Hellenistic Greeks

Rosi

Historum Emeritas
Jul 2008
6,242
I've been reading about the Hellenistic culture and can't stop wondering how on earth the Greeks of that time got converted to Christianity? Whatever happened to "rationalism"? For a country that produced such influential philosophers and thinkers as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, (whose teachings were by no means ancient history by the time Paul came to Athens with the message of Chrisitianity) you would think the common people would have found the concept of religion hard to swallow. Isn't religion the end of rationalism? It's just so drastically opposite to philosophy, to the process of thinking for yourself and arriving at conclusions based on your own reason and senses, that I find it incredible that Christianity turned out to be such a roaring success in Greece of those times.

If I'm not mistaken, by the time Paul came there the Epicureans were in vogue, too. How could anybody give up such beliefs as those of the Epicureans, or even that of the numerous other philosophers, and instead start believing that God indeed exists and actually came back from dead? How is that any different in terms of outlandishness from the Greek mythology that the philosophers had tried to break away from and lead the people to think for themselves? What kind of mind rejects a tradition of reason and accepts religion in its place? Talk about reverse evolution.

I'm aware that later on Augustine and Aquinas did try to marry religion with Greek philosophy but I find their aruguments highly unconvincing. To me rationalism and religion are forever mutually exclusive. And any way, the ancient philosophers were dead already so it's not like they could have objected to their theories being mutated or modified later on. I don't think Plato and Aristotle would have approved of what Augustine and Aquinas did to their philosophies though.
 
Last edited:
Dec 2008
31
Hi Rosicrucian,
It actually wasn't the Hellenistic Greeks that converted to Christianity. The Hellenistic age ended about 30BC when the Romans came knocking. The conversion to Christianity was likely sometime around 200CE. But I understand the question...how can the Greeks, with a history of reason and logic, convert to Christianity.

Well, for starters, the Greeks, as a general population, never saw any established religion to go against reason and logic. They had many Gods, who did all kinds of weird and wonderful things. To them, this would have been very logical as it explained things their minds could not comprehend. It filled in the gaps, if you will, so they can better understand their environment.

Even though the Greeks had many philosophers and men of higher thought, for the most part the masses were uneducated and/or slaves. It is these people that religion appealed most to as it gave them hope for something better...which christianity would have given them in spades. There were also plenty of things in Christianity that the Greeks could easily have grasped onto and related too. For instance...Jesus being a man born of a God (Greek lore is rife with this kind of stuff), December 25th celebrating the birth of the man guy (December 25th is the Greek 'Day of the Geniae'. Greeks also honour Athene on this day...this is a huge day in Greek lore. Coincidence? I think not.)

Lastly though, and probably the most important, is the Roman conversion to Christianity. Greece was still a Roman province and, as is the case of most empires, as go the Emporer so goes the people.

It is only a very recent thought that religion and the concept of God is illogical. As our knowledge of the world and the universe expand, we have less reason to cling onto something unknown to explain the things around us. From the Ancient to Modern man, God was logical. If we try to apply our concepts of understanding to that time, we'll never fully understand them.
 

Rosi

Historum Emeritas
Jul 2008
6,242
Well, for starters, the Greeks, as a general population, never saw any established religion to go against reason and logic. They had many Gods, who did all kinds of weird and wonderful things. To them, this would have been very logical as it explained things their minds could not comprehend. It filled in the gaps, if you will, so they can better understand their environment.
But the first attempts at scientific reasoning, or using your mind if you will, stemmed from the fact that some people in Greece wanted to understand their world better. And in a way that did not draw from the established myths. Greece was ripe in mythology but with the philosophers came the clear cut trend of breaking away from presenting mythological or myth-based arguments to explain the goings-on in the natural world. Philosophy started with the "natural philosophers", right? It later on moved to an individual level. So the idea behind philosophy was, or so it would seem, not to let their many weird and wonderful gods be the answer to the basic questions in life.

And yet, with Christianity, that's exactly what happened. There was a fundamental shift in people's perception of "where did we come from". To me it looks a bit strange. Ironic, actually.

Sorry about the Hellenistic bit.
 
