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> What is Western Culture?, Separating Fact from Myth
Ultimatejoe
post Feb 29 2004, 04:31 PM
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At some point in one of the various Homosexual Marriage threads on the forum someone identied 5000 years of Western Culture and got this confused with the Judeo-Christian history. This got me thinking? [Matthew Perry]Could we be more wrong?[/Matthew Perry] Personally, I am tired of people making this mistake... however for some it is not a mere oversight.

Western History can be traced back to Hellenism, the expansion of GREEK culture throughout the Mediterranean, Egypt and the Middle East up to about 240 BCE (by which time Rome supplanted Hellenic institutions in most of these areas.)

From Hellenism came Roman culture; which gave birth to Christianity around the first century AD, and despite certain trials and tribulations; Christianity has unfortunately taken hold. Before Jesus walked the earth Judaism was not a profoundly important cultural influence on Western history. At best, "western" culture (unless you consider militarism, sodomy, slave ownership and the City State hallmarks of said culture) has existed for no more than 1900 years.

Why then do we treat Christianity and this "Western" culture as something that has been dominant far longer?
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Paladin
post Feb 29 2004, 07:07 PM
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QUOTE
Western History can be traced back to Hellenism, the expansion of GREEK culture throughout the Mediterranean, Egypt and the Middle East up to about 240 BCE (by which time Rome supplanted Hellenic institutions in most of these areas.


Actually a case could be made that the roots of Western civilization lie in the East. The Greeks adopted the Phoenician alphabet, and were also influenced by Phoenician and Egyptian philosophy, art and scientific knowledge.
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Ultimatejoe
post Feb 29 2004, 07:19 PM
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I use "Hellenism" because it represents the penetration of the underlying elements of the western culture into Europe. That being said the parameters of my discussion remain the same.
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Hugo
post Feb 29 2004, 08:36 PM
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Of course Judeo-Christian history was infused into Western culture, and it can be argued Western culture was dominated by Judeo-Christian philosophy from the 4th Century AD to the Enlightenment. Just like the development of laws in the United States and Canada were influenced by English common law and the Magna Carta, Western culture is influenced by events and philosophies that preceded it.

I guess the answer is that Judeo-Christianity is so deeply infused in Western Culture that is easy to fall into the trap of identifying the OT era Jews as part of Western culture. Obviously they were not. They sure helped shape the future of Western civilization.
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Victoria Silverw...
post Mar 1 2004, 03:27 AM
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This is a really interesting question. hmmm.gif

Let me first list those things which I would not consider part of "Western Culture." This would include the pre-Columbian civilizations of North America and the Asian civilizations from India eastward. These societies seem to me to be, in most ways, quite separate from what I think of as the mainstream of "Western Culture." (Of course, all these cultures had an important effect on each other.)

I tend to think of the roots of "Western Culture" as beginning with the ancient Mesopotamian civilizations and Egypt. As far as religions go, it seems clear to me that the three major Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) are part of the mainstream of "Western Culture."

From this point of view, "Western Culture" is ancient indeed, but has changed in profound ways. I'm not sure if this answers your question or not. question.gif
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amf
post Mar 1 2004, 04:09 AM
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Having helped close the thread where the writer mentioned the 5000 years of Judeo-Christian history crying.gif , I think it's probably fair to say that the writer that got you ticked off was probably not as knowledgeable about Jewish history (the part that started being recorded about 5700 years ago) separate from Christian history. Or Christian history as separate from Western history.

I just finished a book about Judaism that was very interesting in that it showed all the ways in which many Jewish traditions came about because of all the different Empires that conquered the Jews and Palestine. Each time the Jews had a new Empire take over their land, they either scattered or became absorbed by the local culture. And then passing those new traditions down through the ages.

Why do some people treat this history as actually having been dominant for far longer than it has? Because "winners get to write history". In this country, Christianity and Western culture are the winners (for now). In Israel, you can bet it's not the same dominance. In Saudi Arabia, it's not the same dominance. And so on.
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santasdad
post Mar 3 2004, 02:28 AM
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Seems to me that people elevate judeo-christian influence above that of originally pagan greco-roman influence when it comes to defining western culture. Our legal system is based on Roman law far more than the laws of Moses. Once you get past the first ten commandments Mosaic law is pretty strange (and unrecognizable to most americans).

i didnt really see democracy being heavily promoted in the bible. Theocratic kingship maybe, but not democracy.
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amf
post Mar 5 2004, 04:55 PM
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And it's idiots like this who propagate the misinformation:

QUOTE
One hundred couples or more lined up around Oregon's Multnomah County office building Thursday morning, hoping for official recognition of their love. A group of pastors and conservative lawmakers plan to go to court or maybe a ballot initiative to defend marriage as that between a man and a woman.

