It dwindles to a kind of personal pastime, like breeding gerbils or collecting porcelain. As the cynic remarked, it is when religion starts to interfere with your everyday life that it is time to give it up.
How French Secularism Became Fundamentalist
In this respect, it has a curious affinity with alcohol: it, too, can drive you mad. Most recent defences of secularism, not least those produced by "Ditchkins" Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens , have been irate, polemical affairs, powered by a crude species of off-the-peg, reach-me-down Enlightenment. It is scarcely a caricature of Dawkins's work to suggest we are all getting nicer and nicer and that if it wasn't for religious illusion, we would collectively outdo Kenneth Clark in sheer civility.
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I refer to the deceased patrician art critic, not the living, beer-bellied politician. One might call it the view from north Oxford. This present collection of essays, by contrast, is a much less fiercely contentious affair. Here, there is no callow and triumphalist rationalism, which in any case is simply the flip side of evangelical fervour.
Essay on need for evangelical scholars to reclaim Christian thought from fundamentalism
One can already hear the sound of the Hitch sharpening his darkly satirical daggers. Not many of the contributors seem aware of the copious body of literature about secularisation, which ponders, among other things, the question of whether it actually happened. After all, eroding the distinction between sacred and secular can be traced back to the Christian gospel. Salvation is a matter of feeding the hungry and caring for the sick, not in the first place a question of cult and ritual.
There will be no temple in the New Jerusalem, we are told, as all that religious paraphernalia is finally washed up and superannuated. He fails to note that this could easily be a translation of the biblical claim that "the kingdom of God is among you". The new world must indeed be inherent in the old if it is to transfigure it, which is how Marx conceived of the relations between socialism and capitalism.
Christianity is certainly other-worldly, and so is any reasonably sensitive soul who has been reading the newspapers. The Christian gospel looks to a future transformation of the appalling mess we see around us into a community of justice and friendship, a change so deep-seated and indescribable as to make Lenin look like a Lib Dem. If he really feels at home in this crucifying set-up, one might humbly suggest that he shouldn't.
Christians and political radicals certainly don't. By "world", of course, Levine means the material world around us, whereas when St John's Gospel uses the word it sometimes means the oppressive power structure under which we live.
John is being political, Levine is not. Like some other contributors to the book, he suspects that Christian faith is other-worldly in the sense of despising material things. To reach these conclusions, True carefully reads and reflects upon the work of William E. True believes that this is not borne out by the empirical evidence. Public religions are alive and well And what, then, of Europe?
The papers collected here have crossed borders, fused disciplines, and also gone back to basics — American fundamentalism, as the historical original, and Islamic fundamentalism, as the present bogeyman. The theologian and philosopher Theo De Wit turns our attention back to the heart of secular modernity and the home of enlightenment rationalism. By insightful, wide ranging exercises in rethinking various aspects of the original Fundamentalism Project, these exceptional studies collected together in this issue of Philosophia serve to establish manifestly the need for Reopening the Fundamentalism Project.
This program of the IRNRD brings together scholars from around the world working within diverse, relevant disciplines to discuss theoretical, conceptual, and practical problems concerning the concept of fundamentalism and the future that lays before it. The aim is not to demonstrate consensus on the nature, scope, or future of fundamentalism, but predominantly to illustrate its profound significance, and thereby, the urgency of the need to approach it systematically, comprehensively, and with all the rigor available to contemporary scholarship. Skip to main content.
Advertisement Hide. Download PDF. Article First Online: 16 May Personalised recommendations. Cite article How to cite? ENW EndNote. Share article. That was the reasoning behind separation of powers. That was the reasoning behind the federal system. These different parts of the government are supposed to fight with one another. There are supposed to be countervailing forces holding one another in check.
There is supposed to be common and constant tension. Socially and culturally speaking, the country has evolved in a similar way, not intentionally but with similar effect. No one at the time of the American founding envisioned the nation as a great bastion of cultural pluralism, in which a wide variety of cultural forms and religions would coexist. They probably would have found the idea unintelligible, but it turned out to be one of the most salient features of American life.
Some of this was driven by religion-the desire of Puritans and Quakers and Baptists and other Protestants to worship God as they pleased-but a lot of it was driven by economics. When you have a country with an abundant supply of land and a scarce supply of labor, and you want to grow economically, you cannot be terribly choosy about the people who come into your country, and the immigration could not come from just England or northwestern Europe, so eventually Germans, Italians, Poles, Russians, Greeks, Turks, Chinese, Japanese, and so on would come.
