P13-Yet civilisations have identities... Frequently, one of these is a special way of looking at authority and the cosmos. Civilisations usually express their agreement about such matters in myths or religious structures, bodies of inherited images and metaphors. Until our own day, all civilisation has had some sort of ordered religious belief at its core. Such beliefs are often among the most important ties holding them together. Shared assumptions lie at the heart of a civilisation. Consequently, the differences between civilisations are outstanding evidence that people are capable of living in very different ways. Such differences go very deep indeed. They are not just a matter of how you dress and what you eat, but about what you think eating means, about the way you conceive the natural world about you and the stars above you, about what you owe to your rulers, your slaves and servants, your community, your family and yourself. They are about faith and myth, and faiths and myths profoundly divide and differentiate human beings.For most of the last five thousand years there have been several distinct civilisations living in the same world but apart, side by side. Until very recent times, there was often not much interplay between many of them. Even when in direct geographical contact, or locked in open conflict, they seem always to have been separated by invisible membranes which, though permeable enough to permit some cross-fertilisation, have proved immensely tough and enduring. Civilisations have co-existed for centuries, even sharing land frontiers, but still passing little to one another which led to any essential change in either. Their own unique natures remained intact.....One way of measuring how much richer and more varied human life became as the centuries go by is provided by very simple, everyday objects. Wheelbarrows do much the same sort of job in countries all around the world... Yet some wheelbarrows are very unlike others. The kind of wheelbarrow the Chinese have used for thousands of years looks very different from its European equivalent... It is a local answer to a universal problem; the same technical job does not always have to be done in the same way. Even within a single country such as England spades come in many shapes and sizes. All spades are used for digging; but different local materials, different craft traditions and different soils have led to widely varying designs...Similarly, buildings have always had to do much the same jobs; they were meant to shelter, protect or impress....Men are not only restricted by materials; they also take account of tradition and models, whether by following or rejecting them... ... are all religious buildings, but they are utterly unlike one another except in the implicit respect their builders showed for the laws of physics...... At a very deep level language itself divides men and makes them different. It is not just that grammatical structures, vowel sounds, accents vary enormously. The differences of language go deeper than these. They literally make (or fail to make) some thoughts possible.
P47.... When nineteenth-century Englishmen set about rebuilding the Houses of Parliament after the old Palace of Westminster had been burnt down, they did so in mock-medieval style; they used new ideas and iron and glass for their railway stations and the Crystal Palace, but wanted their parliament building to express the continuities of an ancient constitution. So they turned to Gothic and stone, as they did for many other public and civic buildings........I believe that two central myths can be found at the heart of the western view of history. One is the idea that men are, in some sense, able to take charge of their own destinies: they are autonomous. The other is the idea that history is meaningful because it has direction; it is going somewhere....These two ideas, myths, visions, or whatever we wish to call them, appear to originate in two traditions older than our own, the Graeco-Roman and the Judaic. This is where the roots of western civilisation have long been recognised to lie. The two traditions come together most visibly in Christianity.........Selection can lead to over-idealisation of the Greek world, even at its splendid peak... Different elements were predominant in it at different times and many of the most primitive and irrational among them survived into the Christian era alongside some of its greater achievements.