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Posts Tagged ‘religion

“I’m completely in favor of the separation of Church and State… These two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death”*…

 

The Redeemed Christian Church of God’s international headquarters in Ogun state has been transformed from a mere megachurch to an entire neighbourhood, with departments anticipating its members’ every practical as well as spiritual need.

A 25-megawatt power plant with gas piped in from the Nigerian capital serves the 5,000 private homes on site, 500 of them built by the church’s construction company. New housing estates are springing up every few months where thick palm forests grew just a few years ago. Education is provided, from creche to university level. The Redemption Camp health centre has an emergency unit and a maternity ward.

On Holiness Avenue, a branch of Tantaliser’s fast food chain does a brisk trade. There is an on-site post office, a supermarket, a dozen banks, furniture makers and mechanics’ workshops. An aerodrome and a polytechnic are in the works.

And in case the children get bored, there is a funfair with a ferris wheel…

In Nigeria, the line between church and city is rapidly vanishing: “Eat, pray, live: the Lagos megachurches building their very own cities.”

* George Carlin

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As we re-read Max Weber, we might recall that it was on this date in 1545 that Renaissance writer, physician, humanist, monk, and Greek scholar François Rabelais received the permission of King François I to publish the Gargantua series– Gargantua and Pantagruel as we know it.  In fact, Rabelais’ wild mix of fantasy, satire, the grotesque, bawdy jokes, and songs had been circulating pseudonymously for years.  The censors of the Collège de la Sorbonne stigmatized it as obscene; and in a social climate of increasing religious oppression in a lead up to the French Wars of Religion, it had been treated with suspicion.

Rabelais wrote at a time of great ferment in the French language, and contributed mightily to it– both in coinage and in usage.  But his influence was even broader (Tristram Shandy, e.g., is full of quotes from Rabelais) and continues to this day via writers including Milan Kundera, Robertson Davies, and Kenzaburō Ōe.

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Written by LW

September 19, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The dog is a gentleman; I hope to go to his heaven not man’s”*…

 

The American religious landscape is undergoing a dramatic transformation. White Christians, once the dominant religious group in the U.S., now account for fewer than half of all adults living in the country. Today, fewer than half of all states are majority white Christian. As recently as 2007, 39 states had majority white Christian populations. These are two of the major findings from this report, which is based on findings from PRRI’s 2016 American Values Atlas, the single largest survey of American religious and denominational identity ever conducted…

From the non-profit, non-partisan, non-sectarian Public Religion Research Institute, a fascinating– and illuminating– report on the state of the sacred in the United States: “America’s Changing Religious Identity.”

[TotH to @timoreilly]

* Mark Twain

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As we direct our prayers, we might recall that it was on this date in 506 that the Council of Agde ended at the  the Basilica of St. Andrew ( in the Hérault , in Languedoc-Roussillon in France).  A gathering of Bishops from across the Visigothic Kingdom (roughly, Southwestern France and much of Spain), it issued 47 canons.  One forbade ecclesiastics to sell or alienate the property of the church whence they drew their living, and seems to be the earliest indication of the later system of benefices.  Another banned marriage between first and second cousins.

The Basilica of St. Andrew today

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Written by LW

September 10, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Religion is like a pair of shoes… Find one that fits for you, but don’t make me wear your shoes”*…

 

Procession of the Catholic Holy League on the Place de Grève, Paris, 1590-3 (oil on canvas). Such displays of intolerance became increasingly rare with the advent of the modern European state. [source]

Religious freedom has become an emblematic value in the West. Embedded in constitutions and championed by politicians and thinkers across the political spectrum, it is to many an absolute value, something beyond question. Yet how it emerged, and why, remains widely misunderstood.

According to the conventional narrative, freedom of religion arose in the West in the wake of devastating wars fought over religion. It was catalysed by powerful arguments from thinkers such as John Locke, Baruch Spinoza, Pierre Bayle and Voltaire. These philosophers and political theorists responded to the brutality of the religious wars with support for radical notions of toleration and religious freedom. Their liberal ideals then became embedded in the political institutions of the West, following the American and French Revolutions.

