Scribbles, &c.

Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem

I must have read the following quote — or something very much like it — before, because I have been noodling quite a bit on the three-way relationship of Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem for a couple of weeks now. I dug around on Google to see where it might have come from and the cited collection of essays turned up. Memories, man. How do they work?

But what really gave the message its wide intellectual scope was Benedict’s way of calling to mind the foundations of European culture, not only as a Christian legacy, but as the fruitful synthesis of the pre-Christian inheritance as well: “The culture of Europe arose from the encounter between Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome — from the encounter between Israel’s monotheism, the philosophical Greeks, and Roman law. This three-way encounter has shaped the inner identity of Europe. In the awareness of man’s responsibility before God and in the acknowledgement of the inviolable dignity of every human person, it has established criteria of law: it is these criteria that we are called to defend at this moment in our history.”

Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome: they form together an overarching standard of human rationality. And it was Christianity, in fact, that made possible the creative interplay and mutual fructification of these three sources of reason: belief in God, philosophy and science, and law — and Europe grew out of this synthesis. This Europe was also the ancestral root of the secular state, and, although not immediately and directly, of the modern culture of human rights as well.

— Martin Rhonheimer, “Benedict XVI’s Address to the Bundestag from the Perspective of Legal Ethics and Democracy Theory,” Pope Benedict XVI’s Legal Thought: A Dialogue on the Foundation of Law

What prompted the noodling? Under cover of darkness, a so-called identitarian movement courageously put up some posters and stickers on a local college campus. They seem very much into European identity, though as far as I can tell, they go no further than the Rome bits. Forget about Athens. And Jerusalem? No one has time for any that. We want the Europe that looks like Skyrim. Scratch a bit of the shiny paint off, and what you find is the same old props and affectations of what used to be called “The Uptown Klan,” — the ‘Citizen’s Councils’ of the mid-to-late 1950s. There’s nothing really new here beyond social-media-driven amplification. I’d hazard a guess that some flirt with the edges of this stuff because it prompts an immediate rise out of others: internet lulz culture breaking into meatspace.

The new packaging certainly invites a closer look — community building! civic engagement! The marketing has gotten better for sure. Gone are the grotesque caricatures faded from several generations of photocopying and furtively distributed by hand. There’s a modern website, nifty photos, and all the other accoutrements of a respectable online presence. Replace the text and it might just as well be a VC firm or Bay-area startup.

Polished though it may be, the group’s racist foundation becomes evidently fairly quickly. Moreover, the group declares itself wholly secular, which neatly avoids any requirement to contend with even a third-grade understanding of the Gospels, to say nothing of sustained engagement with a transcending anthropology. In short, I’ve probably burned more calories on this than it’s worth. In light of Christian duty, however, I’ll note the following. It ought to be self-evident, but maybe not, so here we go again:

To reject another human being, or seek to divide the human family, is to deny the inherent dignity of the other as made in the image and likeness of God. It also dismisses out of hand our Lord’s prayer for unity and His direct teaching on the limits of charity (spoiler: there aren’t any). That individuals have unique gifts, talents, and weaknesses is evident on its face, but as I’ve stated previously — the human body is a perfect symbol of an invisible, immortal reality. Separate the two and you’re left not a person, but a mere object, in which case a trip down the materialist cul-de-sac is a foregone conclusion.

This path leads nowhere but to sin and death. Pray for the conversion of those who are on it.