Dehellenization

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Pope Benedict XVI

Dehellenization refers to a disillusionment with forms of Greek philosophy that emerged in the Hellenistic Period, and in particular to a rejection of the use of reason. The term was first used in 2006 by Pope Benedict XVI in a speech “Faith, Reason, and the University: Memories and Reflections,” to refer to attempts to separate Christianity from Greek philosophical thought.[1] Subsequently, the term figured prominently in Robert R. Reilly’s book The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis, to refer to what Reilly characterized as "the religion of Islam’s divorce from reason and rationality." The extent and significance of dehellenization in both the Christian and Islamic religious traditions continues to be widely disputed.

Hellenization[edit]

The Hellenistic Period begins with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and ends with the emergence of the Roman Empire.[2] For the purpose of defining dehellenization, the Hellenistic Period is known for the emergence of a number of philosophical theories, including Neoplatonism, Epicureanism, Skepticism, Cynicism, Stoicism, among others. An underlying element common to all of these schools of thought is an emphasis on human rationality and the ability to reason.[3]

Of Christianity[edit]

Pope Benedict XVI argues that several keys ideas in Christian thought reveal the hellenization of Christianity:

  1. According to the Pope, St. Paul’s vision of the Macedonian man pleading with him to travel to Macedonia to help his people specifically foreshadows the necessary marriage of Biblical and Greek thought.
  2. To demonstrate the fusion of Greek and Biblical thought, the Pope refers to the opening verse of the gospel of John: “In the beginning was the word.” Here “Word” translates the Greek word “logos” (λόγος), meaning not only “word” but also “reason”, so the verse can be paraphrased as “in the beginning there was reason.”[4]
  3. The Pope also points to the concept of voluntarism, proposed by the Franciscan Blessed John Duns Scotus and developed by later scholars into the premise that we can only know God through a voluntary decision to do so.[5]

Although Jesus’s followers were reluctant to succumb to the Hellenistic rulers' attempts to force them into Greek "idolatry" and customs, the Pope argues that they were nevertheless able to extract the most enriching element of Hellenistic thought, namely that man has not only the ability but also the obligation to think rationally.[6]

Of Islam[edit]

The conquest of Persia and parts of Central Asia by Alexander the Great beginning in 330 BC was accompanied by an extensive dissemination of Greek culture and thought beyond the Mediterranean area. Although Persia was eventually reclaimed by the Persians, Hellenistic influence continued in the area.[7]

According to Reilly, most of the fusion of Islamic and Greek philosophy occurred between 660 and 750 AD when the Umayyad dynasty came to possess Sassanid (Persian) and Byzantine territories that were heavily populated by Greco-Christians and contained many Hellenistic centers of learning.[8] Initially attracted to Greek thought for medicinal and mathematic purposes, many Muslims began to explore other aspects of Hellenism, in particular philosophy.[9]

Causes of dehellenization[edit]

In Islam[edit]

According to 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. The Mu’tazalite premise that the Qur'an was created implies that it is subject to reason, in contradiction to the orthodox belief that the Qur'an is eternal.

The Mu’tazalites produced the first Greek-inspired Islamic school of thought, championing the idea of reason and rational morality.[11] The Ash'arites evolved as a group in direct opposition to 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 inalterable and uninterpretable by man. Whereas 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, since such requirements must necessarily limit him. Ash’arites insisted 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 (847-861), adopting the doctrine of the Mu’tazalites became a crime punishable by death. Most of Mu’tazalite works were destroyed and bookstores were told not to sell any of their 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 signaled the general dehellenization of Islamic society.[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 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]

References[edit]

  1. ^ 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. 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 Father 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 Father 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.