While reading Mary Read’s SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, I was transported to my brief time at St. John’s College. A decade ago I struggled to bridge the intellectual, cultural and ideological gap I perceived between a Hellenic and a Christian Western civilisation. While I endeavoured to span the chasm, my cohorts made the transition seemingly without a hitch.
For me, the transition between these two antipodes required a giant leap of faith or rather a millennium-long medieval period to make sense of such a progression. And herein lies my issue with St. John’s College and its “Great Books” curriculum: while I examined the works, my classmates took a teleological approach to the development of Western civilisation. To my exasperation, no-one questioned the jump from reason to faith. While everyone else made the paradigm shift, I was left behind.
I saw the same phenomenon when we analysed the Bible. While my fellow Johnnies did not object to the idea presented in one of our Bible seminars that the New Testament had superseded the Old Testament and that Jesus was the Messiah, I expressed my disagreement with such a view. Again, I required evidence other than “this is how it happened” to convince me. What in the work corroborates these assertions? The fact that we were living in for all intents purposes a Christian society and Jesus is considered the Son of God did not make it so for me. Moreover, such type of thinking went against the St. John’s College ethos.
Perhaps my excessive zeal for examination is the reason why I was a failure as a Johnnie.