Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Turning Point

As we observe how cultures and civilizations consciously re-design themselves over the centuries, occasional short texts can crystallize and highlight the developments. Take, for example, a quote from Homer, as the characters in his book contemplate their gods:

This is the lot the gods have spun for miserable men, that they should live in pain, yet themselves have no sorrow.

Homer's words capture a view of life as it was common before the development of Western Civilization or the Judeo-Christian tradition. Consider the contrasts: Homer's gods formed a "lot" for man, meaning that there was a fixed destiny or fate; now, in European culture, we see that there is chance for change, that people can influence their futures. Rather than a dispassionate deity contemplating our suffering, we have a concept of a God who is saddened by our suffering, and who voluntarily accompanies us in that suffering.

This change in society's concept of God over the centuries fuels the change in other social notions: that it is good to help the poor, that it is good to work for peace and seek to end wars.