The Dream That Changed Europe
Ancient Greeks celebrated their gods and goddesses in epics and arts. They worshiped them in temples, festivals, and democratic assemblies. Stories of the Olympian gods shaped the Greek culture. The prominent ones were Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Ares, Aphrodite, Apollo, Artemis, Hephaestus, Hermes, and Hestia (or Dionysus). Greek myths were so powerful that Romans adopted some of these gods. Although they changed their names: Zeus, for example, became Jupiter.
Some people think that Greeks and Romans created modern Western civilization. The difficulty is that one can hardly find a temple where people worship these ancient gods. Hollywood keeps trying to revive their myths. Yet, “The Power of Myth” doesn’t seem to be winning many worshippers. Hindu myths of Krishna and Durga have had a little more success in the West.
So, why are ancient Greeks and Romans are given the credit for creating the modern world? It is mainly because European intellectuals studied their books carefully between 14th – 17th centuries. This elite, intellectual movement is remembered as the Renaissance. Most of the 16th – 17th century reformers, counter-reformers, and radical reformers studied ancient classics
Martin Luther, the catalyst for the Reformation, was not a Renaissance scholar as such. Yet, his first assignment in the University of Wittenberg was to teach Aristotle. Reformation began only when he started teaching the epistles of apostle Paul. Not one of hundreds of reformers took any of the Greek or Roman writers as authoritative. The Church promoted Aristotle. The reformers triumphed over the church by translating, distributing, and teaching the Bible.
Of course, Europe’s gods had been driven underground centuries before the reformers arrived on the scene. Hence the question: what exactly changed the West? Why is it still the least corrupt, most free and the best developed part of the world?
The Dreamer and the Dream
The West’s transformation began with a “dream.” It is described in the Bible, in Acts 16. That “dream” is called a “vision”, because the Bible implies that it was not an irrational, Freudian, product of Apostle Paul’s pre-rational subconsciousness. It was revelation — a communication from beyond brain chemistry. Earlier, another dramatic, daylight “vision”, described in Acts 9: 1-18, had turned Paul’s life around. His Jewish name was Saul, now we know him as the Apostle Paul — arguably, the Father of modern Europe.
Saul was a fanatic persecutor of fellow Jews who believed that Jesus was their long-promised Messiah. The believers offended the young Rabbi because they ascribed honour to Jesus that, Saul thought, belonged only to God — Jehovah.
Everyone knew that Jesus had been killed by crucifixion. His followers claimed that Jesus had resurrected. He was the “Lamb of God.”
The Jews sacrificed lambs as substitutes for their sin. Using Jewish Scriptures such as Isaiah 53, Jesus-followers taught that on the Cross, the Lamb of God took the world’s sin upon himself. His judges had ruled that Jesus was innocent. Why then was he crucified?
On his Cross, everyone could see, was nailed the injustice of this world. Jesus was humiliated, brutalized and killed not because of the nobility of the human heart, but because of our cruelty and wickedness. On the first Good Friday, everyone saw with his naked eyes that on Christ’s cross were hanging the envy and jealousy of the religious establishment; the lies of false witnesses and the moral cowardice of the ‘religious’ masses, including Christ’s own followers.
Crucified Jesus was buried. The tomb was officially sealed and guarded. On the third day the incredible happened. God raised Jesus from the dead. That confirmed, said his disciples, that Jesus had been crucified for the forgiveness of our sin. He is the Saviour because he took our sinfulness in order to bless us with his own righteousness. All we have to do is to repent of our sin and receive him as our Saviour: our Shepherd.
Saul was upset because Christ’s disciples testified that after his resurrection, Jesus kept meeting with them for forty days. He explained to them a new kingdom that he had brought into the world. Then, about 500 witnesses saw Jesus ascend into heaven, promising to return again.
Why didn’t the skeptical world ignore the disciples’ witness as a myth? Dismissing resurrection as a myth became impossible after the Jewish festival, Pentecost. As pilgrims from distant nations filled Jerusalem, Christ’s followers gathered there to pray. That was the city whose leadership had crucified Christ less than two months ago. Suddenly, something happened. The disciples became ecstatic. They began to praise God and testify about the resurrection of Jesus in languages they had never learned. They found the power to perform incredible miracles. On a Sabbath, for example, Peter and John healed an adult. The locals knew that he was born lame, because he sat at the Temple gate, begging. This man, who had never walked was now jumping, leaping and praising God. Thousands of skeptics began investigating. They became Christ’s followers. That made fanatics like Saul raving mad.
