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By embracing the culture of life and standing with those most marginalized and deemed "useless" or a "burden" on modern society, Christians can change the tone and direction of our culture. Anderson demonstrates that regardless of our differences, we can come together on the centrality of loving and caring for others. He brings a message of inclusion and hope in the midst of a clash of civilizations and provides a road map for helping Christians understand their role in the world.
The Power of Christ to Transform Culture
Pope John Paul II often spoke of the Christian's responsibility living in what he called the new "Areopagus of culture."1 The phrase recalls the apostle Paul's preaching to the citizens of Athens in the first century—one of the first great encounters of Christianity with pagan civilization. Today it is commonplace to speak of a "clash of civilizations." Several years ago, it was just as common to speak of "culture wars," and some people continue to do so. But such encounters between civilizations or cultural values are nothing new. They have happened over and over again in the course of history, in episodes that are sometimes cataclysmic, sometimes subtle, and almost unnoticed. One such moment is Paul's preaching in Athens as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.2 By recalling the Areopagus so often in the context of culture, I think John Paul II was suggesting to us that what St. Paul did in Athens remains an important model for every Christian in understanding the promise of Christ to transform culture.
Paul's visit took place probably sometime between A.D. 50 and 58.3 The setting was Athens, "the school of Greece."4 The Romans, who had ruled the city for over a hundred years, called it doctae Athenae, "learned Athens." For the Romans, Athens held a central place in the evolution of their culture. Here, wrote Cicero, "civilization, learning, religion . . . laws and institutions aresupposed to have arisen, and to have been disseminated over the whole earth."5 If Athens was the symbolic center of civilization, the center of activity in Athens was the Areopagus, the "hill of Ares."
Today the Areopagus, a rocky outcropping in the center of Athens, is chiefly a tourist site, from which one can photograph the much more famous and imposing Acropolis or the sprawling modern city below. In the first century, however, the Areopagus was the seat of the city's council, the core of its administrative and judicial system. Just as important, it was one of the places in which the Athenians gathered to indulge the restless curiosity for which they were so renowned. "All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new."6
In his discourse, St. Paul would not disappoint the Athenians in their expectation to hear something new. But he begins disarmingly by mentioning an altar he has seen in Athens to "an unknown god." Building such an artifact was a strange act of reverence, and Paul hints at the highly ambiguous nature of classical religion by saying that the Athenians must be "very religious"7—a word in the Greek original that could also be translated as "very superstitious." For the Greeks, the world was teeming with gods that inhabited the sky, the earth, and, it seemed, each tree and rock and stream. As charming as this may look to us, it had a sinister aspect. Any of these countless gods could be offended, bringing ruin to a city, and it was not always easy to tell which god might have been the culprit. So the Athenians hedged their bets with an altar to an "unknown god"—some deity that might have been overlooked in the crowd.
But the God of whom Paul speaks is not some minor spirit. He is the one, transcendent God in whom "we live, and move, and have our being,"8 and he does not dwell in temples or in statues made of silver and gold. Then Paul departs still more radically from the classical pagan mentality. He says that God has resurrected a man whom the world has killed, and it is this man who will judge the world in righteousness at the end of history, when, indeed, all the dead will be raised.
Paul's listeners hardly know what to make of his speech. Although their myths tell of a distant past in which the gods came down to earth and lived and even mated with humans, the Athenians have never heard such a claim made about a man who has lived in recent times. And while they were familiar with a full gamut of beliefs about the afterlife (including heaven, hell, and reincarnation), no one has ever proposed to them that the dead might rise again, or that God might intervene in human history and even bring it to an end. Some laugh at Paul; others put him off, saying, "We will hear you again about this."9 Only a few believe. Scholars and theologians have debated whether St. Paul's style of preaching at the Areopagus was effective—was it a success or a failure? But what I think is more important is what Paul is saying to us about Christian-ity's mission in regard to culture.
Although the Areopagus hill had extraordinary influence historically in regard to pagan culture, perhaps its greatest influence was its role in myth as the place signifying the dependence of human law upon divine law. This role was recorded in Aeschylus's great Greek tragic play The Eumenides (first produced in 458 B.C.). In his drama, Aeschylus portrays the founding of the council of the Areopagus as the result of a moral contest for the establishment of an entirely new order of community justice. Orestes, who has killed his own mother in retribution for her murdering Agamemnon, her husband and his father, is haunted by the Furies, who cry out for vengeance. The goddess Athena intervenes to supplant the rule of vengeance with the rule of law, thereby transforming the institutions of classical society. At the end of the play, the dark forces of the Furies are transmuted into the Eumenides—the "kindly ones of light." Those listening to Paul proclaim a new Gospel on the site of the Areopagus would no doubt have understood the parallel he was making. They would have seen him as proclaiming a new era in which the darkness of a society that worships before "the altar of the unknown god" gives way to a new order. The Christ whom God has raised from the dead is the one who will transform their culture and their history.A Civilization of Love
Posted January 14, 2009
This is a short book chalk full of information. Carl Anderson uses a good mix of scripture and church teaching coupled with his own analysis and thoughts relating to various topics. Each chapter is very relevant to living in our global society. You can see the differences from how the church and society as a whole interacted even a century ago. The whole point is to outline and discuss how we can live in harmony with one another and what that means for a Catholic.<BR/>The information is not fluff so be prepared to set aside quiet time to focus on the text and contemplate the discussion questions following each chapter. It would be a great book for a book group or for people wanting to learn more about the Catholic faith and its relationship to social issues today.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 8, 2008
Carl Anderson offers an in depth understanding of what it means to live a truly Christian based life. In our face paced world of business, it seems that many of us have lost sight of the most basic necessities of life -- love and hope. In his book, Anderson gives us simply steps to take in our own lives that can aid in leading us towards greater happiness personally, but also greater harmony amongst ourselves and those around us.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 5, 2008
Outstanding book! Written by an individual that would make a tremendous President of the United States. A very well written book that will give anyone new insights on how to bring sanity back to our troubled world.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.