The Book that Helped Bring Tolerance to Europe: “Ceremonies and Religious Customs of Various Nations” (1723)

In preparing for a lecture on the Enlightenment, I was reminded of a little known work that “Changed Europe.” (from the title of the book: The Book that Changed Europe) What makes Ceremonies and Religious Customs of the Various Nations (1723) so special is its attempt to present all the world’s religions in an objective and fair way in a world that still largely believed that tolerance was a sin.

It was also a major intellectual achievement. It was written by the Huguenot (French Protestant) refugee in the relatively tolerant Dutch Republic. The project comprised seven volumes with more than 200 illustrations. The images rival the text as an intellectual achievement in its own right. (see two of the images below) Another Huguenot, Bernard Picart, designed all of the book’s illustrations.

It was a major victory for tolerance!

"Hindu deities, one holding recognisable European musical instruments."

“Hindu deities, one holding recognisable European musical instruments.”

“Marriage and divorce ceremonies of the natives of Canada. Picart used the European style rug and classical poses to make this religion seem less foreign to European readers.”

A Rebuttal to Allen Guelzo’s “The Civil War and the Corruptive Effects of Religious Absolutism” – The Atlantic

In The Atlantic Allen Guelzo argues that “the Civil War made it impossible for religious absolutism to address problems in American life—especially economic and racial ones—where religious absolutism would in fact have done a very large measure of good.” This is an intriguing but deeply flawed argument. Leaving aside the dubious assumption that moral absolutes are good, I want to challenge only one aspect of his argument: his claim that

“From the Civil War onward, American Protestantism would be locked deeper and deeper into a state of cultural imprisonment, and in many cases, retreating to a world of private experience in which Christianity remained of little more significance to public life than stamp-collecting or bridge parties. Appeals to divine authority at the beginning of the Civil War fragmented in deadlock and contradiction, and ever since then, it has been difficult for deeply rooted religious conviction to assert a genuinely shaping influence over American public life.”

Guelzo provides very little evidence for this claim, as well as failing to connect the moral angst created by the Civil War to the retreat of religion in public life.

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History News Network | The Historical Ironies of the Right-Wing Movement Against Common Core

Andrew Hartman’s brief review of the history of education reform is very revealing in light of the current education “reform” movement. I think you’ll find it very interesting. He states that “[r]esistance to liberal curricular reform reveals the perplexities of a conservative movement that housed both religious conservatives and neoconservatives. Religious conservatives have long railed against the state as an agent of secularism. Yet since the 1980s they have formed alliances with neoconservatives who sought to reshape the national curriculum more to their liking from within the hallowed halls of government. This contradictory historical development underscores the ironies of the right-wing assault on Common Core, which, as we shall see, has roots in the neoconservative education reform movement.”
The Culture Wars A Battle for the Soul of America

Why Republicans Reject the Iran Deal — and All Diplomacy – The New York Times

“Conservative hostility to this agreement is nothing new. G.O.P. hardliners denounced Nixon and Reagan’s diplomatic achievements too.”

In trying to understand the Republican rage against the Iran Deal I found this article very helpful. I don’t agree with it, but knowing this history helps to make sense of their hostility to all diplomacy. But I think this is only part of the story. Their hostility is so extreme I think there is something else going on to intensify their ideological stance: an irrational opposition to anything Obama does.

Source: Why Republicans Reject the Iran Deal — and All Diplomacy – The New York Times

Rhode Island Church Taking Unusual Step to Illuminate Its Slavery Role – The New York Times

This is real leadership! “The Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island is establishing a slavery museum and reconciliation center in an old cathedral as part of an effort to acknowledge its own complicity in the slave trade.”

James DeWolf Perry VI, “a direct descendant of the most prolific slave-trading family in the United States’ early years,” astutely states: “I want my child to remember our family history, both good and bad,” he said. “I think this is how we need to approach our shared history as a nation, too.”

