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About the origins of European Civilization

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About the origins of European Civilization Empty About the origins of European Civilization

Post  montse on 01.05.11 19:02

The origins of European civilization.

For the past 2 months I have been carefully reading sophie's world by Jostein Gaarder. This is a book about the history of philosophy in western civilization explained in the form of a novel. It is listed as a #1 International BestSeller, and it is a book that high schools around the world often use to teach their philosophy courses. I came across it one day at Barnes and Noble and a friend of mine had recommended it, so I bought it . It stood on the shelf for about 6 months until one day (2 months ago ) I picked it up and start reading it. I was hooked. I did study philosophy in high school, but very superficially. I didn't make a connection between what I learned and the world I lived in. It was probably not my fault but probably the way the information was presented was related to the fact that my school was run by jesuits. In any case, the point is that I thought I ought to understand the world of ideas, specially as a musician because thought affects the musical output and I really wanted to understand how it all related. at this point , even though I am still reading about Descartes, I have already realised that music transcends thought, or that it should at least, but at the same time ti so interesting to understand how philosophy , the world of ideas, and how we perceive the world we live in, and life, affects us so much. We are born with a set of pre-conceptions inherited from thousands and thousands of years ago that we take for granted. We think it's just the way it is, but in reality this ideas in our brained were created by other human beings and if we understand them we can choose whether we want to live according to them or not.

Here there is a summary of one of my favorite chapter in Sophie's World. The chapter that talks about the roots of European civilization. Another thing I like about Gaarder is that he lays the facts and lets you take your own conclusions, except for few little accents when he needs to defend women or other unfair aspects of certain philosopher's theories.

I will next copy and paste a fragment of the Summary of the aforementioned chapter now and then comment on few other things:


Jesus was a Jew, and the Jews belong to Semitic culture. The Greeks and the Romans belong to Indo-European culture. European civilization has its roots in both cultures.

By Indo-Europeans we mean all the nations and cultures that use Indo-European languages. This covers all European nations except those whose inhabitants speak one of the Finno-Ugrian languages (Lapp, Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian) or Basque. In addition, most Indian and Iranian languages belong to the Indo-European family of languages.

About 4000 years ago, the primitive Indo-Europeans lived in areas bordering on the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. From there, waves of these Indo-European tribes began to wander southeast into Iran and India, southwest to Greece, Italy, and Spain, westward through Central Europe to France and Britain, northwestward to Scandinavia and northward to Eastern Europe and Russia. Wherever they went, the Indo-Europeans assimilated with the local culture, although Indo-European languages and religion came to play a dominant role.

The ancient Indian Veda scriptures and Greek philosophy, and for that matter Snorri Sturluson's mythology are all written in related languages. But it is not only the languages that are related. Related languages often lead to related ideas. This is why we usually speak of an Indo-European "culture."
- The culture of the Indo-Europeans was influenced most of all by their belief in many gods. This is called polytheism. The names of these gods as well as much of the religious terminology recur throughout the whole Indo-European area.
- There is also a clear affinity to be observed in some of the Indo-European myths. We can see traces most clearly in myths about immortal potions and the struggles of the gods against the monsters of chaos.
- We can also see similarities of thought across the Indo-European cultures. The world is seen as being the subject of a drama in which the forces of Good and Evil confront each other in a relentless struggle. Indo -Europeans have therefore often tried to "predict" how the battles between Good and Evil will turn out.
- The Indo-Europeans sought "insight" into the history of the world. We can even trace a particular word for "insight" or "knowledge" from one culture to another all over the Indo-European world.
- In Sanskrit it is vydia
- In Greek it is idea
- From Latin we have the word video. For Romans it simply meant to see, but for us "I see" can mean " I understand"
- In English we know the words wise and wisdom
- In German wissen (to know)
- Norwegian has the word viten, which has the same root as the Indian word vidya, the Greek idea, and the Latin video.

All in all we can establish that sight was the most important of the senses for the Indo-Europeans. The literature of Indians, Greeks, Persians, and Teutons alike was characterized by great cosmic visions. It was also characteristic to make pictures and sculptures of the gods and of mythical events.
- The Indo-Europeans had a cyclic view of history.. History goes in cycles , just as the seasons of the year. There is no beginning and no end to history, but there are different civilizations that rise and fall in an eternal interplay between birth and death

Both of the 2 great Oriental religions, Hinduism and Buddhism , are Indo-European in origin. So is Greek philosophy. We can see a number of clear parallels:
- Hinduism and Buddhism are strongly imbued with philosophical reflection, just as ancient Greek philosophy.
- In Hinduism and Buddhism we find and emphasis in pantheism and that man can become one with God through religious insight. (Same idea as Plotinus)
- In the Orient passivity and seclusion can be religious ideals for deep self-communication or meditation. In ancient Greece too, many people believed in an ascetic way of life for the salvation of the soul. Many aspects of medieval monastic life can be traced back to beliefs dating from the Greco-Roman civilization.
- The cycle of re-birth is a fundamental belief in many Indo-European cultures. (Plato believed in the transmigration of the soul)


