Tag Archives: Enlightenment

Piety is not a goal but a means to attain through the purest peace of mind the highest culture. — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

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Years ago I remember while having a discussion of theology with a group of friends, one in the group referred to himself as a pious atheist. I was taken aback by his comment as piety and atheism were not terms I associated with one another. Piety is most commonly associated with religious belief and practice. Since then I gave this notion a great deal of thought: is secular piety a possibility? This question is worth considering in light of the reality that how one expresses their piety in an increasingly secular society such as Canada has become a contentious issue of late as is evidenced by the controversy surrounding the proposed Quebec Charter of Values (Charte de la laïcité or Charte des valeurs québécoises). The stated aim of the charter is to ensure there is a clear separation of religion and state and that public employees have religious neutrality. What this means is the wearing of ostentatious religious symbols or garb on the job will be prohibited. Continue reading

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Let justice be done, though the world perish. (Fiat justitia et pereat mundus.) — Ferdinand I (1503–1564), Hungarian King of Bohemia and Hungary, Holy Roman Emperor 1558-1564

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I took the time to comment on a Facebook thread, the premise of which was, that Western nations should discontinue immigration from the Islamic world. I do not think this course of action is warranted and doubt any government in the Western world would take up such a policy, but what got me thinking was a comment from an individual who believes the difficulties of integrating newcomers in Canadian society, with its official policy of multiculturalism, is divine punishment for what he sees as our having abandoned Christian principles as a society. This belief in divine punishment or retribution or justice is very old and not found solely in Christianity. Though I am no longer a practicing Christian, I admit such thoughts have crossed my mind when I experienced hard times and personal tragedy in my own life. When my four year old Brittany, Juno, succumbed to cancer in 2012, I remember talking to the breeder who sold her to me, asking if there had ever been any incidence of cancer in her dogs at such a young age. She told me no and she was just as shocked and horrified as me by the news. I then asked her “is it something I have done?” “What have I done to deserve this?” The questions were essentially rhetorical, but she answered, saying no, it was not anything I had done and assured me that “God does not hand us a burden He knows we cannot bear.” Continue reading

In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (December 1948) in most solemn form, the dignity of a person is acknowledged to all human beings; and as a consequence there is proclaimed, as a fundamental right, the right of free movement in search for truth and in the attainment of moral good and of justice, and also the right to a dignified life. — Pope John XXIII, 1881-1963 Pacem in Terris, 1963

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In essays published earlier on this blog the topic of religion in society, particularly the direction the Western world took in gradually establishing a clear separation of religion and state, relegating religion to the sphere of private conscience is discussed. The last remnants of Papal authority in temporal affairs ended with the signing of the Lateran Treaty between the Vatican and the Italian government in 1929. In the present, in the Western world, religious liberty is guaranteed in law and members of religious institutions are free to comment on moral and political issues just as anyone else. In the Islamic world, this distinction between religion and state never emerged, save for the Republic of Turkey which was founded as a secular state in 1923. The Ottoman Caliphate was abolished in 1924. The constitutional, civil and common law legal systems in effect across the Western world are rooted in the theory of natural rights, primarily as espoused by the men of the Enlightenment, such as John Locke and Thomas Paine. By contrast, across the Islamic world, the system of law, sharia, a religiously based moral and legal code applies. The differences in the legal systems and the place of religion in society between the Western world and the Islamic world are quite noticeable in comparing responses to the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Continue reading

The caliphate is the sign of Islamic unity, and the manifestation of the connection between the Islamic peoples, and an Islamic symbol which the Muslims are obligated to think about, and to be concerned with its issue — Imam Hasan al-Banna

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In previous essays I discussed the topic of religion and state in the Western world, notably the role of Christianity, Catholic and Protestant, in the development of Western civilization. For centuries the Catholic Church had authority in temporal affairs and collected taxes in much of Europe. Following the Reformation in the 16th century there were instances where Protestant Churches had authority in temporal affairs. Geneva under the rule of John Calvin (1509-1564), the founder of Calvinism, was governed according to the Ecclesiastical Ordinances which were administered by the Consistory. The Enlightenment in the 18th century introduced new thinking in the natural rights of man and the place of religion in society. Enlightenment thinkers valued religious liberty, but also favoured a strict separation between religion and the state. By the end of the 18th century there were the American and French Revolutions which introduced constitutional law and separation of church and state. In the 19th century the last vestiges of church authority in temporal affairs were swept away with capture of Rome and the Papal States in the drive to unify Italy as a nation. Constitutional guarantees of religious liberty and separation of religion and state make religious pluralism an integral part of Western societies in the present, while Christianity remains the dominant faith, people are free to practice any religion they wish or none at all. How does the history and development of the Islamic world then compare to that of the Western world? Continue reading

“The law of humanity ought to be composed of the past, the present, and the future, that we bear within us; whoever possesses but one of these terms, has but a fragment of the law of the moral world.”–Edgar Quinet (1803-1875)

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The papacy was in a very precarious position when Pope Pius IX convened the First Vatican Council on June 29, 1868. The drive for Italian unification was underway, with revolution in 1848 that led to the exile of Pius IX in the castle of Gaeta in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies from November 24, 1848 until his return to Rome in April 1850. The revolutionaries declared a Roman Republic comprised of the Papal States and in accordance with the ideals of the Enlightenment religious liberty and tolerance was enshrined in the new constitution by article 7 of the Principi fondamentali. Prior to this development only Christianity and Judaism were allowed by law to be practiced in the Papal States. The independence of the pope as head of the Catholic Church was guaranteed by article 8 of the Principi fondamentali. While providing constitutional guarantees of religious liberty and papal authority over the Catholic Church, the framers of the Constitution of the Italian Republic curtailed the temporal authority of the Pope which was referred to as an “historical lie, a political imposture, and a religious immorality” by a reform minded priest, Abbé Arduini. (as cited in Wikipedia) However, by June 1849 the Roman Republic was overthrown by a French military intervention and Pius IX restored in office, returning to Rome and reclaiming governance of the Papal States. Continue reading

I desire not to keep my place in this government an hour longer than I may preserve England in its just rights, and may protect the people of God in such a just liberty of their consciences… –Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658)

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How often have I heard it said that it is the precepts of Christianity that are the foundation of Western civilization? My typical response when confronted with this claim is to roll my eyes and think “that old chestnut.” This is particularly the case when the claim is framed so egregiously by the likes of Glenn Beck who stated, in referring to origins of the United States, “it is God’s finger that wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. This is God’s country; these are God’s rights. I have no idea what he wants us to do with them, other than protect them, and stand with Him.” (As cited in Tony’s Curricublog) While it is easy to dismiss such claims as stuff and nonsense, it is worth considering the role of religious belief in the growth and development of Western civilization, its transition from the primacy of Christian doctrine in public life to the rise of liberal democracy and the rule of law in the secular nation state, though not in the way many religious folk, such as Glenn Beck, imagine it to be. Continue reading

If one of those bottles should happen to fall…

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I have a passion for the study of history and for music. I love learning about the past and listening to music from across the ages. Occasionally the two passions become congruent as is the case of the opera by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), “Dialogues des carmélites” (Dialogues of the Carmelites), composed in 1956. The opera is a fictionalized account of an order of Carmelite nuns who were executed during the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution and are remembered as the Martyrs of Compiègne. Continue reading