"You don't change 4,000 years of tradition," said Kelly Clark, the group's lawyer.


Source for the quote

Maybe she's all for slavery as well? There's a long and hearty tradition of adultery that maybe she'll defend next.

But it made a nice quote for the emotional readers who are against gay marriage.
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CruisingRam
post Mar 5 2004, 06:37 PM
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Western culture is not JUST american culture, but usually means "first world" european cultures, and to some degree, eastern european cultures. Diversity of influences is what REALLY makes it uniquely differnt from non-western cultures, as western cultures have SO many influences and almost no isolation, such as the asian or south american ancient cultures- so instead of being in a closed system, an extreme example being Japan, we have always been open loop, with about every 200 years or less some major new influence happening.

Even the Judeo-christian thing has had all kinds of outside influences, as you can see the roman influences in the catholic church.

Of course, the poeple that reference "5000" years of Christian-Jewish tradition are just plain ignorant and probably stupid as well LOL
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Julian
post Mar 6 2004, 01:49 PM
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Funny how the "5000 years of Judeo-Christian continuity" crowd are on the one hand united against homosexuality, abortion and pre-marital sex, but when it comes to extremist Islam they're four-square against it.

To me, this seems odd, since the type of Islam (typified by the Wahabi sect seen in Saudi and al-Quaeda), in stoning adulterers, cutting off the limbs of criminals, and treating all "infidels", including non-Wahabi Muslims, as worthless and expendable pieces of meat to be coverted or killed, is arguably more true to the mainstream Judeo-Christian tradition before it became diluted by the influences of Graeco-Roman philosophy in medieval Europe.

Put simply, "The West" is not definitively Judeo-Christian in nature, (let's not forget the Eastern Orthodox church, for one, which is quite alien to "the West" - although it shares the same framework of belief).

It is definitively European culturally, philosophically and politically. In the widest sense, and ignoring modern connotations of the word to do with the EU or the World Wars, North America, Australia, and to a lesser extent Latin America, are all essentially "European" cultures transplanted abroad, and with varying degrees of non-European influence.

Even the much-vaunted Judeo-Christian tradition found that it had to adapt to survive and thrive in Dark Age and early medieval Europe - the whole elevation of the Virgin and celebration of multiple saints seen in Catholicism is an echo of the earlier polytheistic belief systems of North Western Europe.

Can any modern Christian put their hand on their heart and say without a shadow of doubt that their religion would be identical today if it had not found refuge beneath the skirts of the Roman Empire, but instead found itself in, say, contemporary Buddhist/Hindu India or Buddhist China?

And, if were the case, can anyone say that European ideas would not have eventually found their way to the forefront in much the same way that they have today? Given that the current dominance of "the West" is less manifest destiny than historical accident and plain dumb luck, who could be certain that a Chinese influenced Judeo-Christianity would not lay claim that it was the central tenet of greatness then? What would the dominant religion of "the West" now be? Islam? Paganism? Or just market capitalism, just as it is today? OR would a China infested with proselytising religion just have led to today's dominant race being yellow, with paranoia at the inscrutable whites and their sneaky business efficiencies and low cost bases?
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phaedrus
post Mar 16 2004, 01:35 AM
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QUOTE
Why then do we treat Christianity and this "Western" culture as something that has been dominant far longer?


The short answer is because it was not exclusively Christian. Its no secret that Rome was being over run by barbarian hordes when Christianity was declared to be the religion of Rome. What is not understood is that the cultural influences were preserved by Christian clerics. There was a syntesis of Grecian thought with Christian theology and a kind of republic was formed. During the Reformation there were some radical (liberal) ideas incorporated via John Locke and others and all that cultural and political heritage were included.

IMHO, thats why, because Christian clerics were the key to preserving what has came to be know as 'Western culture'.
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Asyncritus
post Apr 28 2004, 02:26 PM
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A vast and fascinating topic! I can't resist sticking my 2-cents' worth (or more) in here, especially as history and sociology are major subjects of interest to me.

Personally, though I can agree with those who trace the "roots" of Western culture to the far past, that does not, to me, mean that those roots constitute Western culture. Some of the various "roots" of the English language, for example, can be traced back thousands of years, but we can't really speak of English as a language (and a pretty much unrecognizable form at that!) until about a thousand years ago. In the same way, some of the roots of Western culture go back to several thousand years before Christ, but they are not, in themselves, Western culture.

