our greatest blessings come to us by way of madness Phaedr. 244a


Can something that survives for 20 centuries be so bogus and escape the fine tooth comb critical inpection?

#1572 conner on 1/06 at 9:00 am

(Unregistered commenter)

Tom Helwick writes: ...Can something that survives for 20 centuries be so bogus and escape the fine tooth comb critical inpection? >>

The veracity of ideas and the validity of tradition does not necessarily depend on two millennia’s acceptance. Two responses come to mind immediately. During the four hundred years or so when Christian orthodoxy was being invented, several pagan critics lambasted this new religion for not being based on the pagan traditions. Thus, the contention that Christianity’s validity depends on its status as tradition is modeled on pagan rhetorical techniques employed by thinkers such as Porphyry, Celsus, and Galen to undermine Christianity before it received official state protection by Constantine in 313 A.D. The argument from tradition is an ancient one indeed.

Secondly, the longevity of ideas and views about the world does not necessarily correspond to their truthfulness or validity. Human communities have held in common (scientifically) erroneous views regarding many areas of learning for far greater periods of time than a couple millennia. Consider communal understandings of conception, cultural taboos, or the issue of whether the sun orbits around the earth. Surely, we would want to grant to our descendants the right to revise our own erroneous views just as we revised those of our predecessors. It is only fair.

While all this might be true, this certainly does not mean that Christian traditions (and Christianity is by no means a monolith today or in antiquity) do not have intrinsic value or meaning. The problem is when history is manipulated to justify one religion’s superiority over another. Certainly, nobody wants that. Thus, the argument for tradition has a promiscuous past and is rather problematic, to be avoided.

For historical references see: Robert Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (this work systematically explores the writings of the major extant pagan writers responding to Christianity, including Julian the Apostate); anything by Peter Brown, who has been very innovative in study of how Christianity fit in with other religious developments in the 4th c. A.D., and with the social and political history of the Late Roman Empire.

(What beats your heart beats all hearts. What other truth do you need?)