Dehellenization

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Pope Benedict XVI

Dehellenization is the disillusionment with Greek Philosophy stemming from the Hellenistic Period and the use of reason in particular, usually committed by a religion or faith-based system. Strictly, it means an undoing of Hellenization: the spread of Greek culture and philosophy. It was coined by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006 during his speech entitled “Faith, Reason, and the University: Memories and Reflections,” in order to refer to the attempt of some recent scholars to separate Christianity from Greek philosophical thought.[1] It has since been used by Robert R. Reilly in his book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis, to describe the religion of Islam’s divorce from reason and rationality.

Hellenization[edit]

The Hellenistic Period in Greece is marked by the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and ended with the emergence of the Roman Empire.[2] For the purpose of defining dehellenization, the Hellenistic Period is known for the philosophical theories that emerged from it including but not limited to, Neoplatonism, Epicureanism, Skepticism, Cynicism, Stoicism, etc. The underlying element common to all of the aforementioned schools of thought is the emphasis on human rationality and the ability to reason.[3]

Hellenism symbol green

Of Christianity[edit]

Pope Benedict XVI argues that Christianity was “hellenized” by indication of several resulting ideas in Christianity:

  1. The Pope sees St. Paul’s vision of the Macedonian man pleading him to travel to Macedonia to help his people as foreshadowing of the necessary marriage of Biblical and Greek thought.
  2. In order to evince the infusion of Greek and Biblical thought, the Pope references the opening verse of the gospel of John: “In the beginning was the word.” “Word” was translated from the Greek word “logos” which means both word and reason. Therefore, “in the beginning there was reason.” [4]
  3. Furthermore, noted Franciscan intellectual Blessed John Duns Scotus proposed the concept of voluntarism which set the foundation for the later-developed idea that we can only know God through a voluntary decision to do so.[5]

Despite the reluctance of Jesus’s followers to succumb to the Hellenistic rulers attempts to force them into Greek "idolatry" and customs, the Pope supports that they were able to extract the most enriching element that underlined Hellenistic thought: both the ability and obligation of man think rationally.[6]

Of Islam[edit]

Most likely the first introduction of Hellenism occurred when Alexander the Great moved in 330 BC to disseminate Greek influence from the Atlantic and into Central Asia by conquering Persia and other territories. While Persia was eventually reclaimed by the Persians, it is likely that some influence lingered.[7] Reilly offers that the bulk of the infusion transpired when Islam came to possess Sassanid and Byzantine lands under the Umayyad dynasty between 660 and 750 AD.

These areas were heavily populated by Greco-Christians and were considered Hellenistic centers of learning.[8] Initially attracted to Greek thought for medicinal and mathematic purposes, many Muslims began to explore other aspects of Hellenism as well; philosophy in particular. It was this curiosity that created the divide between the Ash'arite and Mu’tazalite schools.[9]

Causes of dehellenization[edit]

In Islam[edit]

According to Robert Reilly, the primary cause of the dehellenization of Islam was the rise of the Ash'arite sect and decline of the Mu'tazila sect in the ninth and tenth centuries.[10] The Mu’tazalites adopted the belief that man must be free because without freedom, he would be unable to know God’s justice. Consequently, man was free and obligated to interpret sacred texts in the context of his time. Proposing that the Qur'an was created implies that it is subject to reason- an idea that is in direct opposition to the orthodox belief that the Qur'an is eternal.

The Mu’tazalites evidenced the first Greek-inspired Islamic school of thought, championing the idea of reason and rational morality.[11] The Ash'arites were a group who evolved for the distinct purpose of countering the Mu’tazalites. The Ash'arites opposed the Mu’tazalites on several levels. They argued that the Qur'an was coeternal with Allah, rendering it unalterable and un-interpretable by man. Where the Mu’tazalites held that God was reasonably required to reward and punish as he had promised, the Ash'arites argued that God is not required to do anything as doing so limits him. They advocate that any apparent inconsistencies in the Qur'an must not be questioned. In contrast, the Mu’tazalites believed that analyzing these inconsistencies is in accordance with man’s necessity to reason: since God is not intuitive or physical, we must reason to his existence.[12]

Under the reign of Caliph Ja’afar al-Mutawakkil between 847 and 861, adopting the doctrine of the Mu’tazalites became a crime which was punished by death. Most of their works were destroyed and bookstores were told not to trade any Mu’tazalite works. By the 12th century, Mu’tazalite influence had been almost entirely eradicated from Islamic society. This suppression of rationalist thought and elevation of orthodoxy marked the prominent dehellenization of Islam.[13]

In Christianity[edit]

Pope Benedict XVI proposes that a dehellenization of Christianity has stemmed from three different sources. The first stage of Christian dehellenization can be attributed to the Reformation in the sixteenth century. Reformers believed that faith had turned into a mere element in abstract philosophy, and that the religion needed to return to the idea of sola scriptura (scripture only).[14]

The second stage occurred in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries due to the theology of Adolf von Harnack. Harnack advocated focusing on the simple life of Jesus Christ, and his humanitarian message in particular. Theology and belief in a divine being, according to Harnack, was a scientific history completely separate from the modern reason of humanitarian aid.

