In the three religious figures of Saul of Tarsus, Augustine and Mohammed we have similarities not only in their individual conversions to their respective faiths but also in their attempted conversion of a worldview that takes on the challenge of combining one or more elements of the cultures that have come before and led the way to answer the question of how to live a meaningful life. For Saul of Tarsus and Augustine the end result is nearly the same in that they both looked to create a world in which Christianity is the primary, if not only, way of life. Mohammed, on the other hand, looked to create a world in which a more complete and corrected version of Christianity, the worship of Allah known as Islam, would become the dominate worldview.
“Moses wrote of Him: this He says, who is Truth.” (Augustine 2006) All three figures whole heartedly believed in this statement, in all respects. They all came from a religious standpoint, once their personal conversions had taken place, that the text of the Hebrew scriptures revealed the belief that God is Truth, that there is no other truth but the one and only God. In this way, all three of the men are in agreement on the basis for the worldview they believed to not only be right but also the truth that should be spread in order to create one worldview, one total worldview that could be and should be espoused by all people.
Saul of Tarsus, according to Professor Ambrosio, lived a life that reflected the bidirectional nature of one identity, the Greek identity, influencing and transforming a second identity, that of Christianity. In this, the heroic ideal changes the Christian ideal and vice versa. Saul of Tarsus had been well educated in Greek language and culture before his conversion to Christianity took place. After Saul’s conversion, he spent the rest of his life preaching as an apostle of Christ to Gentiles, instead of Jews. Once Rome got wind of this preaching, he was brought up on charges of creating unrest in the Roman dominion. In a direct reflection of citizenship in the Greek tradition, Saul is aware of his rights to be heard by the secular authority and to face a trial as such. Saul, by then known as Paul, died for his beliefs. He lived out his life as a Greek hero would. While the heroic standard in the Greek tradition would not have been focused on spreading Christianity, it would focus on the living out of one’s fate, one’s destiny to the end, to the death, if necessary. Paul did exactly this. Just as Socrates before him, he did not bow down to the powers that be in civil judgment for fear of losing his life. He, instead, battled back with the knowledge that he was doing what must be done in order to live a life of personal integrity.
Augustine lived at a time of relative peace in Christianity. He would have no need for martyrdom as Saul did. Augustine’s reflection of the Greek ideal came with his personal struggle, just as the Greeks believed that life was a struggle. During the course of his life, Augustine took on many different roles, eventually becoming a leader and teacher in a culture that was shifting from Roman imperialism to Christianity as the dominant force. According to Professor Ambrosio, the theme of searching for God and self is prevalent in Augustine’s most renowned work “Confessions”. According to Augustine, it is human pride that thwarts the search for God and self. It is in this thwarting that the struggle of life takes place. One must work to overcome their pride in order to know God and by extension, know themselves. In the Greek tradition, knowing oneself and living that knowing out was of utmost importance. Just as Saul of Tarsus had been before him, he was well educated in Greek and Roman tradition and this influence is seen in his writings as well as how he lived his life after his personal conversion. He believed as Socrates believed, that personal responsibility was a key to a meaningful life. In his own words, which very nearly echo the voice of Socrates in Apology, “I would much rather say ‘I don’t know,’ when I don’t, than hold one up to ridicule who had asked a profound question and win applause for a worthless answer.” (Augustine 2006)
Mohammed, had he been living at the time of the Greeks, would have been a man living as the heroic ideal, almost to the point of perfection aside from the obvious fundamental belief in the worldview of the saint. As the model for all believers in Islam, the “living Quran”, according to Professor Ambrosio’s lecture, he is living the parallel to that of Socrates, who lived out the question of the meaning of life. He also lived as a parallel to the heroic concept of agon, the idea that life is a struggle. For Mohammed, this struggle is known as jihad. As the Prophet for his followers, he struggles in order to bring back truth and revelation to his people. His teachings have a strong root in the idea of justice, just as the Greek tradition did. He takes a journey in his jihad, committing to a way of life that is known as Islam, the submission of the people and self to Allah. This living out of his truth reflects directly the spirit of the Greek heroic ideal.
All three of these men, living out their beliefs as a whole and entire way of being as well as their conversion of self and others, provide examples, if not perfect models (as in Mohammed’s case) for the people who would eventually become their followers. While none of them claimed to be a god or anything more than man living the way of truth as they saw it, the people they influenced in the way of this truth spread out far and wide and in many ways, it was successful though none of them would reach the dream state of totalitarian belief, one world view during their lifetimes or even in the generations that have come after. While what the future holds remains to be seen, the influence of these men on the west is undeniable and in all three of their lives some of their example either parallels or outright lives the heroic ideal of the Greek tradition.
Ambrosio, F. Philosophy, Religion, and the Meaning of Life (The Great Courses Series). Lecture 12.
Ambrosio, F. Philosophy, Religion, and the Meaning of Life (The Great Courses Series). Lecture 13.
Ambrosio, F. Philosophy, Religion, and the Meaning of Life (The Great Courses Series). Lecture 14.
Augustine (2006). Confessions. Classics of Western Philosophy, 7th ed, 374. 377.