The hallmarks of Western culture are varied. Basically, though, there are three of them: the general thought patterns of Indo-Europeans as regards social structures, an accent on the individual rather than on the collective (which led to democracy, among other developments), and a profound interest in "gadgets", seen in our scientific and technological approach to life.

There used to be a fourth one in the general attachment to what was called "Christianity" (whether or not it deserved that name, because of its marked differences with the teachings and actions of Jesus Christ, is a subject for an entirely different debate). But the Reformation, already, was the beginning of the end of that aspect of Western culture, at least in that form. The Reformation introduced the concept of people's right to modify the prevailing religion because of their beliefs, instead of having to conform their beliefs to the precepts of "approved" religion. Philosophically, this led directly to Liberal theology and humanism, with the result that Christianity of any kind is no longer a fundamental element of Western culture. (Please note that this has nothing to do with the validity of Christianity, which I am not questioning in any way at this point.)

Of these three main traits of Western culture, the first can be traced back at least four thousand years. Certainly it was already present when the Celts first penetrated into Western Europe, 1500 years before Christ. The second is traceable pretty much to Greek thought, though it also was already a part of the mindset of the various Germanic tribes when they penetrated into Western Europe. Thus, they did not have to "convert" to this thinking in the same way that they "converted" to Christianity. The roots of this individualism may therefore be much older than the Greeks. The third aspect of "Westernism", however, did not come about in a marked form until later. There are distant roots of it in Roman culture as well as in the Carolingian renaissance, but it does not become marked until the Italian Renaissance. And it does not take its modern form until Descartes restructured Western epistemology with his famous "pensum ergo sum which fixes the root of "Truth" in human reasoning and experience rather than in divine revelation. This was the birth of true scientific thought as the Western culture perceives it today and allowed the development of the "gadget society".

The bottom line, then, is that recognizable Western culture is the result of a number of factors coming together less than a thousand years ago (even though some of those factors were much older). Certainly, the rise of Western Civilization cannot be traced back any further than the Italian Renaissance. And it should be noted that the very factor that finally put in place the last dominant element of Western thought (Descartes' rooting of Truth in human reasoning rather than in divine revelation, as it had been up until then) also marked the decline of Christianity as an integral part of Western thought.
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giftzahn
post Apr 29 2004, 09:08 AM
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CruisingRam wrote
QUOTE
Western culture is not JUST american culture, but usually means "first world" european cultures, and to some degree, eastern european cultures. Diversity of influences is what REALLY makes it uniquely differnt from non-western cultures, as western cultures have SO many influences and almost no isolation, such as the asian or south american ancient cultures- so instead of being in a closed system, an extreme example being Japan, we have always been open loop, with about every 200 years or less some major new influence happening.


Hi there! Hi CruisingRam!

Well, Im latinamerican (Am I the only one in Americasdebate?) currently living in Germany. While living in Venezuela (my country) I always thought of Latinamerica of part of the Western Countries/Western Culture (Venezuela in particular). Here in Germany, I was surprised to hear that it is not so!...there are people who don't think so (there are also many others that agree with me); And why not? Our cultures (Latinamerican countries are very similar but at the same time we have our differences) have been, since the american continent's discovery, influenced by european culture (spanish, portuguese, italian, english). Nowadays, US-American culture is also part of our culture (How do I love "friends"!!!). So guess what: I don't think our cultures are that different!.

So I ask myself: Why could it be that Latinamerica countries are not western countries?

It could be maybe because of religion?...I don't think so.......We are mostly catholics...as many european western countries are.....

Or is it because geographical location?.....Again it can not be the reason, since the USA is in the same continent as we are.

If the point is that latinamerican countries are emerging (developing) countries and not developed countries...then, the name "western culture" is not at all related to culture but to economy which would mean IMO that the term is bad used!
(After all there are already terms like developed countries, first world, third world, second world (in disuse), etc etc.....I find it also rather discriminatory and at best confusing!

So what do you think about it!?

huh.gif

Have a nice day!!!!

Well now that I am here, I found this:

From Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_countries): Western Countries:

QUOTE

Latin and South American countries are sometimes considered part of the West and sometimes not. Mainland China, the remainder of the Middle East, India, and Russia are generally not considered part of the West.

One should distinguish "Western society" from the socio-economic term "first world" in that, for example, South America is sometimes mentioned as a Western society, but much of it is poor. Japan is wealthy and part of the "first world" but is not Western from a cultural standpoint.



Totally Confusing!.....a very confusing World!!! online2long.gif

This post has been edited by giftzahn: Apr 29 2004, 09:12 AM
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