Every so often, I check back on what went up here at this site. I was struck by Neil’s offering ten years ago today, citing Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on people (of faith or not) getting along (or not).
Secularisation, the great movement of the European mind that began in the 17th century, did not begin because people stopped believing in God. The movement’s intellectual heroes, Newton and Descartes, believed in God very much indeed.
What they lost faith in was the ability of religious people to live peaceably together. Catholics and Protestants had been fighting one another across Europe in what Hobbes called “the war of every man against every man”. There had to be another way. So, first science, then philosophy, politics and culture were rebuilt on foundations that did not depend on doctrine or dogma but instead on experiment and observation, reason and inference.
In other words, an embrace of reason above partisan passions. I’m not enough of a philosopher of history to plumb the full depths of this. But I was pondering the parallels in contemporary American culture. Have we lost faith in the ability of citizens to live together peaceably, believers, atheists, left, and right alike?
Given the penchant for fake news* has experiment, observation, reason, and inference flown out the window?
* Nate Silver, in his book The Signal and the Noise, details how the advent of the printing press led to widespread “fake” news in its day. Anybody with access to the new invention could dream up something, and spread lies to and fro. No more investment in copying a text by hand. Maybe it’s no surprise that Rabbi Sacks’ historical reference came early in that original “fake news” era.
The rabbi’s conclusion and final question:
For the great strength of religion is that it creates communities, and its great weakness is that it divides communities. The two go hand in hand. For every “us” there is a “them”, and the stronger the togetherness within, the deeper the estrangement without. What binds also separates. It always did.
The real battle, and it applies to secular and religious alike, is: can we love, not hate, the people not like us?
Does it fit for the contemporary US? The whole West? Do our opponents, detractors, and even traitors see this as an opportunity? If so, how to battle it?