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Posts Tagged ‘religious freedom

“No Man is wise at all Times, or is without his blind Side”*…

Lucas Cranach the Elder: Martin Luther, circa 1532; Hans Holbein the Younger: Portrait of Erasmus, 1523

Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, the leading figure of the Northern Renaissance, is widely considered the greatest of early humanists. Five hundred years ago, he faced a populist uprising led by a powerful provocateur, Martin Luther, that resulted in divisions no less explosive than those we see in America and Europe today.

Between 1500 and 1515, Erasmus produced a small library of tracts, textbooks, essays, and dialogues that together offered a blueprint for a new Europe. The old Europe had been dominated by the Roman Church. It emphasized hierarchy, authority, tradition, and the performance of rituals like confession and taking communion. But a new order was emerging, marked by spreading literacy, expanding trade, growing cities, the birth of printing, and the rise of a new middle class intent on becoming not only prosperous but learned, too.

Erasmus became the most articulate spokesman for this class…

Around the same time that the Erasmians were celebrating the dawn of a new enlightened era, a very different movement was gathering in support of Martin Luther. An Augustinian friar then in his early thirties, Luther had developed his own, unique gospel, founded on the principle of faith. Man, he thought, can win divine grace not through doing good works, as the Latin Church taught, but through belief in Christ. No matter how sincerely one confessed, no matter how many alms one gave, without faith in the Savior, he reasoned, no one can be saved. When Luther made this “discovery,” in around 1515, he felt that he had become “altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.”…

Initially, Luther admired Erasmus and his efforts to reform the Church, but over time Luther’s inflammatory language and his stress on faith instead of good works led to a painful separation. The flashpoint was the debate over whether man has free will. In dueling tracts, Erasmus suggested that he does, while Luther vehemently objected; after that, the two men considered each other mortal enemies.

Beyond that immediate matter of dispute, however, their conflict represented the clash of two contrasting world views—those of the Renaissance and the Reformation. Erasmus was an internationalist who sought to establish a borderless Christian union; Luther was a nationalist who appealed to the patriotism of the German people. Where Erasmus wrote exclusively in Latin, Luther often used the vernacular, the better to reach the common man. Erasmus wanted to educate a learned caste; Luther, to evangelize the masses. For years, they waged a battle of ideas, with each seeking to win over Europe to his side, but Erasmus’s reformist and universalist creed could not match Luther’s more emotional and nationalistic one; even some of Erasmus’s closest disciples eventually defected to Luther’s camp. Erasmus became an increasingly marginal figure, scorned by both Catholics, for being too critical of the Church, and Lutherans, for being too timid. In a turbulent and polarized age, he was the archetypal reasonable liberal…

As Mark Twain is reputed to have observed, “history doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes”– the Renaissance vs. the Reformation: “Luther vs. Erasmus: When Populism First Eclipsed the Liberal Elite.”

* Desiderius Erasmus, The Alchymyst, in Colloquies of Erasmus, Volume I

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As we celebrate critical thinking, we might recall that it was on this date in 380 that the three Emperors of the Roman Empire issued the Edict of Thessalonica, ordering all subjects of the Empire to profess the faith of the bishops of Rome and of Alexandria, making Nicene Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire and effectively creating “Christendom.”   It ended a period of religious tolerance that had been formalized in 313 when the emperor Constantine I, together with his eastern counterpart Licinius, had issued the Edict of Milan, which granted religious toleration and freedom for persecuted Christians.

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“I must begin, not with hypothesis, but with specific instances, no matter how minute”*…

 

Paul Klee’s notebooks (notes for the classes he taught at the Bauhaus)– 3,900 pages of them– digitized and made available online by the Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern.

* Paul Klee

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As we get specific, we might recall that this was a bad day for inclusiveness in Massachusetts in 1635: the General Court of the then-Colony banished Roger Williams for speaking out for the separation of church and state and against the right of civil authorities to punish religious dissension and to confiscate Indian land.  Williams moved out to edge of the Narragansett Bay, where with the assistance of the Narragansett tribe, he established a settlement at the junction of two rivers near Narragansett Bay, located in (what is now) Rhode Island. He declared the settlement open to all those seeking freedom of conscience and the removal of the church from civil matters– and many dissatisfied Puritans came. Taking the success of the venture as a sign from God, Williams named the community “Providence.”

Williams stayed close to the Narragansett Indians and continued to protect them from the land greed of European settlers. His respect for the Indians, his fair treatment of them, and his knowledge of their language enabled him to carry on peace negotiations between natives and Europeans, until the eventual outbreak of King Philip’s War in the 1670s.  And although Williams preached to the Narragansett, he practiced his principle of religious freedom by refraining from attempts to convert them.

