In a provocative and incisive conversation with Eduardo Andino, Director of Development at the Institute on Religion and Public Life, Rajiv Malhotra challenges the assumptions and proclamations about the evolution and composition of the modern West.
“The idea of the West, the thing called Western civilisation is a recent construct, “says Malhotra as he begins the conversation. Based on his extensive research, readings and interactions, Malhotra eloquently argues that the West is an amalgam of different cultures and people brought together in an uneasy synthesis through a lot of violence and bloodshed.
“There was no West before the time of Christ. The Romans, who then reigned supreme, were referred to as the occidental people and their enemies, the Greeks, were referred to as the Orientals,” explains Malhotra who also says that the s perfect “synthesis” was artificially imposed and created and did not emerge on its own.
When the Romans conquered Greece, it resulted in a cultural amalgam, the Greco Roman culture, It was also a seemingly ideal blend—the Romans had the military might; while the Greeks had aesthetics, literature, music, art and poetry. Interestingly, the Romans were unabashed about their desire to absorb Greek literature, culture and honest about their indebtedness to the Greeks,” explains Andino.
The rent in the seamless fabric of Greco Roman unity began with the advent of Christianity. A few centuries after Christ, the New Testament, a compilation of the Council of Nicea, came to be written during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine who consolidated the Early Christian church —the one standard version of Christianity as we know it today.
Thus, the synthesis in Greco Roman culture, apparent before Christ, now falls apart. The Greco Roman civilisational culture then goes a step further and brings in Christianity, which until then, was not part of the Greco Roman culture. Before Christ, thus there was a synthesis of Greco Roman culture, where Rome, the aggressor, invades Greece, takes it over, digests Greece and thus results in Greco Roman culture.
Thus militancy, aggression and conquest characterise the Roman Empire. Even with the advent of Christianity, early Rome has a lot of militancy against Christianity—after all, they crucified Jesus. Malhotra uses the term ‘digestion’ to refer to a selective appropriation of aspects of the conquered people by the conquerors. For instance, St. Augustine, a North African, considered one of the Church Fathers, brings in Greek thought to create Christian Theology.
He brought in Hellenistic traditions to interpret the Bible because the Bible has no philosophy! Christian theology is a product of the Bible, with the story of Jesus and the various Gospels combined with a Pagan philosophy because the Greeks were Pagans. Ironically, the Pagans had to be removed because of their religion but their philosophy was retained—however, it is thanks to Greek philosophy that there is Christian theology.
Digestion therefore implies, “I don’t like the Pagan in you, but I like your philosophy. I’ll take this and I’ll reject that,” explains Malhotra, who also says that digestion implies that “whatever fits in with the predator’s DNA is retained and whatever doesn’t, is excreted.” Greece and Rome are separately evolved and created cultures, as is the Semitic culture from which the Bible emerges.
“However, they come to mix with a lot of violence because there is somebody in control of others. The Romans were a very aggressive and violent people. They not only took apart Greek culture and civilization, but a lot of Christianity was oppressed for the first few hundred years, explains Malhotra.
The combination of Rome, Greece and Christianity then moves North to take over the Pagans. The history of Christianity versus Paganism is very well documented. For instance, the Wicca people today, are reviving the Pre-Christian faiths of Europe because according to them, “This is who, we, Europeans, originally were until the Christians came!”
The modern West and Christianity are an amalgam of many things coming together. “Its not as bad as I [Rajiv Malhotra] am making it out to be or as good as you [Andino] are making it out to be,” concedes Malhotra, who also highlights that there was “some violence [while we may disagree on the numbers!] –the killing of witches, and Inquisitions against the heathens and so on—there were Inquisitions in all the continents the Christians went”.
“The idea of the West is therefore elastic. If the West can assimilate ABC and D, it can also assimilate EF and G! The history of the West is a composite of various things taken over from here and there and brought together. For example, the Conquistadors came over and took over the culture of the Americans. It was not an equal deal! Thus, even trade and conquest was carried out in the name of God. The Doctrine of Discovery provided a framework for Christian explorers, in the name of their sovereign, to lay claim to territories uninhabited by Christians, under a papal arbitration which completely disregarded the rights of the natives!
“The bottom line is that Christianity took over the lands, the people, forced them to convert. The Native American genocide was the worst genocide in history. In Latin America, the invaders intermarried, converted the natives and the Church took over. The power remained with the Church,” explains Malhotra, who also draws an interesting parallel between modern globalisation, the dangers and threats it poses with that of the earliest globalisation embarked upon by the Romans.
Did you find this article useful? We’re a non-profit. Make a donation and help pay for our journalism.