“This horrible discord, which has lasted for so many centuries, is a very striking lesson that we should pardon each other’s errors; discord is the great ill of mankind; and tolerance is the only remedy for it.” (Voltaire speaking on the long history of intolerance within the Christian world, Philosophical Dictionary)
As someone who has spent years studying religious and ethnic conflict, I have watched the current ascendance of violence and intolerance with much sadness. Every week I have a new story from around the globe (Syria, Israel, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, even Europe along with many other examples) to share with my students. By now they’re probably tired of the depressing news, but these stories are relevant to the twentieth-century horrors that we are reviewing in class. Will we ever learn?
The idea that toleration was a virtue was a hard-won lesson of the wars of religion that engulfed Europe in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation. Unfortunately, it is not a lesson that has taken hold completely even in the West. Despite the many factors that have contributed to the rise of violence, it is the spirit of intolerance that is fueling the violence and hatred. This is why Mustafa Akyol has called for “A Letter Concerning Muslim Toleration” (in honor of John Locke’s famous Letter Concerning Toleration. Unfortunately, it is a value that takes years (as the Western example shows) to cultivate.
Read the entire article here: History News Network | The Frightening Return of Religious Wars
Many Americans would be shocked to learn about the long history of anti-Catholicism in the United States. The standard narrative of U.S. history is one of religious liberty and toleration. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. From the beginning, the majority of the U.S. population has been composed of various Protestant sects. Protestantism’s roots were anti-Catholic in origin and the Protestant Reformation kicked off years of violent conflict between the two Christian rivals. This legacy of hatred was inherited by the Protestants that settled in America. Following independence many states banned Catholics from holding public offices out of fear that “Popery and the Inquisition may be established in America.”(1) Anti-Catholic sentiment only grew as Catholic Irish and Italian immigrants flocked to the U.S. during the nineteenth century. One of the more violent outbursts against Catholics came during the Kensington and Southwark Bible Riots in Philadelphia (1844).
Maura Jane Farrelly, in an interesting piece at Aeon, reminds us of that past. Noting the recent change in attitudes towards Catholics, she argues that “Americans no longer consider Catholicism to be a threat because the very idea of ‘freedom’ in the US has changed into something more compatible with the corporate approach to freedom that the Catholic Church has always insisted upon. The Catholic understanding of religious liberty and church-state relations has also changed, becoming more compatible with the US vision and the reality of religious pluralism.”
She also examines the shifting attitudes about the separation of church and state among evangelicals, Catholics, and Muslims. Based on polling, she concludes, “Only 28 per cent of US‑born Muslims think that mosque leaders should refrain from politics, but 60 per cent of Muslim immigrants recently told researchers at Pew that mosque leaders should ‘keep out of political matters’. It’s a directive that suggests Muslim immigrants in the US might be more ‘American’ than some of the Catholics and Protestants voting and campaigning in the US today.”
Given the importance of this topic in light of the increasing anti-Islamic attitudes, I think Farrelly’s review of our anti-Catholic past is apropos. Read her entire essay here.
Kensington Bible Riots 1844
(1) Major Thomas Lusk at the Massachusetts Ratification Convention (February 4, 1788) in The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, vol. 6, p. 1421.
In a New York Times article David Motadel examines the role of religious protectorates past and present to help shed light on current events in the Middle East. Several powers during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries declared themselves protectorates of coreligionists in other states. For example, Russia declared itself the protector of Orthodox Christians within Ottoman territories and then used this as leverage to intervene in Ottoman affairs. As Motadel points out this type of “politics of religion…subverted states, fueled divisions within them — and often ended in violence.”
Currently in the Middle East it is Iran and Saudi Arabia who are engaging in the politics of religion. Motadel argues that “Iran’s attempts to become the global defender of Shiite Muslims and Saudi Arabia’s efforts to lead the Sunnis have become central in their battle for mastery of the Middle East, transforming the region’s international system from an order of states to an order of faiths.” And just as in the past this political maneuvering is destabilizing the region and fueling the violence. Obviously the causes of instability in the region are many, but I think Motadel has indicated an important contributor to the current unrest. Read the entire article here:
‘Defending the Faith’ in the Middle East – NYTimes.com.
“An anonymous painting of Turkish Emperor Mahmud II leading his troops. Credit Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images “
Charles Spencer writes about a very intriguing period of English history in Killers of the King. It was a time of religious conflict between the Calvinistic Puritans in Parliament and the Catholic-sympathizing Stuart monarchy at a time when the Protestant Church of England was the nominally established church. It was also partly a power struggle between Parliament and the Stuart monarchs (first James I and then his son Charles I), who seemed too fond of absolute monarchies. It was in this context that some powerful members of Parliament decided to try and behead Charles I as a traitor. Spencer insists that while “[t]his dramatic tale sounds far removed from today…it is not.” He explains: “Many of the killers of the king that I write about did what they did because they knew an obscure verse in the Old Testament Book of Numbers that justified their actions: it told them that, if a country is to end its bloodshed, “that Man of Blood” who started it all must be put to death. Organized religion still provides many with guidance that they believe to the end. Texts written many centuries earlier can be twisted to justify a course of action. History is about the past, but it resonates today. We never change. History is the story of man – past, present and future.” This is one reason, although not the only reason, why history matters.
History News Network | Why History Matters