The last stage, occurring currently in the twenty-first century, is a product of modern cultural pluralism. Cultural pluralism encourages other cultures to simply return to the simplicity of the New Testament, and refuse it with their own culture. The Pope affirms that such a method cannot work because the New Testament “was written in Greek and bears the imprint of the Greek spirit.”[15]

Manifestations of dehellenization in Islam[edit]

Reilly asserts that at least 80% of Sunni Muslims have blatantly adopted the Ash'arite school of thought. The current prominence of this school throughout the Umma (global Muslim community), according to Reilly, is manifested in the writings of the key Islamist leaders of the past century. Sayyid Qutb’s Milestones, for instance, has been such an imperative document that its authority approaches that of a hadith. A divorce from reason or the ability to rationalize can be made apparent via the following excerpts:

"But if we are to walk in the footsteps of the first generation of Muslims, through whom God established His system and gave it victory over Jahiliyyah, then we will not be masters of our own wills."[16]

"The basis of the message is that one should accept the Shari’ah without any question and reject all other laws in any shape or form. This is Islam. There is no other meaning of Islam."[17]

"The question may be asked, "Is not the good of mankind the criterion for solving actual problems?" But again we will raise the question which Islam raises itself, and which it answers; that is, "Do you know better, or God?" and, "God knows, and you do not know."[18]

Reilly accepts that any Muslims who align themselves with the Mu’tazalite school have not been dehellenized, and may value and employ human reason the same as any other individual.

Relevance[edit]

Within the Muslim community, this presents the difficulty of hindering innovation. Because every occurrence in life is an intentional act of the will of Allah, general scientific or mathematic principles are slow to be accepted - if accepted at all - by many.[19]

For instance, when a ball is dropped and it falls to the ground X amount of times in a row, Western society accepts a principle of gravity. Muslim society rejects this principle because they believe that each time the ball dropped (no matter how many times) it was a product of the direct will of Allah. If Allah wishes, on drop X+1, the ball will go sideways or turn into a foreign object. Reilly suspects that the Middle East’s lack of scientific and technologic innovation stems directly from this prospect.[20]

At a policy level, Reilly proposes that the U.S. cannot fix the problems in the Arab world via politic or economic means because they are not politic and economic issues; they are theologic at heart. Until the religion of Islam re-adopts reason, Reilly accepts that they will be impossible to deal with on a diplomatic level.[21]

Griffel (2011) in his review describes the book as "war literature", and "a Catholic refutation of Ash'arite Muslim theology", complaining that Reilly constructs an undue equation between Ash'arism and contemporary Jihadism, while most Jihadists in fact follow Salafism and are hostile towards Ash'arism.[22]

Sources[edit]

  • Reilly, Robert: The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamic Crisis. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2010. p.
  • Ancient Greece History. History of Greece: Hellenistic. http://www.ancient-greece.org/history/helleninstic.html, accessed April 10, 2013.
  • Pope Benedict XVI. “Faith, Reason, and the University: Memories and Reflections,” Lecture of the Holy Fatehr at Aula Magna of the University of Regensburg, September 2006.
  • Qutb, Sayyid. Milestones.
  • Malik, Brigadier S.K. Quranic Concept of War.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Pope Benedict XVI. “Faith, Reason, and the University: Memories and Reflections,” Lecture of the Holy Fatehr at Aula Magna of the University of Regensburg, September 2006, para. 9
  2. ^ Ancient Greece History. History of Greece: Hellenistic. http://www.ancient-greece.org/history/helleninstic.html, accessed April 10, 2013.
  3. ^ Reilly, Robert: The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamic Crisis. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2010. p. xi
  4. ^ Pope Benedict XVI. “Faith, Reason, and the University: Memories and Reflections,” Lecture of the Holy Fatehr at Aula Magna of the University of Regensburg, September 2006, para. 5
  5. ^ Pope Benedict XVI. “Faith, Reason, and the University: Memories and Reflections,” Lecture of the Holy Fatehr at Aula Magna of the University of Regensburg, September 2006, para. 7
  6. ^ Pope Benedict XVI. “Faith, Reason, and the University: Memories and Reflections,” Lecture of the Holy Father at Aula Magna of the University of Regensburg, September 2006, para. 6
  7. ^ Malik, Brigadier S.K. Quranic Concept of War. p. 8
  8. ^ Reilly, Robert: The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamic Crisis. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2010. p. 13
  9. ^ Reilly, Robert: The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamic Crisis. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2010. p. 14
  10. ^ Reilly, Robert: The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamic Crisis. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2010. p. x
  11. ^ Reilly, Robert: The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamic Crisis. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2010. p. 19
  12. ^ Reilly, Robert: The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamic Crisis. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2010. p. 24
  13. ^ Reilly, Robert: The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamic Crisis. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2010. p. 41
  14. ^ Pope Benedict XVI. “Faith, Reason, and the University: Memories and Reflections,” Lecture of the Holy Fatehr at Aula Magna of the University of Regensburg, September 2006, para. 10
  15. ^ Pope Benedict XVI. “Faith, Reason, and the University: Memories and Reflections,” Lecture of the Holy Fatehr at Aula Magna of the University of Regensburg, September 2006, para. 11
  16. ^ Qutb, Sayyid. Milestones. p. 7
  17. ^ Qutb, Sayyid. Milestones. p. 18
  18. ^ Qutb, Sayyid. Milestones. p. 57
  19. ^ Reilly, Robert: The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamic Crisis. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2010. p. 21
  20. ^ Reilly, Robert: The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamic Crisis. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2010. p. 60
  21. ^ Reilly, Robert: The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamic Crisis. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2010. p. xii
  22. ^ Frank Griffe, Review of Reilly's Closing of the Muslim Mind in American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences 28:4 (2011), Association of Muslim Social Scientists of North America and International Institute of Islamic Thought.