Source: Rhode Island Church Taking Unusual Step to Illuminate Its Slavery Role – The New York Times

The 200-year-old Cathedral of St. John in Providence, R.I., which will become a racial reconciliation center and a museum focused on the North's involvement in slavery. Credit Charlie Mahoney for The New York Times

The 200-year-old Cathedral of St. John in Providence, R.I., which will become a racial reconciliation center and a museum focused on the North’s involvement in slavery. Credit Charlie Mahoney for The New York Times

Georgia: Time to Stop ALEC’s War on Public Schools and Teachers

This is a great summary of the problem in public education created by the so-called “reformers.”

Thanks for sharing this Diane!

Diane Ravitch's blog

Dr. Jim Arnold, superintendent of the Pelham City schools, explains why Georgia has a teaching shortage. The answer can be summed up in a few words: Governor Nathan Deal and ALEC, and one very long sentence:

Is it any wonder that many teachers have finally reached the point where they are fed up with scripted teaching requirements and phony evaluations that include junk science VAM and furlough days and increased testing that reduces valuable teaching time and no pay raises and constant curriculum changes and repeated attacks on their profession from people that have no teaching experience and the constant attempts to legislate excellence and cut teacher salaries and reduce teacher benefits and monkey with teacher retirement and SLO’s for non-tested subjects and state and federal policies that require more and more paperwork and less and less teaching and tighter and tighter budgets that mean doing more and more with…

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“Toward a National Strategy to Cope With a New World: Part 2” | History News Network

After listening to so much bluster (and idiocy) from The Donald on how he would solve the ISIS problem, it was really refreshing to read William R. Polk’s second essay on foreign policy. The essay is long, but I think well worth reading. His analysis reflects his experience and knowledge of history and U.S. foreign policy.
What most people miss in their deliberations on how the US should act in the world is any consideration for how other peoples see us and our actions. For a long time I have thought that one of the major flaws in our Realpoltik foreign policy has been its shortsightedness. We have been stoking hatred and desires for revenge for a long time and we’re paying the price for it now. In the short-term, Realpoltik may have served us, but in the long-term it has made us less safe. This strategy has also undermined our moral standing in the world, and exposed us as hypocrites. We have failed to live up to our own principles! I could go on, but I think Polk did an excellent job laying out some of my own grievances. I hope you read the entire essay, but if not I have put a few excerpts below that will hopefully provoke your interest, or at least provide food for thought.

“The “pacification” that counterinsurgency advocates claim is precisely what did not happen; rather anger intensified and desire for revenge grew.   Such activities are  not only self-defeating but also are self-propagating: strikes breed revenge which justify further strikes.  War becomes unending.”

“As I pointed out in the previous essay, Americans have carried out hundreds of military actions in other countries over the course of our history and in just the last 25 years have engaged in an average of six a year.[15] To Americans, such statistics mean something different from what they mean to others.  Leave aside such issues as legality, nationalism and purpose and consider only war itself.  The last time Americans personally suffered its reality – the destruction, the hunger, the draining fear – was the Civil War in the 1860s.     So when we read that we were complicit in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan in the deaths of hundreds of thousands,  uncounted injured and the “stunting” of a whole generation of children, they are just statistics.  We cannot emotionally relate to them.  Many other peoples, of course, do relate to them. For some, the memories are fresh, intimate and painful.”

“Since they assumed and hoped that we would live in a republic where the opinion of citizens has some ability to control government decision making,[92] they believed, that to have a chance to combine liberty and responsibility, citizens needed to be educated.  Enhancing the intellectual quality of our citizenry thus became essential in securing of “\’The Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.’”

“In conclusion, we must come to terms with the reality that we live in a multicultural, multinational world.  Our assertion of uniqueness, of unipower domination and of military power has been enormously expensive and has created a world reaction against us; in the period ahead it will become unsustainable and is likely to lead precisely to what we should not want to happen — armed conflict.  Moderation, peace-seeking and open-mindedness  need to become our national mottos.”

History News Network | Toward a National Strategy to Cope With a New World: Part 2.

US and World