Roger Williams statue, Roger Williams Park, Providence, R.I.

source

 

 

Written by LW

October 9, 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

“All investigations of Time, however sophisticated or abstract, have at their true base the human fear of mortality”*…

 

Thomas Pynchon’s earliest colonial ancestor, William Pynchon, was a key figure in the early settlement of New England (and, as the portrait above attests, less picture-shy than his descendant)… He was also the author of a book which became, at the hands of the Puritans against which it riled, one of the first to be banned and burned on American soil.

Read the extraordinary tale at “The Price of Suffering: William Pynchon and The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption.”

* Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day

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As we celebrate free speech, 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.

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

 source

Written by LW

November 13, 2015 at 1:01 am

It’s not easy being green…

In the too-frequently-horrifying theater of events playing out around us every day, we’re reminded that, for all the ambient praise of “diversity,” the differences among people are all too often the occasion for fear, then violence– sometimes physical violence; but more often violence of the “cooler,” but still-plenty-insidious political, economic, or psychological variety…

Occasionally, the expressions of that fear are so extreme as to transcend the offensive; they become so ridiculous as to be funny…

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But mostly the fear just transmutes into hate…  hate that– emanating from the “normal,” the “righteous”– too often succeeds in (one of) its goals: infecting its target with the guilt that comes of being made to feel “abnormal” or “wrong.”

So it’s a treat to discover Born This Way, a site that invites the members of one long-time target group, gay adults, to submit photos of themselves along with short essays “that capture them, innocently, showing the beginnings of their innate LGBT selves.”  It’s a collection of entries that are, at once, proud and self-deprecating, funny and moving…

Isaac: Here I am with my two brothers in the dustbowl mining town of Karratha in Western Australia, where the dirt is red and the people are predominantly white. Being one of the few ethnic people in town didn't bug me so much, I just assumed I was white like everyone else. Ah, the innocence of youth. At this point in my life I lived a blissfully unaware gay lifestyle: Having all female friends, really REALLY liking Catwoman, and always trying on my friend's fake, plastic, high heeled shoes when I went to their house. I actually didn't realize I was even close to being gay until my graduating year of high school, so this photo is one of those things I look at now and think to myself -- 'How did I NOT know?!'

Laurie: As a kid, I always enjoyed dressing up in more 'boyish' clothes. I loved my Star Wars figures, and hated Barbie dolls. I wore boys Under-roos (Superman was my favorite!) and played sports.

Dustin: This photo was taken somewhere in the wild back country of Wyoming on the annual fall hunting trip with the family. I can't believe I used to go hunting - definitely not something I'd do today. I used to love putting on that great orange gear - the best was the shopping trip prior to the hunt where I could pick out anything as long as it was orange. We shot all sorts of guns - mostly at Coke cans. I only remember once when a deer was actually killed. I just can't believe that when this photo was taken that my family didn't know I was gay. Look at the pose! The hips, the knees, the hand gesture and yes, the gun. How could they be so shocked when I came out?! I always knew I was gay - I never had a problem with it. I just knew one day I'd be a grown-up and fabulous. And I was RIGHT!

As creator Paul V. explains,

…some of the pix here feature gay boys with feminine traits, and some gay girls with masculine traits. And even more gay kids with NONE of those traits. Just like real life, these gay kids come in all shades and layers of masculine and feminine… this project is not about furthering stereotypes. It is, simply: ‘This is me and this is my story’ – in living color and black & white.

More stories at Born This Way.

[Thanks to i09 for the lead to what may be the best book cover ever!  And to reader CE for the pointer to Born This Way.]

As we celebrate the variety that is humanity, we might recall that it was on this date in 1631 that Roger Williams landed near Boston.   Soon after his arrival, Williams alarmed the Puritan oligarchy of Massachusetts by speaking out against the right of civil authorities to punish religious dissension and to confiscate Indian land. In October 1635, he was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony by the General Court.

So, with the assistance of the Narragansett tribe, Williams established a settlement at the junction of two rivers near Narragansett Bay, located in (what is now) Rhode Island. He declared the settlement open to all those seeking freedom of conscience and the removal of the church from civil matters– and many dissatisfied Puritans came. Taking the success of the venture as a sign from God, Williams named the community “Providence.”

Williams stayed close to the Narragansett Indians and continued to protect them from the land greed of European settlers. His respect for the Indians, his fair treatment of them, and his knowledge of their language enabled him to carry on peace negotiations between natives and Europeans, until the eventual outbreak of King Philip’s War in the 1670s. And although Williams preached to the Narragansett, he practiced his principle of religious freedom by refraining from attempts to convert them.

 

Roger Williams statue, Roger Williams Park, Providence, R.I.

source: Library of Congress

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