Dec 2008
31
I understand your point and it certainly makes sense but I think you may be over estimating the impact these philosophers had on their countrymen.
Their teachings were no doubt popular with the educated class in Ancient Greece. But for the most part, the Greek populace consisted of uneducated/poorly educated working class and a huge slave population. The ideas of philosophy were way over their heads and beyond their immediate concerns. I would be surprised if any more then say 10% of the population ever heard of Plato or Aristotle on more then a basic level.
Their teachings and ideas only really gained momentum with the coming of the Romans. I would say the philosophies of the Hellenistics were more influencial on them then they ever were on the Greeks themselves. With the coming of Chritianity to the Greeks, there were two factors that made the conversion really quick and easy. One being the fore mentioned huge population of un/under educted people...easy converts. The second being the upper class simply knowing what side their bread is buttered on. If they wanted to stay in Roman favor then they best follow suit with whatever way the wind is blowing.
Philosophy offered ideas...thoughts and theory. Christianity offered ever lasting life and a promise of something better in the after life. Pretty powerful ideas to the masses. They could make these ideas a reality by simply accepting their belief system...not too hard. Hell, gotta pray to someone might as well be the one that can give me everything I want in the after life.
 

Lucius

Forum Staff
Jan 2007
16,363
Nebraska
I think it's all too easy for people today to decide that belief in the pantheon of the gods of Olympus is no more outlandish that the tenets of Christianity. But people might have thought differently 2,000 years ago. I think that the converts were "ready for a better idea."
 

Rosi

Historum Emeritas
Jul 2008
6,242
I think it's all too easy for people today to decide that belief in the pantheon of the gods of Olympus is no more outlandish that the tenets of Christianity. But people might have thought differently 2,000 years ago. I think that the converts were "ready for a better idea."
Your last sentence reminds me of a dialogue from 'The Blood Diamond'.
"[Are you] here to make a difference?"
"Why are you here?"
"I'm here for the lack of a better idea." :D

My intention wasn't to hurt anybody's religious sensibilities. In fact, I even thought of putting a disclaimer of sorts in the original post to this effect. I'm just trying to approach the subject from a "rationalist" p.o.v.
 
Nov 2008
639
Melbourne, Australia
What kind of mind rejects a tradition of reason and accepts religion in its place? Talk about reverse evolution.
Lol, its easy to see what side your bread's buttered. I think you'll find that most religious humans are rational beings.

I'm aware that later on Augustine and Aquinas did try to marry religion with Greek philosophy but I find their aruguments highly unconvincing. To me rationalism and religion are forever mutually exclusive. And any way, the ancient philosophers were dead already so it's not like they could have objected to their theories being mutated or modified later on. I don't think Plato and Aristotle would have approved of what Augustine and Aquinas did to their philosophies though.
For me, science and religion are not mortal enemies. They are perfectly compatible. The temptation to say otherwise stems from the temptation to see Genesis as a Christian scientific account. Which it is not. Remember, the majority of Christian philosophers readily accept evolution. There are plenty of Christian scientists. I see no reason why scientists should be seen as experts on God anymore than priests should be seen as experts of science.

I see no reason why Greece would be more resistant to Christianity than any other culture. It had always been a very spiritual nation - the pantheistic beliefs were almost universal in Ancient Greece. Even if I accepted that a development from "rationalism" to Christianity as illogical, or "evolution in reverse", the average peasant of Greece was probably not as versed in Greek philosophy as your Socrates.
 
Nov 2008
69
Lincoln,UK
Put yourself in the mindset of a Helenistic Greek, the God's that you have known all your life are vengeful and see man as a pestilent neccessity in general, and along comes this other group telling of how their God is loving and kind, He forgives men for their sins, He even let his own son die to admonish man of their sins. I know which God I'd have chosen
 

Lucius

Forum Staff
Jan 2007
16,363
Nebraska
I think part of the problem is that there is a difference between rationalism and Rationalism. The first is a word with a definition in the dictionary - the second is a school of philosophy, one about which I know nothing.

Back in the olden days, people knew that the universe didn't create itself from nothing, and that good and evil are not figments of our imaginations, just as we do today (they were as smart as we are). From these two facts, they extrapolated that there is a God and that He is good. But beyond these two bald facts, we can only know what He tells us about himself, obviously.

Anyhow, I think the idea of there being one God instead of a pantheon of gods with competing agendas was the main attraction for the Greeks and others. I can only guess, but I'm thinking it would have been for me.
 

Rosi

Historum Emeritas
Jul 2008
6,242
It's not all as obvious as you guys are making it sound tbh. Or maybe it's more to do with our tendency to look for hidden patterns and explanations in everything that has happened in the past. Which implies that things actually evolved in a logical pattern. That's a very fallacious supposition. Coz in reality it might be that things just happened randomly here and there and may not have any logical (sometimes referred to as "obvious") progression to them. Blame it all on the "distorted lens of hindsight".