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Pagan Invasion!

How Greek are we?

We start with a mental exercise. Not an easy one, but a useful one and one that hopefully will prepare your mind for what it is about to receive. No, I am not proposing a New Age emptying of thoughts, but rather a realisation of what lies beneath them. Imagine you have just woken up to a new day. Then mentally trace through it, concentrating on your voluntary actions, rather than the more mundane (though serious) processes that actually keep your body alive. Here's what could be a typical day.

Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head, then realised I had just paid a homage to The Beatles. Ah, The Beatles. Memories flooded back of the previous night at the themed bar, guzzling too much food and beer, while being entertained by a rather good Beatles tribute band. Ah, The Beatles. The first worldwide celebrities of pop culture, trendsetters in music, fashion, drug taking, political agitation and communication. These hazy thoughts were swept aside by pangs of hunger and I had a full fry-up for breakfast, then went to work. Once there, I just counted the hours to clocking-off, mechanically going through the processes of my allotted tasks, but my mind focussed on the football game I was going to later ...

OK, so what? Given that I’ve just described a typical day for someone living in the West in the 21st Century, there must be a purpose to the exercise. Before the great unveiling I will move to a Sunday and repeat the mental process, but focussing on the daily activities of a typical Christian.

Woke up, got out of bed, prayed and did my devotions. Slight dread but duty first, put on my "Sunday best", cleanse my mind of distractions, then Church. Sit there quietly, sing the songs, listen to the sermon, mind wandering ... 4,000 holes in Blackburn Lancashire, what the? ... walk to the altar, take communion, polite conversation, then leave the Church, change clothes, then an afternoon in town, take in a show, some Chinese food, a few drinks. Home late at night, not looking forwards to work tomorrow, just need to get through the week until the next weekend. Get ready for bed, prayers and sleep.

Of course you may not connect with this entire list, but I guarantee there are at least some familiar aspects. Now to the big point, the climax, the denouement. If I told you that, in both lists, you are chiefly following processes flowing from the thoughts and practices of a civilisation that flourished in a land many miles eastward, many centuries ago. And that land was not the Middle East of Jesus, two thousand years ago, but rather the Greece of four hundred years or so earlier than the Christian era. And ideas flowing from that land of Greece are very much still alive and kicking. In fact they set the foundations and principles behind our daily lives in our modern world. Let that sink in for a few moments.

Look at people going about their daily lives. Some stride purposefully around, secure in their imagined immortality. They live guilt-free lives filled with pleasure. For a growing number, the working week has no other purpose than facilitating the wild excesses of the weekend. Others are not so secure. The certainties of old had been eroded, leaving behind a confusion of beliefs and philosophies. Some mix and match and hope for the best, others just retreat from the World, yet others reject everything save that which feeds their self-interests. Then there are those who just shrug their shoulders and get on with things. What will be, will be, they chant. Finally there are those who don't care any more and have given up.

There's nothing new under the sun. This same scenario was a perfect fit just over two thousand years ago, in the streets of Ancient Greece. The difference is that each of the attitudes painted were, for them, schools of thought and philosophy. The names will be familiar to you. The Epicurianists took meaning from modest pleasures, while the Hedonists took this to the extreme. The Eclectics were the mix and matchers, while the Ascetics turned their back on the world and its pleasures. The Sceptics just rejected everything, while the Cynics took this further and just lived for themselves. The Stoics simply put it all down to fate while the Nihilists denied any sort of meaning at all.

We may be separated from these folk by two thousand years of Christianity but the cynics (I worked that one in quite cleverly, didn't I?) among us would wonder why our society, as a whole, seems to have rejected the certainties of the Gospel of Jesus and have slipped back into those ancient ways. To make matters worse, there are aspects of many of these philosophies in the Christian Church too. These and other Greek ideas are very much a part of the modern ecclesiastical world. So when was the Church infiltrated? When did we turn our backs and let these pagan ideas in?

Watch this space.

Steve Maltz
February 2012

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