Socrates and Jesus: The Argument That Shaped Western Civilization

Socrates and Jesus: The Argument That Shaped Western Civilization

Socrates and Jesus: The Argument That Shaped Western Civilization

Socrates and Jesus: The Argument That Shaped Western Civilization

Synopsis

This book argues that the uniquely dynamic and propulsive character of Western Civilization, for better and worse, has been generated by a creative argument between the Socratic Greek rationalist tradition and the Judeo-Christian tradition best personified by Jesus. Socrates and Jesus both promoted a disinterest in material things, attempted to define the moral life, and died martyrs. But this essay analyzes their opposing definitions of the ultimate or the divine, their radically conflicting views of love and reason, their understanding of civil society and the role of laws, their epistemology (how we know) and eschatology (the ultimate purpose of the universe), and their fundamental understanding of how humankind could progress.

Excerpt

Socrates and Jesus shared many qualities and experiences: their disinterest in material things, their electrifying influence on their immediate followers, their claims of inspiration, their attempts to define the moral life, their martyrdoms. Neither wrote down a single word that has survived and yet in terms of the degree of their influence on the future of Western civilization, they can be compared only to each other. But this essay argues that what was most important about them was their differences: their opposing definitions of the ultimate or the divine, their radically conflicting views of love and reason, their understanding of civil society and the role of laws, their epistemology (how we know), their eschatology (the ultimate purpose of the universe), and their fundamental understanding of how humankind could progress. The yin and yang of these very different approaches to truth has served as the main engine of Western history. It continues to do so today, as Western history and world history become increasingly intertwined.

Western civilization resulted from the confluence of Greek thought and Judeo–Christian religion that took over the Roman Empire, persisted in Western Europe through the Middle Ages, and extended itself to the Americas. It has dominated most of the globe for the last five centuries. The thesis that Western history comprises a compromise between the Greek philosophical tradition and Judeo–Christianity is nothing new. Scholars in every field have analyzed Western history and culture in terms of dualisms — faith and reason, classic and romantic, thesis and antithesis — all of which have their roots in the clash between Greek thought and Judeo–Christian belief. We will argue that exactly this clash explains why, for better or worse, Western civilization has emerged as uniquely contentious, propulsive, and inquisitive.

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