The Separation of East and West

Karl and Leonard,

I want to thank you both for your frankness and courtesy in sharing these ideas. Karl, your last post or two on the Theology and Science thread were very good, and I wish I could respond as quickly and as copiously as you seem to be able to. And I really appreciate your honest attempt to understand and see from a perspective that is not yours. I agree with much in your last two posts. And Leonard, I likewise appreciate your passionate and generous nature, even though we seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum on a lot of things.

I want to continue looking carefully at these 3 specific wv’s which I have called by various names: the Cross, Clock and Circle, or the view from Jerusalem, Athens, and India…or still a solar, lunar and the Christian view, or alternatively, Christian Theism, Deism,  (the Enlightenment) and Romanticism. Again, sorry for the too many names, but I think you are getting the idea of how I use them interchangeably. And all three of these views can be distinguished on the way they understand the relationship of Creator to the creation. And it is only in Christian theism, and of course the other monotheistic religions, that we see the idea of the absolute separation of the Creator from the creation…and we can deal with the specifics of these three…Judaism, Christianity, and Islam later.

But given these three views of the Cross the Clock and the Circle, I would like to focus for simplicity sake on what they mean for epistemology and politics. And of course by politics I’m speaking of the connection to human rights, and liberty. I want to look at what each of these 3 views means for liberty and tyranny.

I’m jumping ahead here but Karl I will be making the case that slavery was overcome due to the influence of the Judaeo-Christian view, and the values expressed in the Declaration of Independence, which are connected in a indissoluble bond. M.L. King, made this argument as did early abolitionists Mariaha Stewart and David Walker.

But I am jumping ahead. For now please consider the following quote from a chapter by Joseph Campbell, which I’ve already sent to Karl, and Leonard you’ve seen it before too, and even commented on the part I’m about to share. But with your indulgence, I’d like to discuss this entire chapter in more detail to make my point.

I’d like to know if you guys agree with this statement I’m about to share first. Is it true or not, in your opinions. Secondly, if you think it is true, then which world view of the three can we attribute these results to.

Here is the opening paragraph to Joseph Campbell’s chapter, “The Separation of East and West.

The Separation East and West

[1961]

It is not easy for Westerners to realize that the ideas recently developed in the West of the individual, his selfhood, his rights, and his freedom, have no meaning whatsoever in the Orient. They had no meaning for primitive man. They would have meant nothing to the peoples of the early Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Chinese, or Indian civilizations. They are, in fact, repugnant to the ideals, the aims and orders of life, of most of the peoples of this earth. And yet—and here is my second point—they are the truly great “new thing” that we do indeed represent to the world and that constitutes our Occidental revelation of a properly human spiritual ideal, true to the highest potentiality of our species.

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One Response to The Separation of East and West

  1. Karl Rogers says:

    Jon,

    I appreciate your opening paragraph. Thank you. As I understanding it, your intent on this blog site it is delve into the crisis of our age, so we have that intent in common. We also share a commitment to open, frank, and civil debate.

    Without doubt, only monotheistic religions separate the Creator from creation. But, who would deny this?

    I am looking forward to your more detailed comments on the differences between Judiaism, Islam, and Christianity. (See my earlier comments on Zoroastrianism, which may well be the oldest monotheistic religion in the world. I shall post more later on its historical connection with Judiaism and Christianity.)

    While I accept that the values expressed in the Declaration of Independence were influenced by Christianity, they were also influenced by Greek and Roman ideas. Its author, Jefferson, was well educated in the classics, and, even though he considered Christianity to be a good moral philosophy and, thereby, himself a Christian, he also developed his ideas in relation to Greek and Roman ideas. This is evident in his writings.

    I also agree that the abolition movement in America was a Christian movement and it was in terms of the un-Christian nature of slavery that it was opposed.

    However, given that Jefferson (and Washington) both owned slaves and profitted from their labour, and the Constitution not only deferred the question of the abolition of slavery for 20 years, while making it obligatory for free-states to return runaway slaves, it is fairly evident that the Constitution (and Jefferson and Washington) did not live up to or embody the Christian values you cite. It embodied the desire for commerce and strong common defence. These are the values of Caesar, yes?

    Also, the treatment by Washington and Jefferson, as presidents, of Native Americans can hardly be considered an expression of sound Christian values. Unless, of course, you consider betraying treaties and the use of violence to expel people from their lands to be an expression of sound Christian values.

    The historical fact of the matter, regardless of the fine words of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, is that these documents were only intended to be applicable to white men, and the realities of the birth of the united states were forged with chains, whips, and guns, as well as quill, ink, and fine words. Blacks and “Indians, not taxed” had no part to play in the vision of equality and liberty, and even white women were not considered to be full citizens (until 1920!). If you seek a symbol for this vision, then look no further than Rome.

    I would also like to add that the abolitionist movement was also premised on liberalism. As was the womens’ suffrage movement. And Martin Luther King also advocated ideas that today are termed as progressivism!

    I shall look at the chapter you sent in detail later, but I will say something briefly about the opening paragraph.

    As a generalization, it has merit. Historically speaking, the notions of human rights, liberty, individuality, and equality are Western notions. This is a fairly uncontentious claim. However, the notions of selfhood and liberation do have their counterparts in Buddhism. It is also the case that Taoism, in its deconstruction of Confusianism and tradition, was also emancipatory. However, while the notions of equality and natural rights find their roots in Christian theology, the notions of liberty and individuality are classical Greek ideas, and, as I have said before, the republican form of government and the notion of equality under the law are Roman ideas. The ideas of the West grew out of Greek, Roman, and Christian ideas. It is also the case that the West has its roots in Nordic and Celtic cultures too, as well as Arabic, Moorish, Jewish, and Egyptian influences, but I shall discuss these another time.

    My own view is that the 1948 United Nation Declaration of Universal Human Rights should be considered one of the wonders of the world. It is the culmination of great struggles (wars and terrible acts) and the history of Western ideas that have always aspired to overcome these struggles. It is as great a human achievment as the Pyramids, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, or the Great Wall of China, if not greater.

    Unfortunatedly, though, it is a shame that the West has almost completely failed to live up to these great values and ideals. Commerce and conquest–the values of Caesar–reign.

    Karl.

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