Tuesday, 16 December 2008

After Rome, Indeed

My friend Professor John Milbank writes:

Ironically, as a Labour voter, I found this programme to be far too liberal and multiculturalist. Just not Tory enough!! It also reeks somewhat of Oxford classicist anti-Christianity, which to my mind is completely antithetical to Toryism.

After a good start and despite a fine presentational style and rebutting of certain myths, it perpetuated certain others about Islamic civilisation that the best recent continental research (see eg Sylvain Gounguinheim, Aristote au Mont St-Michel) has destroyed. The early Latin west was not uncivilised. Aristotle in Greek was knows at Gall and Mont St Michel before the arrival of the Arabic translations. The latter were done largely by oriental Christians anyway.

There would have been no Islamic philosophy, science, medicine or libraries without oriental Christians and Jews (besides pre-Islamic Persian influence) whose contribution even after conquest continued to be vital. Also the role of Byzantium in transmitting ancient culture to the West has been downplayed. Moreover, Islam never integrated classical learning, whereas the West did this even in the darkest time of the dark ages and hence already pointed to the ‘Renaissance’.

To its credit the programme did gently knock the myth of Islamic tolerance, but surely it glossed over the rapaciousness of Arabic conquest. On the crusades it caricatured. Genuine concern for the holy places was not mentioned, nor the fact that this was in many ways a defensive war — Jerusalem being seen as an integral part of Christendom.

As for the theology of merit linked to the crusades — this was in part ironically borrowed from Islamic jihadist theology, and was refused by Byzantium. Of course the terrors of hell were a factor in the Latin west but to overstress them yet again is a cliché that ignores so much else — to say the least.

Nor, of course, is ‘universalism’ about salvation just insipid modern Anglicanism — it’s in St Paul, in Origen, in Gregory of Nyssa, in Julian of Norwich, in the entire Eastern Christian tradition at times.

Why can’t we get any objectivity on TV about our own religious legacy?

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