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2 Everybody's Paganism

2 Everybody's Paganism

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Published by Douglas Knight
Christian doctrine
Christian doctrine

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Published by: Douglas Knight on Dec 09, 2011
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2. Pagans
The Greeks on How to be a Man
1. Getting Ahead2. The Capabilities of Man3. Self-Mastery4. The Strong Man and his Ancestors5. Popular Belief about the Cosmos6. Mind, Society, Cosmos7. In Training with the GreeksHow to be human? That is our question. Each society offers its own answers, andoffers the education that enable its members to conform themselves to the definitionof man on offer. All societies have accounts of their place in the world and of their ambitions, and so of education of humankind. This question drives every period of Western history, the history that us formed us, our worldview and our world. Our choice of questions and of conversation partners is fundamental.All Christian doctrine must be done in conversation with the pagans. ‘Pagan’ is not amorally-loaded expression, but simply a term for those who are not Christian. Paganis our default setting. If we are not Christian, and not Jewish, we are pagan,regardless of how we describe ourselves. The world is always pagan. Pagans didnot disappear when Christians arrived but continue to be present through thecenturies of Christendom. Post-Christian societies have reverted to a more obviouslypagan set of assumptions, though these are seldom explicit beliefs and have not yetbeen articulated as pagan doctrine. The Greeks give us the best expression of the pagan conception of human life.Plato provides the most sophisticated account of a vast range of ideas which havebecome central to us, indeed which make us the people we are. We are heirs of theGreek and Romans, and we may learn more about ourselves by learning aboutthem.How to be human. How to be a man. The word ‘man’ allows us to refer simultaneously to the individual and to the whole human race, and so examine therelationship between each and all of us. And because in the pagan conception, themale has higher ontological status. Equality of the sexes comes with Christianity.
1. Getting Ahead
Humanity Divided – The Self-Ruled and the Unruled
We have two sets of humanity, the educated and wise and the uneducated andgullible. Then there are the rich and the poor, themselves divisible into further sets.We have not only the leaders and the led, but the leaders and the unled, those whomight lead but don’t, and those who need to be lead but aren’t. We have theteachers and the taught, or even the taught, who do or do not pass on the teachingthey have received so we have a class of learners or of the untaught, the self-ruledversus the unruled. This war of all against all, creates alliances and groupings, toachieve the advantage against greater rivals.
But the ruled are not really different from the unruled. The leaders are themselvesnot under rule or discipline. They do not lead, but merely exert themselves, putthemselves before the rest of us, and try to leave the mass behind. The rulingclasses do not lead and shepherd the people, but have left them a leaderless mass.If the poor a rabble, without discipline or self-control, this is the fault of the rich. Thepitiful condition of the masses is the fault of their leaders. That there is a rabble isdemonstration that the educated and righteous have not led or exercisedrighteousness where it is needed. They are shown to be not under discipline, noteducated, but unrighteous.The form of life is a means of: 1. sociality (being together with others, building your own team); 2. self-advancement (getting ahead of others, climbing over them to getbeyond them), and 3. escapism (leaving others behind, leaving materiality behind).We try to control our exposure to the world and make ourselves resistant to outsidepressures. We can call these means as forms of self-control, training regimes,therapies or religion. The pagan calling is to make ourselves imperturbably serene,by the power of thought to raise ourselves above the everyday shocks of this world.Life is all about learning how not to be pushed around by our passions, or by other people, or by circumstances, or rather when we are externally pushed around, towithstand it, while remaining internally undisturbed.
Life as Climb
We want to get ahead. We want to be independent and autonomous. Everyonewants to be at the top. No one wants to be led, ruled, taught or disciplined. We wantto differentiate ourselves from the crowd. All pagan life is about trying either todominate the crowd or to escape it. We set out to make ourselves more secure. Wewant to put ourselves above the fray, out of reach to other people, so we can beserene. We don’t want to feel constantly under threat. We want to becomeinvulnerable. We scramble for the next rung of the ladder, and clamber over oneanother to get ahead.We strive to climb the ladder of being. Philosophy as a program of ascent that takesthe student from contemplating bodies, through contemplating souls, to contemplatethe Mind and what is beyond. The souls in bodies all originally come from a singletranscendent Soul and never fully lose their identity with it.Life is all about learning how not to be pushed around by our passions, or by other people, or by circumstances, or rather when we are externally pushed around, towithstand it, while remaining internally undisturbed.There is a great distance between the top and the bottom of the cosmos. The gapmay be filled by intermediary beings which may offer to assist us to make the climbor which may wish to hold us back in order to use us for their own ends. How can weknow which are aids and which obstacles? .For Greek pagans everything relates to its origin. The fact that there is a world at allis through result of the fall. Everything relates to what it once was and the most wecan look forward to is that it becomes again what it once was. We come to knowthings by
recapturing them from the past. All knowing is an act of recovery. At some
time in the past there was a cosmic catastrophe. What was once an entire andperfect world has suffered a collapse. Mankind was once a timeless and immortalbeing, but we have become material beings, and this is a disaster. Our wholepurpose now must be to recover by disengaging ourselves from the immediatematerial circumstances in which we find ourselves. The mind has to retrace its pathback out of this fog that is made up of all the material and broken pieces of reality.The questioning mind can carve through the blizzard of appearances and senseimpressions, to feel its way towards the original unity behind them
2. The Capabilities of Man
Man has a range of powers. His first power we might call brute strength is the first of these. ‘Virtue comes from
, strength, and is related to
, the Latin word for man, from which ‘virility’ comes. The four most important of these virtues arecourage (
), self-control (
, temperance), wisdom (
,also known as practical rationality or prudence) and justice (
).Man is synonymous with strength: virtues are the strengths, or aptitudes andabilities, of a man. Physical strength and machismo is the beginning of manliness.Ajax is as strong as anyone, but brute strength is his only virtue. Yet physicalstrength may be out-manoeuvred by intelligence or cunning. Perhaps because hehas always been able to rely on his strength he has never needed to develop anyother skills, and so is now without any, with the result that he is not smart or beadaptable enough.Achilles is not only strong but a supreme warrior. His strength is accompanied byskill at battle in which he displays unrivalled machismo, virility and valour. Bystrength of spirit – machismo he leads his own elite troops, and they have a loyalty tohim. But Achilles has too much self-regard to be a reliable team member; the rest of the leaders of the Greeks cannot trust him. The most fundamental imperative of survival is not to be caught on your own. You are nothing without your friends.Your task is to secure your group around you and to defend it. You have to rewardyour friends. You do this through conflict with your rivals in which you can winresources (goods, slaves), weakening them and strengthen yourselves. Life is aperpetual process of building up and protecting what your rivals are attempting totear down and carry away. We see this in Aristotle’s
Nichomachean Ethics
, thehandbook on how to be a man. The ability to make friends, to be loved and createloyalty are vital aspect of being a man. Man is a social animal; he lives in covenantsand in societies. Societies require these four virtues of courage, self-control, wisdomand justice.
Homer shows us the warrior chiefs of Greece at war. The fight goes to the strongand relentless. The hero is a brute and a thug. He pushes his way to whatever hewants, and is always looking for a fight. He is driven to seek his honour by pride andrage. Each manly chest is a simmering cauldron from which one dangerous moodafter another boils over. He is not in control of his moods. Each is possessed byforces from outside himself, that sweep through him, or the group. In the heat of battle he goes berserk, his spirit turns to pure rage: he is possessed by the passion,

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