Sunday, August 23, 2009

Greeks and Scots

My new grand-daughter boasts mixed ancestry. Her father's mother is Scottish; her father's father is English; her mother's parents are Greek. The English part I know: consider the Scottish and Greek.

Scotland and Greece are both mountainous, with numerous islands and sea inlets - lochs and kolpoi. Scotland is the extreme north-west of Europe [excluding Iceland]; Greece is the extreme south-east. Both have a history of isolated communities quarrelling - Scottish clans in their glens, Greeks in city-states.
Both have suffered conflict with neighbours.
Climatically they have little in common. Scotland is exposed to the north atlantic, with complex weather formations bringing wind and rain in abundance. Greece enjoys a more settled Mediterranean climate, with intrusions of cold from central Asia.
Unexpectedly, oats are an important crop in both countries.

Geographically similar maybe, but in religion the two countries are close to the opposing ends of the spectrum of Christianity; and religion is the most powerful determinant of culture.

Greek Orthodoxy is close to the original Christianity, as it developed in the first centuries after Christ. The New Testament is written in Greek; the early development of Christian theology was conducted in Greek; and many Christian rituals and festivals have Greek origins.
Orthodoxy is Christianity as institution. Its churches, its hierarchy and its liturgy exist and continue in their own right, a glimpse of paradise on earth, serving the people as the church decrees. It preserves traditions going back nearly two millennia; venerating saints and ikons, vestments and incense; fostering poetry, music, art.
It's a religion of reassurance and release. Sins are forgiven, doubts passed over: attend, commit, and the priests will make all well.
Zeus may have been knocked from Olympos, but Athena, Demeter and Aphrodite are still influential.
Bread, wine and oil are its most important symbols. It is extensive and inclusive.
[Divisions in Orthodoxy are more national than doctrinal.]

Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor defends the church as institution: it offers the magic, mystery and authority which simple believers crave. This argument may prevail even in the land of Hippocrates, Socrates, Aristotle, and Euclid.

Scotland is the birthplace of Presbyterianism. Calvin taught Knox, and Knox blew his trumpet in Scotland.
Presbyterianism is Christianity as community of the faithful. The individual's faith is founded on scripture, to which there is free and open access; no priest intervenes between believer, bible and God. There is no hierarchy: the church is governed by 'elders', some of whom are necessarily professional ministers. Ministers conduct services of worship, teach, and advise. Like physicians, they have no authority.
Presbyterianism is an austere, personal religion, striving to realise the teachings of Jesus; intellectual, suspicious of dogma, stressing the symbolism of ritual, denying magic. Its churches are undecorated.
It is a religion of duty and admonition. Sin and guilt burden us all; each must work out a personal salvation, correct in every detail. That is difficult, many will fail.
It's a tough religion, intense like the whisky of its homeland. It has an exclusive tendency, manifest by its many schisms. Perm the adjectives free, reformed, united and presbyterian before church; you'll probably find it exists or has existed.
Presbyterians and Orthodox share a profound aversion to Roman Catholicism.

The Presbyterians stress freedom in faith, and personal responsibility.
The Grand Inquisitor concedes Jesus offers these, but argues they place a burden on humanity which most cannot bear. He didn't know the Scots.

I favour opinions which are kataphusin, according to natural reality. I have little respect for opinions katabiblion, according to scripture. Still, after 70 the issues raised by religion become more pressing, so my interest in Christianity increases.
Were I to embrace religion, my head tells me I should become presbyterian; but I admit a deeper attraction to Orthodoxy. I am in awe of its ancient heritage, the subtleties and euphony of its language, the glories of its buildings and liturgies. Beauty is seductive, and inspiring.
After all, such a move into religion would be to admit that life is too short for pure kataphusin. Life's biggest questions demand some sort of answer; so dump the doubts, only believe, accept mystery and authority - maybe even the magic. Enjoy the securities and comforts of Faith.

As the Old Dominie said:
"Alone at nights, I read my Bible more and Euclid less".

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