the child's life unless some emotional-psychological-spiritual healing takes place? Yes.

4) Because Orthodox and Protestants/Catholics have a different understanding of the problem (sin), we also have a different understanding of the solution (salvation). In general, Protestant views of salvation have been influenced by a theory called "Penal Substitutionary Atonement." This theory was first formulated by the Catholic thinker, Anselm of Canterbury (England) in 1098.

There are many things to note about this. First, the theory was formulated very late in the history of Christianity. Anselm wrote this more than 1000 years after Jesus and 750 years after the Council of Nicea (325). Second, to put it kindly, France and England were not known for deep theological reflection the way Egypt, Syria, and Anatolia were. One should always present one's work to one's elders in a spirit of humility. However, none of this dissuaded Anselm's followers from proceeding to lecture the rest of the world--in particular, the Orthodox--on how we were heretics for not following his teachings! The arrogance of this is mind-boggling.

This is why, today, Orthodox Christians giggle when Evangelical Protestants come and lecture us on how we're not following "the Gospel." These people don’t realize that the "Christianity" they're preaching is very different from the Christianity of Jesus, the Apostles, and the Church Fathers.

5) I'll add more to this post when I have time. Perhaps I'll turn this into an article for my blog. In that case, I'll post a link to the article in this thread.

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby csaurabh » 13 Oct 2016 17:11

Looking at what is going on the US elections now. I wonder how the Western world feels that a sexmaniac billionaire celebrity ar$ehole was made a presidential nominee and perhaps even might still win and become the most powerful man in the world.

One could point to conservative or religious reasons but D.T. 'Grab the pussy' doesn't really fit that image either. He's just a clown.
I don't think the Western world has seen a worse leader recently, except perhaps Italy's Burlosconi.

Looking at predictions from 50 years back, it was thought that India would break into many pieces very soon. Now India's still going pretty strong, while Britain has left the EU, Scotland might be leaving Britain, the Eurozone is collapsing, Middle East is in chaos and even the United States might unravel.

Broad minded Westerners may soon be going through a process of introspection to find out where they went so terribly wrong. They will be looking at other civilizations, especially India, for answers. I wonder if we are prepared to give it to them.

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby shiv » 14 Oct 2016 09:37

The West is too proud to look at India. Most think that India was sussed out and dominated long ago and has nothing much to offer. A lot more instability and failure is needed before the smell of coffee begins to spread widely

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby ricky_v » 14 Oct 2016 23:37

the liberalism wave that now prevails is just like the western notion of extremities, with the options being : you are either with us or you are wrong , the only difference I find between the old nutcases and new whack jobs is one of qualifiers which are very subtly manipulated and hence the libs continue to be dynamic because in most cases they are against the set norms of the conservatives who are basically a together or wrong kind of group.

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby csaurabh » 20 Oct 2016 09:56

I've been reading up on European history a little more and realized that large parts of Europe were not hardcore Christian even a thousand years ago.

The 'Cathars' of Southern France are an example. They considered themselves to be 'Gnostics', and their beliefs included:

1) Communication to God through a method of 'gnosis' ( similar to yoga ), not reliance on clergy and scripture
2) Considered Jesus as a great Gnostic teacher ( like rishi or yogi ) not Son of God.
3) Considered the belief that Jesus died for 'our sins' as absurd, we are responsible for our own sins.
4) Belief in reincarnation
5) Gender equality, women were allowed to be priests.

Their story does not have a happy ending. The Pope ( who used to lead armies at that time ), allied with the Northern French lords (whom he had promised all the lands and loot from the Cathars ) launched a crusade against them in 1208 . After military defeats, an Inquisition was launched including genocides, forced conversions, burning at stake, and such like. Soon, the Cathars faded away into history.

Teutonic knights crusade against 'pagan' Lithuania are another example.

When the west looks at world history, it carries a subconscious memory of such events, and imagines that history all over the world was just like this. Therefore the imagined conflicts between Buddhists and Vedantists ( which were intellectual not physical war ), Shaivites and Vaishnavites, upper castes and lower castes., Aryans vs Dravidians, and so on.

I thank Rajiv Malhotra for pointing out how the Eurocentric view of World history was influenced by the western psyche that carried a subconscious memory of their own past.

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby svenkat » 22 Oct 2016 12:43

http://indiafacts.org/lakshmi-on-the-bbc/

is is a comment on the BBC In Our Time programme, on Lakshmi, hosted by Lord Melvin Bragg broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 6 October 2016. Without making any statement about the sincerity of the presenter or those academics (Jessica Frazier, University of Kent; Jacqueline Suthren Hirst, University of Manchester; Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad, Lancaster University) who participated in it, the programme brought to the fore, albeit in a half hidden way, the contemporary dilemmas facing anyone who wants to talk coherently about any aspect of the Indian traditions.


