We currently live in dire times politically, spiritually and philosophically. Our world has experienced tragedy in its most horrific form over the centuries. Many historic personas have been sacrificed at the altar of fanaticism. Fundamentalism is a kind of extremism which indicates unwavering attachment to a set of irreducible beliefs. After all, the practices of religion (and not its philosophy) have plagued our culture since the beginning of time. Religion could have actually worked in a utopian world where it is not mixed with politics, profit and above all hatred. Faith is a political weapon well used until now that seeks destruction and disorder in its endeavor to harvest power and demand submission.
The film under discussion, Agora, is another proof how fundamentalism is actually to blame for our civilization making steps backward
into the dark instead of embracing the light that could lead to unity and progress. The central character, Hypatia of Alexandria of Greek descent, should be considered as one of the many martyrs (Giordano Bruno being a more contemporary victim as well) that gave their lives for their beliefs and their trust in humanity. However, they have been sentenced to brutal deaths and their contribution to extinction since not many people know of their existence nowadays. History is written by the winners, they say. But what if the victory of fanaticism and blinkered adherence has been the total defeat of culture and humanism? Modern history is a testament to that inquiry. Muslims, Christians and Jews are still trapped in an endless vicious cycle of fighting, trying to overpower each other to the detriment of everyone.
But first, a few words about the identity of Hypatia. She was a devoted astronomer, philosopher, and mathematician in charge of the Neoplatonic School of Alexandria. That school was one of the few remaining open-minded institutes until the waves of applied Christianity swept away every inch of religious and philosophical diversity. Alexandria was a pagan city with its Pharaohs and its zoomorphic gods but it was also the centre of knowledge and wisdom. Regardless of the general context, Hypatia was a free spirit not adhering to religion but only to ideas that explore life on this planet through devotion on philosophy and sciences. Maybe that was her crime. Being an advocate of free speech and thought, she seemed like an obstacle to the emerging Christian community which, by then, had the support of the Christian Emperor Theodosius.
Hypatia of Alexandria teaches us virtues and ideas that if followed, all the people of this world would be equal and leading a life of genuine freedom. The only hunger in our lives would be the need to learn more about the world but critically view the world and doubt facts. In this world, nothing is given, thus the world constantly should redefine theories and beliefs in order to understand the higher order of the universe and unlock its secrets. Hypatia was one of the countless souls sacrificed for their causes. She was accused of witchcraft, an illogical accusation which would have a really successful comeback during the Dark Ages when the witch hunts flourished as a misogynistic sadistic kind of extermination. Hypatia’s life was seized by flagellation and not by the later dominant death of burning on the stake. Most of her later work on astronomy and math has been lost sadly along with her own life. Our world could have been much different if her theories, which were proven after centuries, were explored during her time.
In the film, we see a very extremist Christian movement called the Parabalani who abused their power and used violence to impose their belief on the pagans. Let me clarify here that violence is not inherent in religion and that Christianity is not judged as a philosophy. The Pagans were as violent as the Christians. However, Parabalani whose name (ironically to me) means “the ones who risk their lives as nurses” should have known better. Helping a life does not entitle you to claim one. Apart from the intense killing, the destruction of libraries and monuments shows how the Christians (in this case) were spiritually impoverished and driven by pure hatred. Centuries of knowledge of philosophy, astronomy and other sciences perished in the name of God. If there is God, I don’t really think that he would favour the destruction of civilizations and the religious reign of terror…
The reason behind writing this article is to remind us of the great mind of Hypatia as well as to awaken us regarding the dangers of fundamentalism. People with pacifistic views who feel the urge to expand their horizons and improve life for everyone should be our most precious treasures. Look behind the politics, racism, interests and propaganda to find that there must still be people who fight for a better world. Like Jan Huss (a true reformer of religion pictured on the side) in the 15th century, Michael Servetus (a Renaissance humanist) in the 16th century and Baruch Spinoza (a great rationalist) in the 17th century, there will always be people who are hunted down and sometimes killed for their beliefs. That is the reason we have to honor their fight and their revolutionary perspectives on scientific, intellectual and religious matters. Not necessarily for what they represent until the smallest detail but for the doors they managed to open for humanity.
In her own words, Hypatia addresses fundamentalism and the dangers of it on humanity by saying in public: “All formal dogmatic religions are fallacious and must never be accepted by self-respecting persons as final”. Thus, religion should be seen critically and under the scope of how it can improve life and civilization. The dark ages were marked by spiritual despair because religion was in control of every aspect of life. Turning back to those times will bring our demise physically and spiritually. So, let’s not turn out back to knowledge by holding on to archaic ideas and dangerous interpretations of holy books.