• 63°

D.G. Martin: Greek and Hebrew guides to our political differences

By D.G. Martin

How can ancient Greek and Hebrew thinking help us understand why our friends who support other political candidates see things so differently from us?

Why are we locked into such different positions?

It is dangerous for anyone to try to explain why people support opposing political figures or different political parties or programs.

We sometimes rush to describe our opponents in strong, condemning and disrespectful ways.

The temptation is strong to say simply that they are too stupid or too uninformed to reach the right conclusions.

On the one hand, we say they are too unthinking, too old, too white, too conservative or, on the other hand, too diverse, too young or too smug about their university educations.

Candidates who support nationalistic or conservative positions get accused of ignoring science and rejecting wholesale the conclusions of scientists about the causes of pandemics, global warming and pollution of our water and air.

Meanwhile, progressive candidates get accused of rejecting out-of-hand the deeply held religious views of others about marriage, abortion, and freedom of religion.

Have we separated ourselves into two groups? One that holds out science as the path to knowledge and guidance for governmental policy and action? Or another that asserts we must look to some higher authority to be the guide for public decisions about morality and public policy?

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Lloyd Kramer, director of Carolina Public Humanities and a professor who specializes in the history of different ideas throughout the ages, points out that our division into these two groups is not something new.

In an outline that accompanies his “The Great Courses” lectures on “European Thought and Culture in the 20th Century,” he writes that these kinds of differences “expressed the tension between the two oldest strands of thought in the Western cultural tradition. Historians have often described Western civilization as a complex fusion of two ancient cultural traditions: the Greek culture that developed especially in Athens and the Hebrew culture that developed in ancient Palestine.”

Kramer points out how these different ways of searching for the truth still guide and undergird our different approaches.

He explains, “The Greeks developed the philosophical understanding of reason, stressed the rational pursuit of knowledge, and (in such thinkers as Aristotle) emphasized the observation or study of nature. Although the Greeks talked about the gods and a higher metaphysical realm, they were fascinated by the human body and the material world. The Hebrews, in contrast, developed the idea of monotheism, stressed the unique human ability to communicate with God, and (in such thinkers as the prophets) emphasized God’s role in human history. Although the Hebrews wrote about political events and real people acting in the world, they gave great attention to spiritual issues and to divine powers or ethical injunctions. To summarize these distinctions in very broad terms, the Greeks saw reason as the path to truth and the Hebrews saw divine revelation as the path to ultimate truth.”

These cultural debates have continued throughout the centuries and today’s differences can, in part, be seen as the modern expression of those long-existing tensions between the Greek and Hebrew traditions in Western intellectual life.

Kramer reminds us, however, that “nothing in history ever stays exactly the same; of course, the debate between what we might call ‘reason’ and ‘revelation’ took new forms as society, science, and culture evolved in the late nineteenth century.”

Americans on both sides of today’s cultural divide are influenced by both of these lasting traditions. But few, if any of us, are pure Greek or pure Hebrew.

Nevertheless, applying the Greek and Hebrew different models to modern American political differences has helped me put some of our different approaches in perspective.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” Sunday 3:30 p.m. and Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. on UNC-TV.

Comments

Crime

Blotter: Rockwell man arrested on felony drug, breaking and entering charges

Local

Rep. Amber Baker discusses legislative session during Rowan Democrats breakfast meeting

Local

Thousands of locals, out-of-towners gather for a groovy time at annual Hippie Fest

News

N.C. Zoo ready for expansion if lawmakers OK funding

Education

RSS budgeting for tens of millions in federal COVID-19 relief funding

East Spencer

‘Back in full swing’ for the spring: East Spencer community gathers for food, fun and fellowship at Spring Fest

Local

Rowan native Lingle among those honored with NC Military Veterans Hall of Fame induction

Business

Former pro baseball player, Tar Heel standout Russ Adams finds new career with Trident Insured

Education

Profoundly gifted: Salisbury boy finishing high school, associates degree at 12

Local

Cheerwine Festival will stick to Main Street, stay away from new park in September

Lifestyle

Celebrating Rowan County’s early cabinetmakers

Education

Service Above Self announces youth challenge winners

Business

Economic Development Commission creates search tool for people seeking Rowan County jobs

Columns

Amy-Lynn Albertson: Arts and Ag Farm Tour set for June 5

High School

High school baseball: Mustangs top Falcons on strength of hurlers

Business

Biz Roundup: Application process now open for Rowan Chamber’s 29th Leadership Rowan class

Sports

Keith Mitchell leads McIlroy, Woodland by 2 at Quail Hollow

Nation/World

States scale back vaccine orders as interest in shots wanes

Nation/World

Major US pipeline halts operations after ransomware attack

News

NC budget dance slowed as GOP leaders differ on bottom line

News

Judge limits footage that family can see of deputy shooting

Coronavirus

People receiving first dose of COVID-19 vaccine grows by less than 1%

Education

Rowan-Salisbury Schools brings Skills Rowan competition back to its roots

Business

Weak jobs report spurs questions about big fed spending