Armed with official authority to persecute Christ-enthusiasts, Saul was on his way to Damascus. On the road, the resurrected Jesus appeared to him. Saul fell down; literally blinded by the glory he saw. Jesus asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” How could Saul say, “because I don’t believe that you rose from the dead”?
That encounter changed Saul into Paul. A senior believer, Barnabas, mentored Paul to become a missionary. Europe, however, was not on Paul’s agenda. He wanted to witness in Asia. The Holy Spirit would not let him follow his own plans. One of Paul’s companions, Dr Luke writes, “During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
Does the spiritual realm really exist? Can non-human spirits communicate with the human spirit? Can God communicate with us? We’ll have to discuss such issues. For now let’s focus on how Paul’s dream changed the Graeco-Roman world — a civilization built on myths, magic, and mysticism.
The Power of Truth
Paul penned almost half of the New Testament. His writings speeded up Europe’s reformation in the Sixteenth Century when reformers such as Martin Luther returned, not to Plato and Aristotle, but to study and apply Paul’s writings. Paul’s short letter to one of his associates, Titus, gives us a glimpse into the fundamental change that Paul brought to the West.
Paul reminds Titus how Epimenides — a well-known Greek poet, who lived in Crete six centuries before Christ — had described Greek character. Europeans seem to have accepted that terrible description: “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons.”
‘Lazy gluttons’ describes a society that consumes more than it creates. It may be wealthy, but it keeps getting into more and more debt. It says ‘Let others produce so that we may consume more than we create.’ Later we will see how a rediscovery of Paul’s writings made modern Europe the engine of productivity and growth.
It is harsh to characterize one’s own people as “evil beasts”? What does it mean?
In January 2018, I came down with flu. My wife was away, looking after grandchildren. I needed to travel in Europe. Therefore, I went to consult my physician. I coughed as the nurse was noting down my temperature and blood pressure.
“How are you?” she inquired.
“Well… ” I said slowly, “ I’m beginning to agree with God that it is not good for man to be alone.”
I had expected her to laugh… but she almost choked, trying to refrain from crying.
“My husband just left me for another woman… after 30-years he abandoned me… renounced every promise he had made… shattered my faith in man…” She used different words to say that her husband was an evil beast: untamed, untrustworthy. We will return to discuss how Paul instructed Titus to change Rome’s playboy culture. For now let’s focus on the Cretans’ first characteristic.
“Cretans are always liars” meant that in that culture one trusted others at his own risk. Anyone who did not watch his own back, was guaranteed to be betrayed by his friends. He was likely to be deceived by his own partners, colleagues, suppliers, superiors, workers, and consumers. Greece was a culture where ‘the ease of doing business’ was at a very low ebb.
Religion was an important contributor to this culture of distrust. Zeus, the greatest god of the Greeks was born in the mountains of Crete. Priests had built up his shrines everywhere. They invented myths to lure people to these shrines. What comes out of a myth-based culture?
It will be easy to understand it you come with me to one of India’s grand temples. Tens of thousands of people come there every single day. As you are leaving, you may be invited into the temple shop by an appropriately dressed young priest. He may encourage you to buy a stone statue: “That is that temple’s main deity. If you keep it in your home, in a prominent place the prayers of all the devotees will come into your house as positive vibrations.”
“How can a stone be a god?” you question.
He may answer with an Indian proverb: “If you believe; it is god. If you don’t believe; it is merely a stone.” Your faith creates your god. Faith rests on ignorance. You believe, because you do not and cannot know the true God.
This myth-based religion created Cretes culture of distrust:
For, if a priest can turn a stone into a god, why can’t a milkman turn water into milk? All he has to do is to add a tiny bit of milk to a bottle of water?
Why can’t a jeweler sell you copper wire as a necklace made of gold?
