Western Civilization as defined here is the confluence of Jerusalem, Athens and Rome. This paradigm provides the foundation upon which we build… oh, just about everything. The values represented by these three centers of civilization provide a set of governing principals that allowed for the rapid advance of among other achievements, medicine, engineering, physics, the Enlightenment, and most important, liberal democracy. Up until the 20th century, these principals stood virtually unchallenged. To paraphrase d’Tocqueville, America was great, because America was good.
Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome. Internalize this. Embrace this. One city gave the Law, one gave us the Arts and Sciences, and one gave us the required Discipline. This is who we are – “A Republic, if you can keep it” as put forth by my favorite lecherous old man.
Western Civilization, Pre-history: Around 2000 B.C.E, a tribal leader in what would eventually be known as modern day Iraq heard a voice in his head telling him to uproot his family and move West. So he did. The voice in his head made a lot of bold predictions, which by the standards of modern secular reasoning, or even by ancient pagan reasoning must have seemed a bit off.
Let’s just take one: Along the way, this tribal leader, a man named Abram, claimed he was told that he would be the Father of Many Nations, and that his descendants would be as the sand by the ocean. At the time, he was childless. And 75 years old. That was really old at a time when infant mortality was through the roof and your chances of dying of appendicitis, kidney failure, or tonsillitis before the age of 25 were pretty good. But here’s the thing – the voice in his head turned out to be correct. I haven’t done a head count, but I would assert that the descendants of this here-to-fore obscure tribal leader out number those of Ghengis Khan (that’s ‘gh’ as in ‘glad’ or ‘get’, not as in ‘joke’, or John Kerry) and Alexander combined.
Western Civilization gets its start: Fast forward a few years – say about 550. The descendants of Abraham (name change, long story) were having a rough few centuries – about 4 in fact. On the upside, they numbered in the area of 3,000,000, so extinction was unlikely. Never-the-less, it took a while for things to work out in their favor. When help did arrive, it was in the form of an exiled prince from the royal family (another long story) whose name probably still appeared on the “Kill On Sight” list. And yes, he too seemed to be hearing a voice in his head. To be sure, it was a voice which delivered, which is an important distinction between God’s messenger and one simply suffering from a psychosis. Sort of makes that moment when caught between an enemy army and the sea a defining one.
But even that event was just one in a chain leading up to the day Moses walked down from the mountain to present the Law. More than simply a list of do’s and don’ts, and more than a series of infractions and punishments. There are provisions for refuge, restitution, and redemption. The Law, was and remains God’s projection of his desire to draw us to him. It’s a clarification of his will, and a path to him.
It is the presentation of the Law that marked the beginning of Western Civilization.