They belong to a completely different culture with a completely different language. The Semites originated in the Arabian Peninsula, but they also migrated to different parts of the world.
All 3 Western religions- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam- share a Semitic background.
- The Koran and the Old Testament were both written in the Semitic family of languages. Christianity also has a Semitic background, but the New Testament was written in Greek, and when the Christian theology was formulated it was influenced by Greek and Latin, and thus also by Hellenistic philosophy.
- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all share the same fundamental idea that there is only one God.
- The Semites had in common a linear view of history.In the beginning God created the world and that was the beginning of history. But one day history will end and that will be judgement Day, when God judges the living and the dead.
- The role played by History is an important feature of these 3 Western religions. History exists so that God may manifest His will in the world. Just as He once led Abraham to the "Promised Land" He leads mankind's steps through history to the Day of Judgement. When that day comes, all evil in the world will be destroyed.
- With their strong emphasis on God's activity in the course of history, the Semites were preoccupied with the writing of history many thousands of years. These historical roots constitute the core of their holy scriptures.
- The city of Jerusalem is a significant religious center for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. This indicates the common background of these 3 religions. It is deeply tragic that Jerusalem should have become a bone of contention- with people killing each other because they cannot agree on who is to have ascendancy over this "Eternal City."
- The most important of the senses for the Semitic cultures is the hearing. Jewish creed begins with : "Hear Oh Israel." In the Old Testament people "heard" the word of the Lord. the religious ceremonies of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all characterized by reading aloud or reciting.
- The Old Testament commands that people shall not make any image of God. This is still law for Judaism and Islam.Within Islam there is a general aversion to photography and art because people should not compete with God in creating anything. Christendom was influenced by the Greco-Roman world and this is why Christian churches are full of pictures of Jesus and God, although this is not true of Greek Orthodox Church.
- In contrast to the great religions of the Orient, the 3 Western religions emphasize that there is a distance between God and His Creation. The purpose is not to be released from the cycle of rebirth, but to be redeemed from sin and blame. Moreover, religious life is characterized more by prayer, sermons, and the study of the scriptures than by self-communion and meditation.


Perhaps some of the readers already knew about these two cultures as the basis of European culture, but I didn't and I find fascinating. i am personally fascinated about the Indo-Europeans and kind of regret so many years of Semitic influence via Christianism. I was thinking earlier why did Jesus have such a strong influence for so many centuries that even still nowadays it is one of the strongest religions on earth. I think it might have to do with the idea of sacrifize, guilt, and redemption. Once you instill those concepts on people's mind.. if yuo make them feel guility you are creating a need for redemption.. so it's a religion based on dependence .. the very concept of sin is introduced by religion itself in a way that it creates a need for forgiveness.. but if the concept of sin wasnt instilled in people's minds then there would not be any need to follow Jesus. Do you think that there would be more crime if Christianity wouldn't exist? I don't know.. but I have the impression that not..

I prefer 10.000 more times Indo-European beliefs !

ANother thing I want to comment on has to do with periods in history. I have been lately thinking about what time period are we at the present and I have found this in very general traits

- 1000 before Christ- Antiquity- nature centered
- c. 1000 after Christ- Middle Ages- God centered
- c. 2000 after Christ- Renaissance- human centered

We could say that the Middle Ages had a period of transition and it consolidated around the 5th century after Christ . The same thing happened with Renaissance. It took from the 13th century to the 16th to consolidate. Also for great part of antiquity the interest of philosophers was to study humans and their place in society, but I wrote it's nature centered because they didn't seem to break so radically with God and nature as in the Middle Ages (in exception of Plato).. So according to my period classification we are still into the Renaissance period. During the 16th hundreds we saw a development of science and technology that has brought us to the present moment. We are at a point that technology is destroying our planet. If ancient Greece emphasized balance and temperance, Renaissance emphasized that human had unlimited , with no boundaries capacity of knowledge . This has brought us to the present moment, as to completely ignore mother nature. Even though I am an agnostic I believe it is necessary to bring a sense of spirituality back into our society. In Europe, I believe most people my age are not religious, but in the USA , the majority of young people is very religious, not in a very smart way I must add... In any case, I do sense a growth of oriental spirituality in the Western world to compensate for the useless Christian faith. At least the way I see it.

