History – specific

It’s depressing really; I thought I’d decided (indeed, that’s the premise of the textbook that Mike Higton and I are writing) that when it comes to theology we’re still trying to answer a lot of nineteenth-century questions. I’m becoming increasingly convinced that when it comes to public discourse about religion we’re often still having eighteenth-century arguments. Or even seventeenth. (In considerably less elegant prose, though perhaps with better coffee). Maybe we’re regressing. At least it hasn’t yet become illegal to be a Quaker again; better enjoy my freedom while it lasts.

It’s still “wars are caused by people believing different stupid religious things”; “are all religions really the same underneath, and is religion natural?”; “isn’t Catholicism [read these days, also, Islam] a global conspiracy invented by evil priests who brainwash people?”; “but religion is all really about being nice to people, everything else is irrelevant”; “I’ve got a brilliant idea, let’s all just be tolerant, because religion is the kind of thing nobody could possibly have a rational argument about”…

One thing I do intend to point out in the textbook, in the interests perhaps of making things more complicated, was that religious toleration wasn’t simply invented by people who rejected institutional Christianity (for themselves – Voltaire was all in favour of Christianity for the lower classes, of course). There were, for a start, quite a lot of Christians who had a strong and rather personal interest in toleration (eg preferring not to be put in prison, or burned at the stake, etc, depending on the century) – as well as some strong theological arguments. Quakers,  have perhaps tended to forget that our arguments for not being put in prison, back in the day, weren’t quite the same as the standard “secular” arguments for freedom of religion. Perhaps we ought to read the Anabaptists more. Thanks to the friends with whom I studied, a long time ago, the wonderfully-entitled tract by Balthasar Huebmaier, “On Heretics and Those who Burn Them”. (Clue: he didn’t think much of either group, but was more worried about the latter. A quote to remember: “Truth is unkillable”).


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Lisa on 21 August, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    It never ceases to amaze me that arguments against religion – like ‘it causes all wars’ or ‘it’s just an attempt to brainwash and control people’ – are so enduring. Also, I do find myself completely dumbfounded when intelligent and educated adults wave these arguments at me as if it’s going to make me question both what I believe and what I do as an RS teacher. They don’t seem to quite comprehend that I may well have heard those arguments earlier in that day… Most probably from a grouchy 11 year old trying to provoke a reaction…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: