Closing of the Western Mind

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* Book: The Closing of the Western Mind. The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason. Charles Freeman.

URL =

Review

Michel Bauwens, 2003:

This book addresses an important question: Does christian monotheism represent progress when compared to the 'paganism' that it replaced. This in the general context of the decline of the Roman Empire at the hand of nomadic 'barbarians' and the onset of what for a long time was called the 'Dark Ages'

The book starts with the history of the Greek city states and the emergence of a distinct and self-aware rationality. When this system reached its limits in the Hellenistic Era, despite the absolutism and the adventurism of Alexander the Great, it created kingdoms where science and the arts could drive, despite the setback to the original egalitarianism (of male citizens).

C.H. then describes the rise of Rome, based on a system combining a military culture with expanded citizenship for conquered people (something the Greeks never achieved) and the gradual adoption of the Greek intellectual culture, as exemplified in the figure of Cicero. The story continues with the fall of the Republic, and Freeman insists, against Gibbon, that the Roman Empire remained at a high intellectual level, despite the emperor worship and its sometimes extreme manifestations. Freeman notes the general rise of pagan monotheism and the existence of a specific non-Jewish 'one god' cult.

The third century saw increasing invastions, both in the West (the Alemani) amd the East (by the Sassanides, who succeeded the Parths), met by a successfull reorganization under a Tetrarchy led by Diocletus. By that time, the Emperor had become completely divinized and removed from popular contact. All citizens had become Romans and thus it became more difficult to tolerate the Christians, who refused allegiance to the Roman State. The first empire-wide persecution started in 260-1 (before this date, all depended on the governors). - Before examining the turnaround by Constantine, why is it that the Jesus movement became so resilient and enduring ? The author describes at length the contradictions between Paul and the Gospel writers (both amongst and between themselves), as they were groping to produce a theology.