The discussion actually demonstrates our inability to talk about Indian traditions without reducing them to some cheap, better-disposed-of copy of Christianity. The programme achieves this for the figure of Lakshmi,
a result no doubt totally unintended(not sure about that) by the BBC, the host or his academic guests. What follows is a short description by a hearer that is inevitably a synthesis of the discussion as heard rather than a comment on one or another participant in the programme. In other words, for the following description to make any sense, we have to pretend that, much like a novel, a narrator is speaking through the mouths of each participant. From the start of the programme two themes introduced testify to the fact that the questions asked have no bearing on an understanding of the goddess Lakshmi or, for that matter, any aspect of the Indian traditions. There is talk about origins. Such talk is intelligible only because of the dominant cultural context in which the question of origins of religions, as belief systems, is normal and normative.

Without a historical origin there cannot be a foundation to a belief system. But the search for foundations is neither here nor there for Indians who never asked questions about foundations until the dominant Semitic theology imposed the necessity of establishing them.(an oversimplification imho) Notice also how the text and its dating is treated. Religion must ideally be accompanied by text. Without text there is, after all, no foundation for beliefs. This ties in with the certitude provided by the Christian religion – a certitude(which no longer exists after much research though this is suppressed by academia/popular press/political Xtist narrative) that has since permeated the Western culture – that human beings are intentional creatures whose actions betray their beliefs, while beliefs found actions. Where better to examine the source of those beliefs than the available texts. The Semitic template is firmly in place.

However, it is made into an oddity that the Vedic texts do not speak of Lakshmi until some uncertain but certainly later date. The subtle suggestion here is that there is the hand of human invention, a suggestion which is less subtly and intermittently reinforced through the programme. In Semitic religions, which are of course God-given, there is no question of human invention, to suggest which would be blasphemous.

lakshmi

But Lakshmi can be treated as if invented, perhaps by defrauding priests, a human creation to be worshipped within a false religion. To Indians, it is of no importance whether Lakshmi is invented by a rishi or other personage. This is inconsequential to the role her presence performs in the Indian culture. So, on the one hand, the cultural intuition of Indians can sit relatively undisturbed alongside the allegation that she is an invented creature. On the other hand, the insinuation, to which most Indians are totally blind, is that whereas Indians believe in make believe, willing fools to believe in man-made goddesses, followers of Semitic religions have real religion sent to them by God, of which the religion is itself proof.

The making of Lakshmi is therefore yet another vain attempt by the Indian who contended the forces of nature and invented albeit rather elaborate, decorative and entertaining myths for his being able to cope with them. After all, as programme host Lord Melvin Bragg has it, “these are people like us [but] without the tools of knowledge”. :rotfl: There was no option for Indians other than taking refuge in make believe stories because they did not have real science, and no conception of real (rational) knowledge, as we do. One may even accept that for natural science to flower did indeed require religion, of which the Semitic religions are the epitome. One can even accept that wondrous achievements have been the outcome of the natural sciences. But in the programme the implication is to reduce the Indian to the imbecilic status of automaton who blindly believes in stories that are make-believe to somehow help him (or her – housewives appear to populate the programme) cope with life.

Christian themes loom large throughout the programme. So Indians “worship” and “pray”, but they do so transactionally ergo insincerely, thus unable to fulfil the demand of true Christian worship. The repeated citing of the importance Indian merchant communities give to Lakshmi not only underpins this suggestion but is in stark contrast to Jesus’ forbidding of his Father’s house being made into a house of trade. Christians themes continue to dominate: Indians have “theologies” that carry some “authority”, and they too have “God”; but they also have gods and goddesses and so are “polytheistic” in contrast to our monotheism; worship to Lakshmi is a “meaning making” activity.

Like so much else in the programme these themes also suggest that ‘Hinduism’, itself a unit of the European experience of India, is an erring variant of Christianity. This heritage is an old one, going back to the earliest encounters of Europeans with India. Its continuity and stability is even more remarkable. Once couched in explicitly religious terms, the durability of descriptive terms reveals much more: that the structures on which ‘secular’ depictions of the Indian traditions depend are themselves Christian and theological.

While this is the filter through which discussion of the Indian traditions still takes place, we undoubtedly get variation in accounts among the interlocutors, giving the superficial impression of genuine difference of academic opinion on the role of Lakshmi in India. Instead, what we have is each scholar going about her or his business talking of Lakshmi according to whatever pet theory takes their fancy. So it could be some version of feminism according to which Lakshmi comes to play a role model and support for women (only women? really?). It may be that through Lakshmi we learn of the development of social structure and specialisation in economic production among Indians. And so on.