Why can’t a school sell a piece of paper as education… High School Diploma?
Or a university sell a piece of paper as a PhD degree for an appropriate fee?
How do you change this culture in which Cretans were “always liars?”
Paul and Titus introduced to the Cretans a “God who never lies.”
As an apostle, Paul was a “preacher” and “a teacher of the truth to Gentiles”.
As a preacher, he cultivated faith… but his faith rested on knowledge, not ignorance. Paul never separated his role as a preacher from his calling to be a teacher of truth. That was his identity. He begins his epistle to Titus with these words: “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness— in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised…”
The “faith” that Paul preached rested on knowledge, because God Himself “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
Paul’s teaching that God wanted everyone to know the truth, became the rationale for the reformers to initiate Europe’s universal education. This radically different worldview required Paul and his associates to establish churches in every city that were led, not by priests, but by Elders who “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine (truth) and also to rebuke those who contradict it (by myths).
Myth-based religions are invented to exploit. They make religion a means of “shameful gain.” Paul laments that the “Cretans are always liars,” because, he write, “there are many [religious preachers within the church] who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.” Paul uses these harsh words to mean that even some Jewish-background preachers had become myth-makers. Therefore, Titus had to, “rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth”
Paul and Titus had been sent on a mission to transform Europe’s untrustworthy culture. Satanic kingdom of deception had to be transformed into God’s kingdom of truth.
Deception has to depend on force to sustain it’s oppression. Truth liberates because it can be questioned, debated, examined, and refined. Truth’s authority comes from understanding, from within a truth-seeker’s heart. Every truth-seeker needs a community to help him grow in his understanding and to re-calibrate his mind, life, family and culture to get in sync with truth.
That is the reason why Paul and his associates established communities that sought and worshipped the God “who never lies”, whose word is trustworthy. They appointed and mentored Elders so rooted in God’s word that their own words could be trusted.
The Post Truth West
Every day I get an email from President Donald Trump (or his office). Not because I am anyone important, but because I subscribed. Frequently the President describes the American media as “Fake news.” Sometimes the media returns the compliment by calling the President, “Post-Truth.”
Pollsters confirm that less and less Americans trust their politicians and the press. If so, how long would it take before an American sociologist summarizes: Americans “are always liars.” They have given up truth in favor of faith in stories. Their intellectuals spend all their time spinning stories. They don’t even believe in truth.
In November 2016, after much discussion, debate, and research, the Oxford dictionary announced that “Post-Truth” was the Word of the Year.
On November 1, 2016, The Economist had joked “Obama founded ISIS. George Bush was behind 9/11. Welcome to post-truth politics”
A week later, The Independent had announced, ‘We’ve entered a post-truth world and there’s no going back’
In 2004, in The Post Truth Era, Ralph Keys had explained the fundamental change, the loss of truth, that had taken place in the Post-Christian West. Comedian Stephen Colbert had popularized this historic tragedy. In 2005, he called it truthiness. The Oxford Dictionary defined it as ‘the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true’. Colbert thought of truthiness as an isolated quality of particular assertions. It took another decade for intellectuals to recognize that Post-truth had become a general characteristic of the Postmodern West.
Why is the West returning to its Cretan past? Wasn’t the Enlightenment supposed to enable the human mind find truth? Why did it take three centuries for the West to reach its current endarkenment?
Indeed, in a single hour, one of our sages, Gautama the Buddha, could have helped western Rationalists understand that without revelation human reason could not possibly know the truth. Or, as Greek philosophers would have put it, if truth is logical, there has to be a logos (primeval Word) behind the cosmos.
The possibility of truth depends on the nature of ultimate reality. Is mind only a particular condition of physical matter? Or, is there a Mind behind the cosmos, its mathematics and logic, morality and beauty. Was Paul right in assuming that his dream was a vision, a communication from beyond his brain chemistry? Is revelation from spiritual realm possible?
Prof Vishal Mangalwadi directs the Centre for Human Resource Development in a Unversity in North India. He has authored 20 books and lectured in 40 countries. His exposition of Indian philosophy and Western thought and culture In books such as “The World of Gurus”, and “The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization” are studied at university level.