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The Tale Of Two Mindsets

How do we think and make decisions?

Here's something interesting. It was written by a 19th Century English cultural commentator, Matthew Arnold, quoting from his essay, Culture and Anarchy.

We show, as a nation, a great energy and persistence in walking according to the best light we have. We may regard this energy, this obligation of duty, self-control, and work as one force. And we may regard the intelligence driving at those ideas, the indomitable impulse to know and adjust them perfectly, as another force. And these two forces we may regard as in some sense rivals, as exhibited in man and his history and rivals dividing the empire of the world between them. And to give these forces names from the two races of men who have supplied the most signal and splendid manifestations of them, we may call them respectively the forces of Hebraism and Hellenism. Hebraism and Hellenism, between these two points of influence moves our world.

Hebraism and Hellenism? These two words refer to the people groups who introduced each mindset. Hebraism came from the Jewish writers of the Bible and Hellenism came from the ancient Greek philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle. So Hebraism refers to Christianity then? You would think so, but unfortunately it hasn't totally worked out that way. This is a bold statement, so it needs to be backed up. But first, let's continue with the essay.

The uppermost idea with Hellenism is to see things as they really are; the uppermost idea with Hebraism is conduct and obedience ... the Greek quarrel with the body and its desires is that they hinder right thinking, the Hebrew quarrel with them is that they hinder right acting.

So first impressions are that Hellenistic Greek thought is bound up in thinking about things, whereas Hebraic thought is all about doing things the right way.

Christianity, at the time of Jesus and the first apostles, started off as thoroughly Hebraic, concerned primarily about conduct, the actions that proceed from our faith, doing things the right way. Unfortunately, as time went on, it also took on some characteristics from Greek thought, with its accent on thinking, arguing and pontificating.

What it has now become is a mixture of the two. 'So what?' you may say, 'is there any harm in that?'. There is a harm but it is so subtle that generations of Christians have turned a blind eye to it. Yet we must ask an important question: what is there in common between God's revealed faith in the Holy Scriptures and ideas from (admittedly very clever) pagan minds?

To fully explore these thoughts will take some time but if you just hold onto the following statement you will start to get the point.

The Greek mind says that we should strive for knowledge about God; the Hebraic mind says that we should know God.

There's a subtle difference here.

This is a huge subject and an exciting one too. Watch this space next week to see how a Hebraic mind would look at the Bible.

Steve Maltz
January 2012

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book 'To life')

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