What is certain is that the discussants are not working with any real theory of the Indian traditions that provides genuine insights into the Indian traditions and the role Lakshmi plays within them. Lacking such a theory, it is a market in which buyers and sellers may meet, each offering what sells or going for what they hanker. But is anyone really any the wiser after listening to this programme?

The article has been reproduced from author’s blog with permission.


Prakash Shah
The author is Director of GLOCUL: Centre for Culture and Law, Queen Mary, University of London and Co-Director of the Dharmic Ideas and Policy Foundation

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby ricky_v » 31 Oct 2016 01:25

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/q-a-walter-quattrociocchi-digital-wildfires/
there is image in this article, which is a spiderweb of all the things that ails us and their propagation.

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby Rammpal » 31 Oct 2016 04:14

"...[*]Catholics are wrong - they believe in miracles, celibacy, oppose abortion, homosexuality

[*]No miracles, no celibacy, celebrate homosexuality, abortion not opposed..."

"...The positive checks included hunger, disease and war; the preventative checks, abortion, birth control, prostitution, homosexuality, postponement of marriage, and celibacy...."

http://www.jeremiahproject.com/newworld ... -rome.html :wink:

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby svenkat » 14 Nov 2016 14:06

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/09/western-civilisation-appiah-reith-lecture

Primitive Culture was, in some respects, a quarrel with another book that had “culture” in the title: Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy, a collection that had appeared just two years earlier. For Arnold, culture was the “pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world”. Arnold wasn’t interested in anything as narrow as class-bound connoisseurship: he had in mind a moral and aesthetic ideal, which found expression in art and literature and music and philosophy.

But Tylor thought that the word could mean something quite different, and in part for institutional reasons, he was able to see that it did. For Tylor was eventually appointed to direct the University Museum at Oxford, and then, in 1896, he was appointed to the first chair of anthropology there. It is to Tylor more than anyone else that we owe the idea that anthropology is the study of something called “culture”, which he defined as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, arts, morals, law, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”. Civilisation, as Arnold understood it, was merely one of culture’s many modes.

Nowadays, when people speak about culture, it is usually either Tylor’s or Arnold’s notion that they have in mind. The two concepts of culture are, in some respects, antagonistic. Arnold’s ideal was “the man of culture” and he would have considered “primitive culture” an oxymoron.


Someone asked Mahatma Gandhi what he thought of western civilisation, and he replied: “I think it would be a very good idea.” Like many of the best stories, alas, this one is probably apocryphal; but also like many of the best stories, it has survived because it has the flavour of truth.


One reason for the confusions “western culture” spawns comes from confusions about the west. We have used the expression “the west” to do very different jobs. Rudyard Kipling, England’s poet of empire, wrote, “Oh, east is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet”, contrasting Europe and Asia, but ignoring everywhere else. During the cold war, “the west” was one side of the iron curtain; “the east” its opposite and enemy. This usage, too, effectively disregarded most of the world. Often, in recent years, “the west” means the north Atlantic: Europe and her former colonies in North America. The opposite here is a non-western world in Africa, Asia and Latin America – now dubbed “the global south” – though many people in Latin America will claim a western inheritance, too. This way of talking notices the whole world, but lumps a whole lot of extremely different societies together, while delicately carving around Australians and New Zealanders and white South Africans, so that “western” here can look simply like a euphemism for white.


And Muslim thinkers sometimes speak in a parallel way, distinguishing between Dar al-Islam, the home of Islam, and Dar al-Kufr, the home of unbelief. I would like to explore this opposition further. Because European and American debates today about whether western culture is fundamentally Christian inherit a genealogy in which Christendom is replaced by Europe and then by the idea of the west.

This civilisational identity has roots going back nearly 1,300 years, then. But to tell the full story, we need to begin even earlier.


or the Greek historian Herodotus, writing in the fifth century BC, the world was divided into three parts. To the east was Asia, to the south was a continent he called Libya, and the rest was Europe. He knew that people and goods and ideas could travel easily between the continents: he himself travelled up the Nile as far as Aswan, and on both sides of the Hellespont, the traditional boundary between Europe and Asia. Herodotus admitted to being puzzled, in fact, as to “why the earth, which is one, has three names, all women’s”. Still, despite his puzzlement, these continents were for the Greeks and their Roman heirs the largest significant geographical divisions of the world.


