But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast that you may know how the LORD doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel (Ex. 11:7).
Basic to many of the ancient cultures was the distinction between “the people,” the group to which a citizen belonged, and “the others,” or “barbarians,” who were outside the covenantal membership. Egypt was no exception. John Wilson comments: “in their feeling of special election and special providence. The Egyptians called themselves ‘the people’ in contrast to foreigners.” So deeply embedded in Greek and Roman thought was the division between peoples, that classical legal theory recognized no common law within the city. “No one could become a citizen at Athens,” writes Fustel de Coulanges, “if he was a citizen in another city; for it was a religious impossibility to be at the same time a member of two cities, as it also was to be a member of two families. One could not have two religions at the same time. . . . Neither at Rome nor at Athens could a foreigner be a proprietor. He could not marry, or, if he married, his marriage was not recognized, and his children were reputed illegitimate. He could not make a contract with a citizen; at any rate, the law did not recognize such a contract as valid. The Roman law forbade him to inherit from a citizen, and even forbade a citizen to inherit from him. They pushed this principle so far, that if a foreigner obtained the rights of a citizen without his son, born before this event, obtaining the same favor, the son became a foreigner in regard to his father, and could not inherit from him. The distinction between citizen and foreigner was stronger than the natural tie between father and son.”
There was also the linguistic difference. The very term “barbarian” has its origins in Greek grammar. The Greeks spoke Greek, of course, while foreigners’ languages sounded like “bar bar”–incoherent, in other words. This, at least, is the standard explanation of the term, and it is repeated by the influential British historian of classical culture, H. D. F. Kitto, in the introduction to his book, The Greeks (1951). Both Kitto and C.M. Bowra argue that “barbarian” did not have a pejorative sense in Homer, but later the term came to mean inferior status. Gilbert Murray, whose Five Stages of Greek Religion (1925) is regarded as a classic, says that we can mark the origin of classical Greece with the advent of the cultural distinction between the Greek and the barbarian, when the Greek historian Herodotus could write that “the Hellenic race was marked off from the barbarian, as more intelligent and more emancipated from silly nonsense.” By the middle of the fifth century, B.C., the difference between Greek and barbarian, in the minds of the Greeks, was enormous.
The unity of man, which was assumed and announced architecturally at the tower of Babel, had been shattered by God when He confounded their language and scattered them. God’s restraint on the creation of a one-world State brought freedom to men–freedom to develop personally and culturally. Yet it also brought an audible distinction between men. This distinction is more fundamental than race, for races can mix, leaving few if any traces of their genetic past, but linguistic distinctions, at least in literate cultures, resist alterations, and even when linguistic changes occur, the written records of the past draw men’s thoughts and commitment back to a once distinct past. It was no accident that the perceived unity of the Roman Catholic Church was maintained by the Latin Mass, and it was not accidental that the historically unprecedented disruptions within that church which took place from the mid-1960’s onward were ultimately related to the successful efforts of the church’s religious liberals in abolishing the use of the Latin Mass.
Religious humanists, especially in the nineteenth century, sometimes have attacked this kind of division between men. Ludwig Feuerbach, whose book, The Essence of Christianity (1841), created a sensation and converted a whole generation of European intellectuals to atheism. Frederick Engels, Marxism’s co-founder, remarked once that, “One must himself have experienced the liberating effect of this book to get an idea of it. Enthusiasm was general; we all became at once Feuerbachians.” In this book, Feuerbach attacked Christianity’s concept of saved and lost. Such a view of man separates men from other men. Yet man is a unified ‘whole, a species being. In fact, Feuerbach said, God is really nothing more than man’s own thoughts, projected into the religious consciousness of men. “God is the human being; but he presents himself to the religious consciousness as a distinct being.” The Christian denies that man is God, and this is unforgivable. Even worse, Christians say that some men will be saved by God, and others will not be saved. “To believe is synonymous with goodness; not to believe, with wickedness. Faith, narrow and prejudiced, refers all unbelief to the moral disposition. In its view the unbeliever is an enemy to Christ out of obduracy, out of wickedness. Hence faith has fellowship with believers only; unbelievers it rejects. It is well-disposed towards believers, but ill-disposed towards unbelievers. In faith there lies a malignant principle.”
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)