In broad outline, such is the account accepted by most political philosophers and social scientists. But the evidence does not support this emphasis on the power of ideas in shaping the rise of religious freedom, and underestimates the decisive role played by institutions…

Ideas were not enough to realise religious freedom. Crucially, it took political and institutional changes – specifically, the growth and strengthening of the ability of states to create and enforce rules – to make religious freedom in the West possible and appealing. It wasn’t the ideas of Bayle or Spinoza or Locke driving the rise of state power, it was the need to raise resources for governing and war. For the rising fiscal-military state, religious uniformity and persecution simply became too expensive and inefficient…

The first change was the transformation in the scale of European states. In the late Middle Ages, medieval rulers began to invest in building administrative capacity and to raise taxes more regularly. The most dramatic developments, however, occurred after 1500, as a result of developments in military technology that historians label the Military Revolution. This continent-wide arms race, brought on by the development of gunpowder, forced rulers to invest in greater fiscal and administrative capacity.

To pay for larger armies, new taxes had to be raised and a permanent system of government borrowing established. Moreover, there was a shift away from ad hoc, feudal and decentralised tax systems, and a move towards standardisation and centralisation. Rather than relying upon tax farmers, the church or merchant companies to raise taxes on their behalf, rulers invested in vast bureaucracies to do it directly. It was the only way they could pay for their ever-growing armies…

Economic changes complemented the rise of religious freedom, most notably the onset of modern economic growth. As in the Jewish example, greater freedom allowed religious minorities to flourish. French Protestants expelled by Louis XIV brought with them advanced skills and industrial expertise to England, the Netherlands and Prussia. In Industrial Revolution Britain, Quakers and other religious dissenters were overrepresented among businessmen, entrepreneurs and innovators.

The indirect consequences of moving from identity rules to general rules were even more important. Identity rules had limited the scope of trade and the division of labour. As these identity rules were removed – as guilds lost authority, and cities and lords lost their ability to charge internal tariffs – trade and commerce expanded.

The growth of trade, in turn, reinforced the trend towards liberalism. Trade, as Enlightenment thinkers such as Montesquieu argued, encouraged individuals to see the world through the positive-sum lens of mutual beneficial interaction rather than through the zero-sum lens of conflict. Religious freedom began to seem less like a recipe for social disorder and civil war, and more like a win-win proposition…

The history of how religious freedom came to be is a reminder that commitment to liberal values alone is not enough for liberalism to flourish. It requires a suitable political and economic foundation. As the experience of 1930s Germany suggests, religious persecution can quickly re-emerge. We cannot rely on liberal ideas alone to be effective. If we value religious freedom, and other achievements of liberalism, we must look to the vitality of their institutional foundations.

This fascinating essay in its entirety at: “Ideas were not enough.” (Note earlier examples of of religious freedom as both a tool and a result of statecraft, e.g., Genghis Khan’s building of the Mongol Empire.)

* George Carlin

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As we celebrate tolerance, we might send free-thinking birthday greetings to Tommaso Campanella; he was born on this date in 1568.  A Dominican friar, philosopher, theologian, astrologer, and poet, he was an early empiricist and a vocal critic of the Aristotelian orthodoxy (indeed, he wrote and published a defense of Galileo during the great astronomer’s ecclesiastical trial).  For his heterodoxy, he was denounced to the Inquisition and imprisoned.

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Written by LW

September 5, 2017 at 1:01 am

“God has no religion”*…

 

Your correspondent is off for his annual sojourn in the land of dunes and deep-fried food (this year, with a glimpse of the eclipse); regular service should resume on or around August 28.  Meantime…

Not since the angel Gabriel visited Muhammad in a cave around 610 AD, informing him that he is God’s prophet, has there been a new globally influential religion with hundreds of millions of followers. Though the world’s religions are very dynamic, and major faiths continue to shift and evolve in ritual and doctrine, the world today is dominated by the same four faiths that dominated the globe a millennium ago: Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. According to a 2012 Pew study, 92 percent of religiously affiliated people around the globe belong to one of these four faiths.

While some relatively recent faiths have succeeded in recruiting millions of followers—such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormonism), Scientology, and Baha’i—their numbers of adherents are dwarfed in scale by these earlier four. The Baha’i, for example, are a relatively numerous recent faith with an estimated 7 million adherents. That sounds impressive, but it still means that just 0.1 percent of humanity has joined Baha’ism—and the faith has been around for 150 years (since 1863).

Faiths, of course, don’t have to be numerous to deliver spiritual sustenance to their followers, or even to be influential, as Judaism (a religion of 14 million) shows. Still, the small scale of new faiths over the past 1,500 years since Islam raises a question: Why, if creating new faiths is an inextinguishable feature of the human condition, have new religions had such limited recent success?…

The story of one imprisoned prophet illustrates the difficulties of getting a “baby religion” off the ground: “Why Are There No New Major Religions?