But here’s the important point: it would not have occurred to Herodotus to think that these three names corresponded to three kinds of people: Europeans, Asians, and Africans. He was born at Halicarnasus – Bodrum in modern Turkey. Yet being born in Asia Minor didn’t make him an Asian; it left him a Greek. And the Celts, in the far west of Europe, were much stranger to him than the Persians or the Egyptians, about whom he knew rather a lot. Herodotus only uses the word “European” as an adjective, never as a noun. For a millennium after his day, no one else spoke of Europeans as a people, either.


Hakim Sahib used to talk about the 'invention' of Greece as mother of Modern Europe and how a greek told him that he saw little continuity between old greece and the modern world.

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Re: Western Universalism - what's the big deal?

Postby svenkat » 14 Nov 2016 14:35

.....The 18th-century historian Edward Gibbon, overstating somewhat, observed that if the Arabs had won at Tours, they could have sailed up the Thames. “Perhaps,” he added, “the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet.


What matters for our purposes is that the first recorded use of a word for Europeans as a kind of person, so far as I know, comes out of this history of conflict. In a Latin chronicle, written in 754 in Spain, the author refers to the victors of the Battle of Tours as “Europenses”, Europeans. So, simply put, the very idea of a “European” was first used to contrast Christians and Muslims. (Even this, however, is a bit of a simplification. In the middle of the eighth century much of Europe was not yet Christian.)

Now, nobody in medieval Europe would have used the word “western” for that job. For one thing, the coast of Morocco, home of the Moors, stretches west of Ireland. For another, there were Muslim rulers in the Iberian Peninsula – part of the continent that Herodotus called Europe – until nearly the 16th century. The natural contrast was not between Islam and the west, but between Christendom and Dar al‑Islam, each of which regarded the other as infidels, defined by their unbelief.

Starting in the late 14th century, the Turks who created the Ottoman empire gradually extended their rule into parts of Europe: Bulgaria, Greece, the Balkans, and Hungary. Only in 1529, with the defeat of Suleiman the Magnificent’s army at Vienna, did the reconquest of eastern Europe begin. It was a slow process. It wasn’t until 1699 that the Ottomans finally lost their Hungarian possessions; Greece became independent only in the early 19th century, Bulgaria even later.

For one thing, the educated classes of Christian Europe took many of their ideas from the pagan societies that preceded them. At the end of the 12th century, Chrétien de Troyes, born a couple of hundred kilometres south-west of Paris, celebrated these earlier roots: “Greece once had the greatest reputation for chivalry and learning,” he wrote. “Then chivalry went to Rome, and so did all of learning, which now has come to France.”

The idea that the best of the culture of Greece was passed by way of Rome into western Europe gradually became, in the middle ages, a commonplace. In fact this process had a name. It was called the “translatio studii”: the transfer of learning. And it was an astonishingly persistent idea. More than six centuries later, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the great German philosopher, told the students of the high school he ran in Nuremberg: “The foundation of higher study must be and remain Greek literature in the first place, Roman in the second.”

So from the late middle ages until now, people have thought of the best in the culture of Greece and Rome as a civilisational inheritance, passed on like a precious golden nugget, dug out of the earth by the Greeks, transferred, when the Roman empire conquered them, to Rome. Partitioned between the Flemish and Florentine courts and the Venetian Republic in the Renaissance, its fragments passed through cities such as Avignon, Paris, Amsterdam, Weimar, Edinburgh and London, and were finally reunited – pieced together like the broken shards of a Grecian urn – in the academies of Europe and the United States.

The term 'western culture' is surprisingly modern – more recent certainly than the phonograph
But the golden-nugget story was bound to be beset by difficulties. It imagines western culture as the expression of an essence – a something – which has been passed from hand to hand on its historic journey. The pitfalls of this sort of essentialism are evident in a wide range of cases. Whether you are discussing religion, nationality, race or culture, people have supposed that an identity that survives through time and space must be propelled by some potent common essence. But that is simply a mistake. What was England like in the days of Chaucer, father of English literature, who died more than 600 years ago? Take whatever you think was distinctive of it, whatever combination of customs, ideas, and material things that made England characteristically English then. Whatever you choose to distinguish Englishness now, it isn’t going to be that. Rather, as time rolls on, each generation inherits the label from an earlier one; and, in each generation, the label comes with a legacy. But as the legacies are lost or exchanged for other treasures, the label keeps moving on. And so, when some of those in one generation move from the territory to which English identity was once tied – move, for example, to a New England – the label can even travel beyond the territory. Identities can be held together by narratives, in short, without essences. You don’t get to be called “English” because there’s an essence that this label follows; you’re English because our rules determine that you are entitled to the label by being somehow connected with a place called England.