Hence, the history of American religion and the history of American immigration often track with one another pretty closely. I mentioned the JFK speech in the previous session. The point is, however, that no one group ever entirely dominates, at least not for long, when the competition of political and social forces becomes as institutionalized as it has in the United States.
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Paradoxically, this competition has engendered habits of tolerance. The wars of religion in the 16th century in Europe fostered tolerance simply because of the inability of one religious party to dominate over the others, which meant that religion itself could no longer be a basis for public order and public culture.
Something of the same thing happened in a far less violent way in the United States. This is one of the keys to understanding the relationship of religion and secularism in the United States. American secularism derived from the strength of religion, not from its weakness.
There is something very particular about Christianity, a particular virtue it brings to the table in this matter, and that is its emphasis on what is variously called the two spheres or two kingdoms or two cities that have always been taken to divide up reality. In other words, Christianity had certain theological resources available already at the very beginning for a kind of separation of church and state, although it did not come to pass fully until after those bloody wars of the 16th century had made the principle of religious toleration seem inevitable, and therefore, the need for a secular state.
Another feature that helped to establish the religious tone of early American history was the curious fact that the Europeans settling British North America were not merely Christians but [rather] the modernizing rebels within the Christian world. Many of these immigrants were openly seeking to restore the Apostolic church.
The individual conscience in this view is the ultimate measure of authentic faith, and [the] individual conscience should never be coerced by priests or ecclesiastical traditions or anything else aside, of course, from the Bible itself. This very individualistic, voluntaristic, Protestant approach to religious faith and the absence of any serious opposition to it led America to a high degree of democratization of religion.
Religion was more market-driven, more even consumer-oriented, as has been described. People could affiliate or not affiliate by choice precisely as their consciences dictated.
Far from undermining religion, this voluntarism made it thrive in modern America, and I think one can probably attribute the ways in which the face of evangelicalism [and] even non-evangelical varieties of Christianity [and] Roman Catholicism [have] come into play through that pervasiveness of this market-driven approach to religion.
Also helping along the reconciliation of religion and modernization was the fact that both secular and religious thinkers so often agreed on things for a long time in American history. There was very little conflict between the more secular-minded and the more religious-minded over, for example, the drafting of the Constitution.
The U. Constitution and the First Amendment to the Constitution were not intended to create a purely secular government, neutral or indifferent to religion as opposed to irreligion. Furthermore, the First Amendment, which prohibits the establishment of a religion and protects the free exercise of religion, was not intended to secularize the national government, but instead to protect against sectarian conflict and exclusiveness and the power grab by some national church. But certainly tax revenues [were] the main thing. The founders did not want this. They prohibited the national government from doing it, but they prohibited only the national government from doing it.
They did not prohibit the states from doing it. So even Jefferson implicitly acknowledged the acceptability of a state establishment. Congress also provided land for churches and mentioned the necessity of religious education in the Northwest Ordinance. Thus, the people who actually voted to ratify the First Amendment saw no incompatibility between the establishment clause and government support of religion on [a] state level, not on the national level.
More generally, to go back to the point I made earlier, 18th-century Americans experienced surprisingly little tension between their version of the Enlightenment and their version of Protestantism. In many ways, the two were entirely complimentary.
Both emphasize the central importance and independence of the individual conscience. Both embrace the absence of religious establishment. Both eschewed the use of coercion. Whatever the theological differences [were among] figures such as Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, George Washington, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, [these men] were of one mind in endorsing the crucial importance of religion for the sustenance of public morality.
Tocqueville, of course, is known for producing a very memorable portrait of America as a middle-class society, in all the best and worst senses of that term, and a feverishly competitive, commercial, acquisitive, practical-minded, jealously egalitarian and, of course, restlessly mobile society.
He saw the chief dangers in the society as the twin phenomena of individualism and materialism, the tendency of citizens to withdraw from public life and regard themselves as autonomous actors with no higher goal than the pursuit of material well-being. Tocqueville was a great believer in the need for public virtue, but he realized that a modern commercial democracy was not going to naturally produce such qualities in human beings. So, what to do? How to counteract the corrosive tendencies of a commercial democracy? His notion was that self-interest, rightly understood, could serve in the breach as a kind of antidote to those tendencies, but self-interest, rightly understood for him, meant that religion had to be a very important part of American life.
Tocqueville was very impressed by the degree to which religion persisted in the American democracy and that religious institutions seemed to support American democratic institutions. The latter seems unexceptional to us, but from his point of view it was very surprising.