Last edited by montse on 02.05.11 2:38; edited 1 time in total

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About the origins of European Civilization Empty rest of chapter's summary

Post  montse on 01.05.11 19:09

Here there is the rest of this Summary's Chapter :


According to the Bible, it all began when God created the world. Then mankind began to rebel against God. Their punishment was not only that Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden - Death also came into the world.
Man's disobedience to God is a theme that runs right through the Bible. Then we read that God made a covenant with Abraham and his seed. This covenant was that Abraham and all his seed would keep the Lord's commandaments. In exchange God promised to protect all the children of Abraham. This covenant was renewed when Moses was given the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai around the year 1200 BC. At that time the Israelites had long been held as slaves in Egypt, but with God's help they were led back to the land of Israel.

About 1000 years before Christ we hear of 3 great kings of Israel. the first was Saul, then came David, and after Solomon. Now all the Israelites were united in one kingdom, and under King David , especially, they expereinced a period of political, military, and cultural glory. But before long Israel began to lose its power and the kingdom was divided into a Northern Kingdom (Israel) and Southern Kingdom (Judea) Both Kingdoms were lost when in 722 Assyrians took Israel and when Babylonians took Judea in 586 BC. In 539 BC the people were allowed to return to Jerusalem but for the rest of the period before the birth of Christ the Jews continued to live under foreign domination.

It gradually became widely accepted that God was punishing Israel for her disobedience. In the course of time there came other prophets who preached that God would send them a "Prince of Peace" or a king of the house of David. He would restore the old kingdom of David and the people would have a future of prosperity.


In the time of Jesus, there were a lot of people who imagined that there would come a new "Messiah" in the sense of political, military, and religious leader of the caliber of King David. This "savior" was thus looked upon as a national deliverer who would put an end to the suffering of the jews under Roman domination. But there was also many people who believed that the promised Messiah would be the savior of the whole world.

Jesus distinguished himself from the other messiahs (Saul, David, Solomon) by stating clearly that he was not a military or political rebel. His mission was much greater. He preached salvation and God's forgiveness for everyone.

Handing out the remission of the sins in this way was totally unheard of. And what was even worse he addressed God as "Father" (Abba). This was absolutely unprecedented in the Jewish community at that time. It was therefore not long before there arose a wave of protest against him among the scribes.

A great many people at the time of Jesus were waiting for a Messiah who would reestablish the Kingdom of God with a great flourish of trumpets. The expression "Kingdom of God" was indeed a recurring theme in the preachings of Jesus but in a much broader sense. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is loving thy neighbour , compassion for the weak and the poor, and forgiveness for those who have erred.

In an ingenious way he used the language of the time to give the old war cries a totally new and broader content. It's not surprising he ended on the Cross. His radical tidings of redemption were at odds with so many interests and power factors that he had to be removed.

According to Christian teachings, Jesus was the only righteous person who ever lived. Nevertheless he was condemned to death. Christians say he dies for the sake of humanity. This is what Christians usually call the "Passion" of Christ. Jesus was the suffering servant who bore the sins of humanity in order that we could be "atoned" and saved from God's wrath.


We could say that the Christian Church was founded on Easter Morning with the rumors of the resurrection of Jesus. This is already established by Paul: "And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain and your faith is also vain."

Through Christ mediation the "Kingdom of gOd" was about to become a reality . Now the entire world could be won for Christ. (The word christ is a Greek translation of the Hebrew word messiah, the anointed one.)

In the Acts of the Apostles we hear about Paul's missionary jourenys across the whole of the Greco-Roman world making Christianity a worldwide religion. It is remarkable his visit to Athens. Paul finds some common ground in this culture. He emphasizes that the search for God is natural to all men. What was new about Paul's preaching is that God has revealed Himself to mankind and has in truth reached out to them. SO he is no longer a "philosophic God", He is a personal God who intervenes in the course of history and dies in the cross for the sake of mankind.

A few decades after the death of Jesus, Christian congregations were already established in all the important Greek and Roman cities. In the space of 3 to 4 hundred years the entire Hellenistic world had become Christian.

*The Creed*
Paul also had great influence within the Christian congregations. There was a widespread need for spiritual guidance.
One important question in th early years after Jesus was whether non-Jews could become Christians without 1st becoming Jews. Paul believed it to be unnecessary. The "Old Covenant" between God and Israel had been replaced by the "New Covenant" which Jesus had established between God and mankind..

Christianity was not the only religion at the time. It was thus vitally necessary for the church to step forward with a concise summary of the Christian doctrine in order to distance themselves from other religions and to prevent schisms within .Therefore the first Creed was established summing up the central dogmas or tenets.

One such central tenet was that Jesus was both God and man. Jesus was not a "demigod". The church taught that Jesus was perfect God, perfect man.


As Christianity makes its entry into the Greco-Roman world we are witnessing a dramatic meeting of two cultures. We are also seeing one of history's great cultural revolutions.

We are about to step out of antiquity. Almost one thousand years have passed since the day of the early Greek philosophers. Ahead of us we have the Christian Middle Ages, which also lasted for about a thousand years.

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Post  Manahuna on 03.05.11 10:39

Thanks for your philosophical journey...I think would like to read this book. Smile

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