Wednesday, January 25, 2017

About Will Durant!

“Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it. The Greek mind dying, came to a transmigrated life.”

So said the famed historian Will Durant; and a lot of Mormons seem to agree! The writings of Will Durant have held considerable fascination for some LDS writers and speakers in the past, and some older generation LDS especially have tended to reference him with admiration and approval. The Latest example from a prominent LDS is the following quote from Elder Quentin L Cook, in his October 2016 General Conference address titled, “Valiant in the Testimony of Jesus”:

“We know the Apostasy occurred in part because the philosophies of men were elevated over Christ’s basic, essential doctrine. Instead of the simplicity of the Savior’s message being taught, many plain and precious truths were changed or lost. In fact, Christianity adopted some Greek philosophical traditions to reconcile people’s beliefs with their existing culture. The historian Will Durant wrote: “Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it. The Greek mind, dying, came to a transmigrated life.”* Historically, and in our own day, some people reject the gospel of Jesus Christ because, in their view, it doesn’t have adequate intellectual sophistication.” (*Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, vol. 3, Caesar and Christ (1944), 595.)

That quote from Will Durant is given out of context. The context of it is as follows:

“Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it. The Greek mind dying, came to a transmigrated life in the theology and liturgy of the Church; . . . From Egypt came the ideas of a divine trinity, the Last Judgement, and a personal immortality of reward and punishment; . . . from Syria [came] the resurrection drama of Adonis; from Thrace, perhaps [from] the cult of Dionysus, [came] the dying and saving god. From Persia came millenarianism, the ‘ages of the world,’ the ‘final conflagration,’ the dualism of Satan and God, of Darkness and Light. Already in the fourth Gospel Christ is the ‘Light shining in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.’ . . . Christianity was the last great creation of the ancient pagan world.” (Will and Ariel Durant, The Story of Civilization)

In this passage Will Durant is questioning the most fundamental tenets of the Christian faith, including those of Mormonism. He is undermining the following fundamental doctrines of Christianity—including LDS doctrine—attributing them all paganism:

1. The Trinity or Godhead (including how it is understood by Latter-day Saints).
2. The last judgement.
3. The resurrection of Jesus Christ.
4. The resurrection of all mankind, followed by a judgement.
5. The Atonement and Redemption of Jesus Christ.
6. The sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.
7. Millenarianism (i.e. the millennial ages of the world, as in Rev. 20:2–7; D&C 77:6–12; 88:101–110).
8. The duality of Satan and God.
9. The separation of light and darkness as taught in the Gospel of John (John 1:5; 3:19; 8:12; 12:35, 46; 1 John 1:5; 2:8–9).
10. Of Jesus being the “light that shins in darkness, . . .” (John 1:5; also Matt. 4:16; Luke 1:79; John 8:12).

When Durant condemns Christianity for adopting paganism, he is referring to all of the above. He is saying that all the above doctrines came from paganism and the religious philosophies of Egypt, Syria, Thrace, Persia; and from the cult of Dionysus, and the resurrection drama of Adonis etc.—and Elder Cook apparently agrees!

Will Durant believed that the Apostles Paul and John were influenced by pagan philosophies of the day. Here is a quote:

“Mithraism, Neoplatonism, Stoicism, Cynicism, and the local cults of municipal or rustic gods . . . these mystic ideas left their mark on the apostles Paul and John.” (Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, The Age Of Faith, ch 1, p 9)

In another part of his talk Elder Cook makes the following remarks:

“The Apostle Paul was a sure witness of Jesus Christ because of a miraculous and life-changing experience with the Savior. Paul’s unique background prepared him to relate to people of many cultures. He loved the ‘frank simplicity’ of the Thessalonians and the ‘tender sympathy’ of the Philippians. He initially found it more difficult to relate to the intellectual and sophisticated Greeks. In Athens on Mars’ Hill, he attempted a philosophical approach and was rejected. To the Corinthians he determined to simply teach ‘the doctrine of Christ crucified.’ To use the Apostle Paul’s own words:

“‘And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: 

“‘That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.’”

In this passage Elder Cook shows considerable lack of insight in the scriptures and into the words of Paul that he is commenting on. None of his observations in that statement are correct. Paul did not “attempt a philosophical approach” at Athens. On the contrary, to the philosophers at Mars Hill he spoke by the power of the Holy Ghost, and preached one of the greatest inspired sermons recorded in the New Testament—but he spoke to them in a language that was suited to his audience.

Paul did not “find it more difficult to relate to the intellectual and sophisticated Greeks,” nor was his comment to the Corinthians intended to be such an acknowledgement. Paul made himself “all things to all men” to gain as many as he could (1 Cor. 9:19-23). To the Jews he became a Jew, to the Greeks he became a Greek. To the weak he became weak, and to the strong he became strong. To the philosophers he became a philosopher, and to simple people he became simple. It does not mean that his approach to the Greeks was therefore a mistake and he was now determined to do better; or that his approach to the philosophers was a cause for regret and he was now minded to do differently.

In these statements, and in his endorsement of Will Durant Elder Cook displays considerable lack of insight into the scriptures and into divine truth. I put it down to his lack of experience as a new Apostle. Hopefully as he gains more experience he will learn to do better in the future.

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