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Paganism, Christianity, and the Roots of the West

I remember being taught as a student of the considerable, if not unbridgeable, gap between the polytheistic pagans and the monotheistic Christians who, though they may have borrowed from their predecessors, eventually delivered a civilization completely of their own.  The roots of the West were supposed to lie in Christianity, which either invented a new world or shaped the pagan one into a new one.

I must confess I have become more and more unable to adhere to this view, as I find it increasingly obvious that, apart from one notable difference, the Christian and the pagan doctrines are essentially two different ways of expressing exactly the same vision of the world.

Who can conceive of a creature endowed with thought who does not try to make some sort of sense of the world around him?  Nevertheless, what is so notable about what came to be known as the Greek miracle was, some five or six centuries before Christ, on a teeny peninsula of the Mediterranean coast, the emergence of a city where, amidst the turmoil of its troubled life, a sort of devotion to the understanding of the world blossomed in a most extraordinary way.  There may have been elsewhere, and earlier, other endeavors, but a city has yet to appear where so many have considered nothing to be more important for a man to do than to understand the...

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