So how did the people of the north Atlantic, and some of their kin around the world, get connected to a realm we call the west, and gain an identity as participants in something called western culture?

It will help to recognise that the term “western culture” is surprisingly modern – more recent certainly than the phonograph. Tylor never spoke of it. And indeed he had no reason to, since he was profoundly aware of the internal cultural diversity even of his own country. In 1871 he reported evidence of witchcraft in rural Somerset. A blast of wind in a pub had blown some roasted onions stabbed with pins out of the chimney. “One,” Tylor wrote, “had on it the name of a brother magistrate of mine, whom the wizard, who was the alehouse-keeper, held in particular hatred ... and whom apparently he designed to get rid of by stabbing and roasting an onion representing him.” Primitive culture, indeed.

So the very idea of the “west,” to name a heritage and object of study, doesn’t really emerge until the 1890s, during a heated era of imperialism, and gains broader currency only in the 20th century. When, around the time of the first world war, Oswald Spengler wrote the influential book translated as The Decline of the West – a book that introduced many readers to the concept – he scoffed at the notion that there were continuities between western culture and the classical world. During a visit to the Balkans in the late 1930s, the writer and journalist Rebecca West recounted a visitor’s sense that “it’s uncomfortably recent, the blow that would have smashed the whole of our western culture”. The “recent blow” in question was the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683.

To be blunt: if western culture were real, we wouldn’t spend so much time talking it up


If the notion of Christendom was an artefact of a prolonged military struggle against Muslim forces, our modern concept of western culture largely took its present shape during the cold war. In the chill of battle, we forged a grand narrative about Athenian democracy, the Magna Carta, Copernican revolution, and so on. Plato to Nato. Western culture was, at its core, individualistic and democratic and liberty-minded and tolerant and progressive and rational and scientific. Never mind that pre-modern Europe was none of these things, and that until the past century democracy was the exception in Europe – something that few stalwarts of western thought had anything good to say about. The idea that tolerance was constitutive of something called western culture would have surprised Edward Burnett Tylor, who, as a Quaker, had been barred from attending England’s great universities. To be blunt: if western culture were real, we wouldn’t spend so much time talking it up.


Of course, once western culture could be a term of praise, it was bound to become a term of dispraise, too. Critics of western culture, producing a photonegative emphasising slavery, subjugation, racism, militarism, and genocide, were committed to the very same essentialism, even if they see a nugget not of gold but of arsenic.



....Organicism explained how our everyday selves could be dusted with gold.

...Now, there are organic wholes in our cultural life: the music, the words, the set-design, the dance of an opera fit and are meant to fit together. It is, in the word Wagner invented, a Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art. But there isn’t one great big whole called culture that organically unites all these parts. Spain, in the heart of “the west,” resisted liberal democracy for two generations after it took off in India and Japan in “the east,” the home of Oriental despotism. Jefferson’s cultural inheritance – Athenian liberty, Anglo-Saxon freedom – did not preserve the United States from creating a slave republic. ...

......
Values aren’t a birthright: you need to keep caring about them. Living in the west, however you define it, being western, provides no guarantee that you will care about western civilisation. The values European humanists like to espouse belong just as easily to an African or an Asian who takes them up with enthusiasm as to a European. By that very logic, of course, they do not belong to a European who has not taken the trouble to understand and absorb them. The same, of course, is true in the other direction. The story of the golden nugget suggests that we cannot help caring about the traditions of “the west” because they are ours: in fact, the opposite is true. They are only ours if we care about them. A culture of liberty, tolerance, and rational inquiry: that would be a good idea. But these values represent choices to make, not tracks laid down by a western destiny.

.... Arnold and Tylor would have agreed, at least, on this: culture isn’t a box to check on the questionnaire of humanity; it is a process you join, a life lived with others.

Culture – like religion and nation and race – provides a source of identity for contemporary human beings. And, like all three, it can become a form of confinement, conceptual mistakes underwriting moral ones. Yet all of them can also give contours to our freedom. Social identities connect the small scale where we live our lives alongside our kith and kin with larger movements, causes, and concerns. They can make a wider world intelligible, alive, and urgent. They can expand our horizons to communities larger than the ones we personally inhabit. But our lives must make sense, too, at the largest of all scales.

...And in encapsulating that creed I can draw on a frequent presence in courses in western civilisation, because I don’t think I can improve on the formulation of the dramatist Terence: a former slave from Roman Africa, a Latin interpreter of Greek comedies, a writer from classical Europe who called himself Terence the African. He once wrote, “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.” “I am human, I think nothing human alien to me.” Now there’s an identity worth holding on to.



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