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Sunday, February 24, 2013

We have not changed, more Roman History

I find history books fascinating, engrossing, riveting, compelling and provocative. I can’t put down my current read about the Roman Empire. One theme evident in all the history books is the consistency of human nature. Over thousands of years politicians are the same, soldiers are the same, bankers are the same and the regular people in the streets are the same. Our sense of morality has sifted, we value life differently than our ancestries who lived in a brutal and deadly world, they survived by maintaining the harshest beliefs and practices. A sudden unexpected death was common before the 20th century. Due to science we live in an age of uncommon security and freedom, I hope this trend continues forever.
While our environment has changed, we have not changed. The seven deadly sins listed in the Christian bible, our human vices and frailties, remain unchanged. I am as likely to self destruct by excessive greed as a Greek citizen from 400 BC.
Upon reflection I wonder why I was surprised to learn that humans have not changed, I had imaged the ancients as stupid brutes, and I had sniggered at their simplistic flat Earth beliefs. A thousand years from now will an educated reader snigger at my simplistic flat universe beliefs? Will she realize that my best information, my best theories, clearly indicate that the universe is flat? I feel she certainly will because she will be no different than me.
Other than this big surprise I find many little surprises. Edward Gibbon attributed the Fall of the Roman Empire to a moralistic decay, this has become the common belief, but is no longer accepted by historians. The Empire had been divided into the Western Empire, based in Rome, and the Eastern Empire, based in Constantinople (Currently Istanbul), and both had exactly the same moral and social structure. The Western Empire was destroyed while the Eastern Empire continued for another thousand years; clearly the moral decay explanation had problems. The Roman Emperor Diocletian (late third century AD) blamed the moral decay on the new religious faith of Christianity. The Christians had abandoned the morality of polytheism. He aggressively committed to saving Roman society by persecuting Christians, feeding them to lions in the coliseum, impounding their property, forcing conversion by torture, all that stuff we learned in Bible school as children, however, my Bible school instructor never mention that the Emperor was fighting a moral cause. I will not be teaching that part of history to my grandchildren, some truths must wait for adulthood.
The early Christian church had not settled fundamental epistemological questions. The biggest debate was the Trinity question, how would the church conceive and explain God, the Son of God and the Holy Spirit. I will not treat this history in detail, as I read the writings of the major ancient sects with their different ideas my mind bends and I find the solution beyond my comprehension, I realize the question exceeds the intellectual capacity of any human. Almost needless to say, the early Christian philosophers could not handle this mental feat any better. This is the part where I see the ancients as no different from the contemporary. The Bishops that had been persecuted before Emperor Constantine now started to persecute their fellow Bishops until one belief prevailed. Dead Bishops don’t argue and the debate was settled.
I find history fascinating and can’t stop reading. Already I am looking for my next book purchase.

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