пятница, 7 февраля 2014 г.

Burn, heretic? (the Alexandrian library and its lessons)

There was once a huge library in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. It was founded by the Ptolemy I or II in the 3rd century BC and was at the height of its development up until about 30 BC. The Alexandrian library was a storehouse of ancient knowledge and would have included a copy of the translated Old Testament Scriptures (the Septuagint) as well as countless works of art and science. It was later moved to a pagan temple, the Serapeum. There are various versions of who burnt it down: the Romans (AD 48 or AD 270s), the Muslims (642), but - I am ashamed to say - the Christians were also implicated and it may have been the Coptic bishop of Alexandria, Theophilus, who in 391 ordered or turned a blind eye to the burning of the library, by the Christian mob (including monks)

What is the significance of the burning of the Serapeum?  

As an amateur historian and also as a Christian who believes in tolerance this act makes me very uncomfortable. But, perhaps more than that, I think it reflects a certain train of thought which is dangerous both within the church and without. And it can be summed up in a sentence, "I am right." Now, don't get me wrong; I am not a relativist. I don't believe that the truth doesn't matter, nor indeed that the truth is not knowable. I believe that Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life. But I am also aware that once someone gets it in their head not just the truth is knowable, but that they - personally and in principle - are right, something goes wrong

For one thing I don't believe that my faith excludes truth outside the confines of those who share it. All truth is God's truth. And there is much that is true and praiseworthy which is not Christian. Because God, as well as being the Saviour of the church in Christ is also the Creator of all through that same Christ. And to deny - or even be suspicious of - everything outside of the church is to deny that God is Creator. If you want to give it a scary name it is crypto-gnosticism. What's more just because the truth is in Jesus, doesn't mean my knowledge of it is infallible or complete. 

That means that I have got to keep listening. Listening to God in his Word. But also listening to people who disagree with me and whom I disagree with. I can't disount them and their views ("They would say that, wouldn't they!"). I can't isolate myself in my own in-group. If I do so it is bad for me and for others. 

Now, the problem isn't just in the church. There are other in-groups which share values and a meta-narrative and which are in danger of closing themselves off - or of trying to strongarm everyone else onto their side. You know who you are. Richard Dawkins fans. The LGBT community. The PC and equality lobby. The family values conservatives and nationalists in various guises. There are others. 

I think the lesson is this: don't stop listening to those who disagree with you. That dissenting voice is good for you. Embrace it, even if you don't agree with it. 

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