C.F. also: Britannica‘s piece on New Religious Movements.

* Mahatma Gandhi

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As we direct our prayers, we might spare a thought for Genghis Khan, nee Temüjin; he died on this date in 1227.  The founder of founder of the Mongol Empire (which became the largest contiguous empire in history after his death), he launched the Mongol invasions that conquered most of Eurasia, bringing the Silk Road under cohesive political control.  Though renown for the brutality of his campaigns, he practiced meritocracy– and religious freedom.

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Written by LW

August 18, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Dimension regulated the general scale of the work, so that the parts may all tell and be effective”*…

 

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Readers will know of your correspondent’s fascination with relative scale– c.f., “Scaling Away,” “Putting vegetables to exquisite use,” and “Nothing can better cure the anthropocentrism that is the author of all our ills than to cast ourselves into the physics of the infinitely large (or the infinitely small),” for example.

Now, from Orteil, an addition to the collection: Nested.  Click away…

* Vitruvius

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As we survey size, we might spare a thought for Saint Thomas Aquinas; he died on this date in 1274. A Dominican friar, Catholic priest, and Doctor of the Church, he was an immensely influential philosopher, theologian, and jurist in the tradition of Scholasticism.  Following Aristotle’s definition of science as sure and evident knowledge obtained from demonstrations, Thomas defined science as the knowledge of things from their causes. In his major work, Summa, he distinguished between demonstrated truth (science) and revealed truth (faith).  His influence on Western thought is considerable; much of modern philosophy (especially ethics, natural law, metaphysics, and political theory) developed with reference– in support or opposition– to his ideas.

Thomas, from an altarpiece in Ascoli Piceno, Italy, by Carlo Crivelli (15th century)

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Written by LW

March 7, 2017 at 1:01 am

“It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to have to paint it”*…

 

xkcd

* Steven Wright (again)

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As we rethink relationships, we might recall that it was on this date in 362 that the Roman Emperor Julian issued an edict to guaranteeing  freedom of religion– proclaiming that all the religions were equal in the Law.  An attempt to buffer the Roman Empire from growing pressure from Christians to become the state religion, his order was an attempt to restore Rome’s original religious eclecticism, according to which the State did not impose any religion on its provinces.  During his life he was known as “Julian the Philosopher”; subsequent Christian historians refer to him as Julian the Apostate.

In 380 CE, Emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the Empire’s sole authorized religion. Still, there was schism, as the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy, and the Catholic Church each claimed to be the authentic form of Christianity.

Portrait of Emperor Julian on a bronze coin from Antioch minted 360–363

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Written by LW

February 4, 2017 at 1:01 am

“I think it would be a good idea”*…

 

Culture – like religion and nation and race – provides a source of identity for contemporary human beings. And, like all three, it can become a form of confinement, conceptual mistakes underwriting moral ones. Yet all of them can also give contours to our freedom. Social identities connect the small scale where we live our lives alongside our kith and kin with larger movements, causes, and concerns. They can make a wider world intelligible, alive, and urgent. They can expand our horizons to communities larger than the ones we personally inhabit. But our lives must make sense, too, at the largest of all scales. We live in an era in which our actions, in the realm of ideology as in the realm of technology, increasingly have global effects. When it comes to the compass of our concern and compassion, humanity as a whole is not too broad a horizon.

We live with seven billion fellow humans on a small, warming planet. The cosmopolitan impulse that draws on our common humanity is no longer a luxury; it has become a necessity…

From “There is no such thing as western civilisation,” an excerpt from the edited version of Kwame Anthony Appiah’s BBC Reith lecture, “Culture,” the fourth part of the series Mistaken Identities.

* Mahatma Gandhi, when asked what he thought of Western civilization (widely quoted, but possibly apocryphal)

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As we take E.M. Forster’s advice (Howard’s End), “only connect, we might send recently-reformed birthday wishes to Augustine of Hippo, AKA St. Augustine; he was born on this date in 354. Augustine famously came to his faith later in life, after a youth filled with worldly experience… including a long engagement (to an underaged girl– to wit the length), for which he left the concubine who was the love of his life, “The One”– and which he broke off just before the wedding.

After his embrace of the faith, Augustine became a theologian and philosopher whose writings (e.g., The City of God and Confessions) were hugely influential in the development of… western civilization.

Imagined portrait by Philippe de Champaigne (17th cen.)

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Written by LW

November 13, 2016 at 1:01 am

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